Video charts how Adobe went from garage start-up to editing software giant

You might assume the story of computer software giant Adobe is standard corporate fare, but Adobe’s history is a tale of humble beginnings, countless inventions and a kidnapping. YouTube channel ColdFusion has released a fantastic video on its history. 

The video tells of how Charles Geschke and John Warnock left Xerox PARC in 1982 to found Adobe from the latter’s garage. The pair had developed the page description language PostScript, but with little interest from Xerox they struck out on their own and Adobe was born (named after a stream that passed by John’s house).

ColdFusion tells of how PostScript revolutionized printing and would play a key role in the emerging laser printers, which were vastly superior to the crude dot matrix printers of the day. Charles and John rejected Steve Jobs’ bid to buy Adobe in 1982, but did sell him a 19-percent share. Remarkably, the business behemoth paid five times Adobe’s worth and a five-year licensing fee for PostScript to seal the deal. This earned Adobe bragging rights as the first company in Silicon Valley to turn over a profit in its first year. 

Jump to 1985 and PostScript was being used in conjunction with Apple’s LaserWriter printers, which played a major role in the subsequent desktop publishing revolution. In 1986 Adobe debuted on the NASDAQ index and by 1987 the company took its first step toward becoming the editing software giant we know and love today with the launch of Adobe Illustrator.

You might be surprised to learn that Photoshop wasn’t developed in-house and was in fact the brainchild of Thomas Knoll. He started developing a piece of software that was able to display grayscale imagery on his Macintosh Plus, while studying for a PhD. It was his brother John who encouraged him to take a time out from his studies and focus on turning it into a dedicated editing program. Together the Knolls developed the software and following demonstrations Adobe bought the rights to distribute Photoshop in 1988. 

The program was released exclusively for Macintosh computers in 1990. ColdFusion justifies the program’s eye-watering retail price of $895 by comparing it to the $300 per hour price of professional digital retouching at the time. Adobe’s next big milestone was the launch of the PDF file format and Adobe Acrobat Reader. But the story would take an altogether darker turn when Charles was kidnapped at gunpoint in broad daylight from the carpark of an Adobe building in Mountain View, California in May 1992. 

The kidnappers contacted Charles’s wife, Nancy, and demanded $650,000. According to ColdFusion she was told he would be “cut into a million pieces and left at her doorstep,” should she not meet their demands. Nancy managed to contact John Warnock, who called the FBI. After a few days Charles was located, freed and the kidnappers were brought to justice. Remarkably, Charles soon returned the fray, and it was business as usual for Adobe. In 1993 Photoshop made it to Microsoft Windows. 

To find out about the birth of Adobe Premiere and how it shaped the world of video editing, more on all of the above and countless other fantastic videos, visit ColdFusion on YouTube.

Read more:
How to download Photoshop and try it for free
• The best tablets for photo editing
• The best monitors for photographers
• Best drawing tablets for photo editing
• The best photo-editing laptops
• The best desktop computers for photo editing
• The best ultra-wide monitors for photo editing
• The best photo editing tools and accessories
Corel PhotoMirage software review

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Mike Harris
Technique Editor

Mike is Deputy Editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and brings with him over 10 years experience writing both freelance and for some of the biggest specialist publications. Prior to joining N-Photo Mike was the production editor for the content marketing team of Wex Photo Video, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer, where he sharpened his skills in both the stills and videography spheres.  

While he’s an avid motorsport photographer, his skills extend to every genre of photography – making him one of Digital Camera World’s top tutors for techniques on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other imaging equipment, as well as sharing his expertise on shooting everything from portraits and landscapes to abstracts and architecture to wildlife and, yes, fast things going around race tracks.