Friday, September 12, 2008

Great industry history courtesy of Geschke, Wharton

Today's daily horoscope published in our local newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, offers me and those like me (i.e. Virgos) some advice about dealing with certain historical material that's come my way. Well, that's good enough for me! I knew exactly what the reference was -- an interview published recently by the Wharton School's Knowledge@Wharton, an interview with the co-founder of Adobe Systems (NASDAQ ADBE), Charles (we knew him as "Chuck") Geschke.

In "Driving Adobe: Co-founder Charles Geschke on Challenges, Change and Values", Geschke waxes eloquently on numerous historic developments in the story of the company and the industry. And at a few places, the story intertwines with my own recollections while at HP (NYSE HPQ), though in an admittedly Rashomon-style fashion. For example, in discussing early interest in their Page Description Language Postscript:

"IBM came to talk to us, but we deliberately decided to go really slow. We figured that in order to get a decent deal with them we had to have leverage -- namely a competitor already doing well. We tried to do a deal with HP [Hewlett-Packard]. They were extremely arrogant because the [Hewlett-Packard] Laserjet was doing very well and they didn't want to talk to us.

After the [Apple] LaserWriter and desktop publishing became a phenomenon, IBM decided they had to get into the game and we did a deal with them. As soon as we announced the IBM deal, then Hewlett-Packard called and said, "We think we need to do business."

This would have been in the 1986-1987 timeframe, a period I remember well. And it's interesting to hear the story told from the "other side" so to speak. There's a lot more in this wonderful interview (definitely recommended for industry history buffs) with much of it worth a little more comparing of notes with Chuck, so stay tuned! (This includes the "Mumbo Jumbo" period, see "Observations: Microsoft’s XPS—After All These Years, More Mumbo Jumbo?".)


Kendall Whitehouse said...


I look forward to your future posts on this topic. The story of the dawn of digital typesetting is both fascinating and too little known. I'd love to hear your recollections from the HP point of view.


PS: I apologize for missing the cap 'J' in the one instance of 'LaserJet' you cite. (It was spelled correctly elsewhere in the piece.) I've fixed the errant spelling in the original article. Thanks for catching this. :KW

Jim Lyons said...

Another blog post that references the Wharton Geschke interview can be found at jd/adobe, at John Dowdell also links to my earlier "Mumbo Jumbo" post, as well as a great Apple history, by Tom Hormby at

Jim Lyons said...

Kendall at Wharton fixed the "LaserJet" reference so I've removed the [[sic]] referred to in the original comment. I was never sure [[sic]] was the proper editorial form anyway, so I'm relieved!