Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke dies aged 81

Charles "Chuck" Geschke and John Warnock
(Image credit: Stanford University)

Charles "Chuck" Geschke, the co-founder of Adobe and the co-creator of the portable document format (PDF), has died at the age of 81.

Together with John Warnock, Geschke set up Adobe in 1982 and helped to develop many software innovations that are still in use today, almost 40 years later.

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The current CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen, sent an email to employees announcing Geschke's passing.

"It is with profound sadness that I share that our beloved co-founder Dr Chuck Geschke, has passed away at the age of 81, leaving an indelible mark on our company and the world," Narayen wrote. "This is a huge loss for the entire Adobe community and the technology industry, for whom he has been a guide and hero for decades."

Imaging Science Laboratory

Geschke was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1939 and enjoyed a successful career in maths and technology long before co-founding Adobe. He taught mathematics at John Carroll University in the 1960s before completing a PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in 1972.

After his studies, Geschke began working at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), building a mainframe computer and developing programming tools for the Xerox Star workstation. In 1978, he started the Imaging Sciences Laboratory at PARC and researched graphics, optics and image processing. While working at the labs he hired a computer scientist called John Warnock with whom he formed a strong working partnership.


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Warnock and Geschke developed interpress - a paged description language (PDL) - but were unable to convince Xerox management of its commercial value. The two men left to form their own company, with PDL eventually forming the basis of PostScritpt.

Adobe Creek

Like a number of today's biggest tech firms, Adobe was founded in a garage - John Warnock's, to be precise - but the startup was originally called "Adobe Creek". PostScript was developed on Apple computers and resulted in one of the first desktop publishing systems - users could see their documents on screen, exactly as they would appear in print. This was known as WYSIWYG, an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, and helped to create a whole new industry within printing and has led to one of the most popular software suites of all time.

Geschke was Adobe's COO from 1986 to 1994 but retired in 2000. In 1992 he was kidnapped at gunpoint and held captive for four days by two men who tried to demand ransom from his wife, Nancy "Nan" Geschke. He was found, unharmed, and the two men were sentenced to life terms in state prison.

In 2009, Geschke was awarded the National Medal of Technology by Barack Obama, but despite this and his contribution to the modern world, Geschke remained a very grounded man.

"He was really a humble, humble man - I can say that, as his wife," Nan Geschke told Mercury News. "He was very proud of his success, of course, but he was very circumspect about how much he had to do with that."

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.