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point sizes and different typefaces, but you had to design for different imaging devices. If you begin doing all that multiplication, you could hire all of the hightech workers in China and not keep up. It wasn t going to work.
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Livingston: So you created scalable fonts Geschke: We came up with the idea of using a pure mathematical description of the outline of the type and then worked on some sophisticated algorithms about how to decide which bits to turn on and which ones not to turn on to give the highest-quality rendering on the particular device. That was really the breakthrough technology that differentiated PostScript from anything that preceded it, including Interpress. Livingston: When you were working on Interpress, what were some of the big
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ideas that you couldn t believe that Xerox didn t appreciate
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Geschke: At a conceptual level, it was the same idea as PostScript. From any
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computer running any kind of application software, you could, over the network, interface to any printer at any resolution, any characteristics, and be guaranteed that the file would transport between the two. For a company that s in the printing business, such as Xerox, that meant they only had to provide a single digital interface on the front end and they could connect to anything. The converse was also true for software writers, because they could print to this PostScript string and it would look good on any PostScript printer. And the same was true for platform vendors like Apple and Microsoft: they only had to write one print driver to be able to generate output for any PostScript device or would have for a Xerox device running Interpress.
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Livingston: Did you build the hardware for the printer too Geschke: We helped design it in concert with people at Apple. We did not
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manufacture it, but we did know some of the design characteristics that it needed to have in order to be able to handle both the rasterization of PostScript and some things about how it had to control the engine to get the best possible output. But that was a shared piece of work and the hardware belonged to Apple. Eventually we did do some hardware design, and we would offer the designs to our OEM customers so that they wouldn t have to start with a blank sheet of paper so they could get to market faster. But we never really went into the manufacturing business.
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Livingston: Why did Apple and DEC have such difficulty in creating what you
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Geschke: I think it was partly a lack of understanding of the requirements of the printing and publishing industry. Even though John s background wasn t as closely tied to it as mine, he had worked for a company called Evans & Sutherland who did contract development for a lot of high-tech companies including RR Donnelley in Chicago, which was at one time the largest printer in the United States, maybe in the world. So he had a pretty good appreciation of what was involved. Plus, with his graphics background, he understood the issues about the conversion from an abstract definition in terms of the
Charles Geschke 289
mathematics of a shape and how to get that into raster data that would drive a bitmap printer or a bitmap display. It was a combination of all those skills and backgrounds that he and I had that put us in a unique position. And then the good fortune to get a business deal with two or three very important customers early on.
Livingston: Did your work at PARC on the programming language Mesa give
you any critical insights that helped you make PostScript better
Geschke: Not directly. Mesa was very focused on conventional programming,
the kind that was done to build operating systems. It had one characteristic that conceptually is similar to PostScript, in that in both Mesa and PostScript, we had the idea that you didn t have to program at the level of the machine. In PostScript, you can program at a higher level, in a language that is more in tune with what you wanted to print as opposed to how it printed. In Mesa, we actually developed both a programming language for programmers to organize large, complex programs and a machine that would take the output of that language and operate on it very efficiently. That was built into the Star workstation that Xerox introduced in 1981.
Livingston: What were some other major turning points Geschke: Well, certainly if you remember back to that time in the office print-
ing market, HP was in a very strong leadership position with the LaserJet. When we found out from HP that they wanted to come back and talk to us, that was a very important moment because we were, in fact, able to sign an agreement with HP and have them adopt PostScript on their LaserJet printers. That was a big coup for us as a company. It was at the same time that we managed to sign up IBM. So our strategy of not going to IBM early had paid off. Once they saw the market mushrooming for Apple, both IBM and HP decided they had to pay attention to it and that s how we got those business deals. The other lesson that we had to learn, though, is that you can t be a oneproduct company. There s a very high risk when you re a single-product company that eventually a combination of changes in the technological landscape and changes in the competitive landscape will eventually cause you to begin losing market share. And once you lose market share, then your revenue and earnings begin to fall. Fortunately, we had decided that in order to be able to really demonstrate the capability that was inside the LaserWriter, we couldn t rely on the standard business applications and even the graphics applications that were out there. If you remember, Apple had a product called MacDraw, and they had another product called MacPaint. They were organized around the concept that you were going to be doing your printing on an ImageWriter; they didn t have the characteristics that could really show off the fact that the LaserWriter was in fact a full printing press. On the LaserWriter, you could combine graphics and images and text in innovative ways that none of the application packages were enabling. More importantly, designers knew they wanted to be more creative but had no tools to enable their creative expression.
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