If you ask me which people have impressed me the most in my professional life, it’s not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates – it’s the “silent” pioneers. John Warnock, co-founder of Adobe Systems, was one such “quiet pioneer” for me. On Saturday, the inventor of PostScript and PDF passed away at the age of 82. Thanks for everything, John!
My first meeting with John Warnock was what I guess you would call a happy coincidence. It was at the Seybold Conference in 1998 or 1999: I picked up my packed lunch, as was customary at US conferences at the time, and sat down in the sun outside the hall. My horror at the culinary questionable contents of the lunchbox was also noticed by the (for me at that time) older gentleman sitting next to me on the stairs. It quickly turned out: He also found the contents rather questionable but was happy about the exchange of my apple for his yogurt. He liked my German accent and we got to talking, chatting about cars, Gutenberg, chess and German food. We talked longer than I was used to from other U.S. acquaintances – and more deeply, which pleased me. When we had to return to the conference after 20 to 25 minutes, we briefly exchanged business cards and I was struck – which I’m sure doesn’t happen often! – momentarily speechless: I had met John Warnock!
I accepted his invitation to Adobe headquarters in San Jose, California, a year later – an experience no less impressive!
In the millennium year 2000, I published my book “PDF+Print,” the red one that first described how to use PDF in the printing industry as a kind of primer. The U.S. version was launched in 2001.
At the end of September, and thus shortly after the attacks of 9/11, I had an appointment with John Warnock for a video interview. We met on the university campus in Palo Alto. Visibly in a good mood, he took a lot of time to talk to me about PDF developments. I think that’s what made him so special to me: he took his time. Time for conversation, analysis and insight.
It is not necessary to list his many achievements here – you can read about them thousands of times on the Internet. As the “Godfather of Postscript and PDF,” he changed the world. Without his developments, there would have been no “desktop publishing”, i.e., the technical revolution of the 1980s and 1990s – and without his “Camelot Paper”, the first concept paper for PDF, the printing industry of that time would hardly have been capable of development. We would certainly not be where we are today. Without knowing it, John Warnock paved the way for print and the entire graphic arts industry to enter the Internet with PDF.
I could go on raving about him for a long time – but first and foremost, I would like to thank John Warnock: for his ideas, his developments, his courage, his cultivated intelligence, and above all for taking time at the right moment for a brief conversation and the exchange of an apple.