The Adobe/Apple War

Jon Seybold, Father of Desktop Publishing, Comments on the Apple/Adobe Feud

April 20, 2010

The father of desktop publishing, Jonathan Seybold, offers his personal perspective on the early relationship between Adobe and Apple, starting in the late 1970’s. Jonathan also offers his current take on the very public feud between the two companies that occurred in April 2010 over the development tools used to develop apps for the iPhone and iPad.


There's been a big furor the last two weeks about Apple's insistence that cross-platform development tools, and in particular Adobe's Flash, cannot be used to develop iPhone applications. Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon opining about why Apple would do something so developer-unfriendly, and maybe even, customer-unfriendly.

There are many who feel that this Adobe/Apple feud is based on some deep-rooted enmity between Adobe and Apple. I turned to my brother to ask the question: Why is Steve Jobs doing this? Jonathan was the consultant and evangelist who brought Steve Jobs, John Warnock and Paul Brainerd together to create the desktop publishing revolution and to provide the Macintosh with the killer app it needed.

Jon read various other accounts of the Apple/Adobe relationship and decided he could contribute the most by providing this earlier history that no one else has covered as well as his own take on what Apple's move means for innovation on mobile devices.


Jonathan Seybold: PARC

Like so much about modern-day computing, it all starts with Xerox PARC. Somebody should start assembling a history of PARC.

But, that is a much bigger topic for a later time.

We are going to follow just one of the threads that spun out of PARC:

1979: The Famous Visit to PARC by Steve Jobs and Some of the Lisa Development Team

Apple was already working on Lisa development. Xerox knew this. In fact, that was one of the primary reasons why Xerox invested in Apple. Part of the deal was that Steve and his team would get a full run-down on everything from the object-oriented programming languages to the Alto workstation, the Bravo WYSIWYG word processing software and the Alto GUI.

But, one of the essential functions of the office system for “knowledge workers” that Xerox had set out to build had to be the ability to send the pages created on the Alto workstations to a variety of laser printers. Xerox had discovered that this meant that it needed another piece of the puzzle: a standard resolution-independent way of describing the rich pages of text and graphics .

Xerox had been using a data format called “Press” for this purpose since the mid-70’s. But it found that this was not flexible enough.

John Warnock had previously developed what amounted to programming languages that described graphic pages first for Evans and Southerland, and later for PARC. By 1979, he and Chuck Geschke were developing a much more ambitious “page description language” (InterPress) at PARC.

Dec 1982 Through 1983

John and Chuck left PARC and started Adobe Systems with the express purpose of writing a second-generation PDL that they will call “PostScript.”

Very early on John contacted me.

Although I do not recall ever meeting John at PARC, he had clearly followed our stuff. He knew that I thought that there was a desperate need for a single, standard means of describing text and graphic pages to be output to printers and typesetting machines.

At that point, every output device operated somewhat differently and could perform different functions. Every manufacturer used different type fonts. The commands to drive each machine were different. It was a complete mess.

At Rocappi in the 1960’s we had addressed this problem by visualizing what you can think of as a universal virtual typesetting machine. Our “target” machine could do everything we could imagine such a machine might ever do. Any actual machine was a sub-set of this.

15 years later, we were entering a world in which everyone would have to deal with complex graphics and images as well as type. The world needed a universal means of describing any page, no matter how complex.

This is precisely what PostScript promised to do.

I immediately began to publicize the concept and give lots of attention to Adobe—and, later to the several other candidates who joined the contest to become the de-facto standard page description language.

But, what happened in 1984, guaranteed that Adobe would win:


(Members: sign in to download and read the rest of this article!)


Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.