John Warnock

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Warnock
Warnock in 2008
John Edward Warnock

(1940-10-06)October 6, 1940
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
DiedAugust 19, 2023(2023-08-19) (aged 82)
Alma materUniversity of Utah (BS, MS, PhD)
Known for
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
InstitutionsUniversity of Utah
Doctoral advisor

John Edward Warnock (October 6, 1940 – August 19, 2023) was an American computer scientist, inventor, technology businessman, and philanthropist best known for co-founding Adobe Systems Inc., the graphics and publishing software company, with Charles Geschke in 1982.[1] Warnock was President of Adobe for his first two years and chairman and CEO for his remaining sixteen years at the company. Although he retired as CEO in 2001, he continued to co-chair the Adobe Board of Directors with Geschke until 2017. Warnock pioneered the development of graphics, publishing, web and electronic document technologies that have revolutionized the field of publishing and visual communications.

Early life and education[edit]

Warnock was born on October 6, 1940, and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah.[2] He failed mathematics in ninth grade before graduating from Olympus High School in 1958,[3] however, Warnock went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and philosophy, a Doctor of Philosophy degree in electrical engineering (computer science), and an honorary degree in science, all from the University of Utah.[4] At the University of Utah he was a member of the Gamma Beta Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.[5] He also received an honorary degree from the American Film Institute.[6] He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Marva M. Warnock, marrying in 1965. Marva is a former partner and graphic designer at Marsh Design in Palo Alto, California, and is known not only for creating the iconic Adobe logo, but also as a designer for nonprofit organizations.[7] They have three children.[8]


He is known as the creative driving force behind Adobe System's initial software products: PostScript, Adobe Illustrator, and the PDF, and he continued to be involved in new product development throughout his career. "The thing I really enjoy is the invention process. I enjoy figuring out how to do things other people don't know how to do."[9]

Warnock's earliest publication and subject of his master's thesis was his 1964 proof of a theorem solving the Jacobson radical for row-finite matrices,[10] which was originally posed by the American mathematician Nathan Jacobson in 1956.[11]

In his 1969 doctoral thesis, Warnock invented the Warnock algorithm for hidden surface determination in computer graphics.[12] It works by recursive subdivision of a scene until areas are obtained that are trivial to compute. It solves the problem of rendering a complicated image by avoiding the problem. If the scene is simple enough to compute then it is rendered; otherwise it is divided into smaller parts and the process is repeated.[13] Warnock noted that for this work he received "the dubious distinction of having written the shortest doctoral thesis in University of Utah history".[3] The Warnock algorithm solving the hidden surface problem enabled computers to render solid objects at a time when most computer renderings were only line drawings and was featured on the cover of Scientific American in 1970 with accompanying article by Ivan Sutherland.[14]

In 1976, while Warnock worked at Evans & Sutherland, a Salt Lake City–based computer graphics company, the concepts of the PostScript language were seeded.[15] Prior to co-founding Adobe with Geschke, Warnock worked with Geschke at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC), where he had started in 1978.[16] Unable to convince Xerox management of the approach to commercialize the InterPress graphics language for controlling printing on any computer and printer,[17] he and Geschke left Xerox[16] to start Adobe in 1982, naming it after Adobe Creek, which ran behind both their homes.[2] They initially hired two computer scientists (Bill Paxton and Doug Brotz) and two electronics designers (Tom Boynton and Dan Putnam) from PARC.[18][19] At their new company, they developed from scratch a similar technology, PostScript, and brought it to market for Apple's LaserWriter in 1985.[20] Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said: "When that first page came out of the LaserWriter, I was blown away...No one had seen anything like this before. I held this page up in my hand and said, ‘Who will not want that?’ I knew then, as did John, that this was going to have a profound impact.”[2] Adobe's PostScript technology made it possible to print high-resolution text and images from a computer, revolutionizing media and making desktop publishing feasible.[21]

In late 1986, Warnock had invented Adobe Illustrator, a computer drawing program that used lines and bézier curves to render infinitely scalable graphics. He initially developed it to automate many of the manual tasks utilized by his wife, Marva, a graphic designer.[22] Illustrator was released in early 1987.[23]

In the spring of 1991, Warnock outlined a system called "Camelot", inventing the Portable Document Format (PDF) file-format.[9] The goal of Camelot was to "effectively capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print these documents on any machines [sic]". Warnock's document contemplated:[24]

Imagine if the IPS (Interchange PostScript) viewer is also equipped with text searching capabilities. In this case the user could find all documents that contain a certain word or phrase, and then view that word or phrase in context within the document. Entire libraries could be archived in electronic form...

The new PDF format, though, was slow to gain industry traction and Warnock noted that "the industry 'did not get it'".[25]

One of Adobe's popular typefaces, Warnock, is named after him.[26]

Warnock held twenty patents.[9][27] In addition to Adobe Systems, he served or had served on the board of directors at ebrary,[28] Hiball,[29] Knight-Ridder, Octavo Corporation, Netscape Communications, and Salon Media Group.[6][30] Warnock was a past chairman of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.[6] He also served on the board of trustees of the American Film Institute, the Sundance Institute and the Folger Shakespeare Library.[6][30]

His hobbies included photography, skiing, web development, painting, hiking, curation of rare scientific books, and historical Native American objects.[31]


A strong supporter of higher education, Warnock and his wife, Marva, have supported three presidential-endowed chairs in computer science, mathematics, and fine arts at the University of Utah,[32] and also an endowed chair in medical research at Stanford University.[33] In 2003, Warnock and his wife donated 200,000 shares of Adobe Systems (valued at over $5.7 million)[34] to the University of Utah as the main gift for a new engineering building.[35] The John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building was completed in 2007 and houses the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute[36] and the Dean of the University of Utah College of Engineering.[37] John and Marva have also personally assisted with cataract surgeries led by Geoffrey Tabin on missions to reverse blindness in least developed countries.[7] They endowed a chair at the Moran Eye Center, which supports work to treat preventable blindness in Utah and around the world.[1] John was also the Founding Chairman of the Tech Museum of Innovation from 1995 to 1999.[1]


Warnock died in Los Altos, California on August 19, 2023, at the age of 82, from pancreatic cancer.[9][2]


The recipient of numerous scientific and technical awards, Warnock won the Software Systems Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1989.[38] In 1995 Warnock received the University of Utah Distinguished Alumnus Award and in 1999 he was inducted as a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. Warnock was awarded the Edwin H. Land Medal from the Optical Society of America in 2000.[39] In 2002, he was made a fellow of the Computer History Museum for "his accomplishments in the commercialization of desktop publishing with Chuck Geschke and for innovations in scalable type, computer graphics and printing."[40] Oxford University's Bodleian Library bestowed the Bodley Medal on Warnock in November 2003.[41][42] In 2004, Warnock received the Lovelace Medal from the British Computer Society in London.[43] In October 2006, Warnock—along with Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke—received the American Electronics Association's Annual Medal of Achievement Award, being the first software executives to receive this award. In 2008, Warnock and Geschke received the Computer Entrepreneur Award from the IEEE Computer Society "for inventing PostScript and PDF and helping to launch the desktop publishing revolution and change the way people engage with information and entertainment".[44] In September 2009, Warnock and Geschke were chosen to receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, one of the nation's highest honors bestowed on scientists, engineers and inventors.[45][46] In 2010, Warnock and Geschke received the Marconi Prize, an honor specifically for contributions to information science and communications.[47]

Warnock was a member of the National Academy of Engineering,[6] the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[6] and the American Philosophical Society,[48] the latter being America's oldest learned society.[49]

Warnock received honorary degrees from the University of Utah,[6] the American Film Institute,[6] and The University of Nottingham in the UK.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "John Warnock Obituary". Salt Lake City, Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune. August 24, 2023. Retrieved August 26, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d Rosenwald, Michael S. (August 22, 2023). "John Warnock, Adobe CEO who led desktop publishing revolution, dies at 82". Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  3. ^ a b Jason Matthew Smith (Spring 2013). "The Innovator: University of Utah alum and Adobe pioneer John Warnock recollects his path to a publishing revolution" (PDF). Continuum: The Magazine of the University of Utah. University of Utah. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 1, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2014.
  4. ^ Lerner, Evan (August 21, 2023). "Remembering John Warnock". The John and Marcia Price College of Engineering at the University of Utah. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  5. ^ "Famous Betas – Gamma Theta Chapter". Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Biancuzzi, Federico; Warden, Shane (March 28, 2009). Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages. O'Reilly Media. p. 456. ISBN 978-0-596-51517-1. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  7. ^ a b "Finding Solutions: John and Marva Warnock Supporting Moran Research to Cure Blinding Diseases". Moran Eye Center News. University of Utah Health. March 6, 2019. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  8. ^ Harrington, Jim (August 20, 2023). "Adobe co-founder John Warnock, a giant in the tech world, dies at 82". The Mercury News. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d Clay Risen (August 24, 2023). "John Warnock, Inventor of the PDF, Dies at 82". New York Times. New York City, New York. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  10. ^ Sexauer NE and; Warnock, J. E (1969). "The Radical of the Row-Finite Matrices over an Arbitrary Ring". Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. American Mathematical Society. 139: 281–295. doi:10.1090/s0002-9947-1969-0238889-9. JSTOR 1995321.
  11. ^ Jacobson, Nathan (1956), Structure of rings, American Mathematical Society, Colloquium Publications, vol. 37, Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, p. 200, MR 0081264.
  12. ^ Warnock, John (1969). A hidden surface algorithm for computer generated halftone pictures (PDF) (Ph.D.). University of Utah. The algorithm was Warnock's doctoral thesis. 32 pages.
  13. ^ Daintith, John; Wright, Edmund (2009). Oxford Dictionary of Computing. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923400-4., 608 pages
  14. ^ Ivan E. Sutherland (June 1, 1970). "Computer Displays". Scientific American. Retrieved August 11, 2023.
  15. ^ Perry, Tekla S. (May 1, 1988). "Inventing Postscript, the Tech That Took the Pain out of Printing". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
  16. ^ a b Proven, Liam (August 21, 2023). "RIP: Computer graphics pioneer John Warnock dies at 82". The Register. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  17. ^ "Charles Geschke and John Warnock | Lemelson". Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  18. ^ "John Warnock, who helped invent the PDF, dies at 82 – CBS News". CBS News. August 21, 2023. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  19. ^ "Founding and Growing Adobe Systems, Inc" (PDF). IEEE. June 18, 2019. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  20. ^ Kan, Michael (August 21, 2023). "John Warnock, Adobe Co-Founder Who Helped Invent the PDF, Dies at 82". PCMag Middle East. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  21. ^ Diaz, Jesus (August 21, 2023). "The legendary John Warnock forever changed the way we communicate". Fast Company. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  22. ^ "John Edward Warnock (Obituary)". Los Altos, California: Los Altos Town Crier. August 31, 2023. Retrieved August 31, 2023.
  23. ^ Anubhav Rohatgi (March 23, 2015). "Adobe Explains It All: Adobe Illustrator". Adobe Corporate Communications. Retrieved August 11, 2023.
  24. ^ Warnock, John (1991). "The Camelot Project" (PDF). PlanetPDF. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2009. This document describes the base technology and ideas behind the project named 'Camelot.' This project's goal is to solve a fundamental problem [...] there is no universal way to communicate and view ... printed information electronically.
  25. ^ Eve, Martin Paul (2022). ""New Leaves: Riffling the History of Digital Pagination"". Book History. 25 (2): 491. doi:10.1353/bh.2022.0017. S2CID 254221430. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  26. ^ "Warnock | Adobe Fonts". Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  27. ^ Lovos, Milagros (April 4, 2018). "John Warnock". IEEE Computer Society. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  28. ^ "Publishing start-up captures Adobe veteran". CNET. January 2, 2002. Retrieved September 7, 2023.
  29. ^ Martine Paris (February 12, 2021). "Your Valentine's Day Hotel Might Have This Buzzy AI Bed". Forbes. Retrieved September 7, 2023.
  30. ^ a b "". Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Group. Retrieved August 29, 2023.
  31. ^ Nagy C, et al. (2009). Warnock J and Warnock M (ed.). The Splendid Heritage: Perspectives on American Indian Art. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0874809602. OCLC 294998662.
  32. ^ Brooks, Matt; Lofton, Shelby (August 20, 2023). "Adobe co-founder, U alum, John Warnock dies at 82". Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  33. ^ Gallardo, Margarita. "Jeffrey named to new Warnock endowed professorship". Stanford University School of Medicine. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  34. ^ "U Receives Cornerstone Gift for New Engineering Building: President J. Bernard Machen Announces Plans for the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building". University of Utah. 2003. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved March 21, 2009. The stock currently valued at over $5.7M is the cornerstone gift of a $13M capital campaign to construct a new engineering building dedicated to undergraduate instruction and emerging areas of research.
  35. ^ "U Receives Cornerstone Gift for New Engineering Building: President J. Bernard Machen Announces Plans for the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building". University of Utah. 2003. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
  36. ^ "SCI Starts New Phase in the Warnock Engineering Building". Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  37. ^ "John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building Opens New Era of Exploration and Discovery – UNews Archive". The University of Utah. February 8, 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  38. ^ "Software Systems Award Awardees List". Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  39. ^ "Edwin H. Land Medal Winners List". Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  40. ^ CHM. "John Warnock – CHM Fellow Award Winner". Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
  41. ^ "Speech of welcome at the Bodleian Library's San Francisco dinner, 13 November 2003". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2009. Speech by Bodleian Library's 23rd Librarian, Reg Carr
  42. ^ "Speech of welcome to the Bodley Medal Event". Archived from the original on March 14, 2019. Retrieved September 19, 2009. Bodleian Librarian Speech on History of the Bodley Medal
  43. ^ "2004 winner". Archived from the original on February 12, 2012. Retrieved December 10, 2008. 2004 winner, Dr John E Warnock, Chairman of the Board, Adobe Systems
  44. ^ Tyrus Manuel. "2008 Computer Entrepreneur Award: Charles M. Geschke and John E. Warnock". Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  45. ^ Steve Johnson (September 17, 2009). "Adobe co-founders to receive national science award". Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  46. ^ "The National Medal of Technology and Innovation". United States Patent and Trademark Office.. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  47. ^ "Geschke and Warnock Revolutionized Industry-Standard Printing and Imaging Technology". The Marconi Society. October 15, 2010. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  48. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  49. ^ "About the APS". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  50. ^ "Honorary Degree for John Warnock". University of Nottingham. July 20, 2010. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]