Archive for Apple LaserWriter

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011): Fonts and desktop publishing

Posted in Digital Media, Graphical User Interface, People in Media History, Print Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2015 by multimediaman

Steven P. Jobs’ role in creating the first personal computer (along with his neighborhood friend Steve Wozniak), the founding of Apple Computer and his subsequent firing and return to the company have become part of tech industry lore. His later contributions to mobile, wireless and touch computing—embodied in the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad—were no less transformative.

Steven P.  Jobs in 1984

Steven P. Jobs in 1984

Although Steve Jobs had extensive knowledge of computer hardware, operating systems and applications—he even worked for a short time in the early 1970s as a technician for Atari—his greatest skills were as technology visionary, marketer and salesman. Without the entrepreneurial drive, leadership charisma and design esthetic of Steve Jobs, Apple would never have emerged as the world’s largest publicly traded corporation; nor would it have the most loyal customers in the history of the consumer products industries.

Owing a great deal to the location and times of his upbringing, Steve Jobs expressed a broad cultural viewpoint and considered every project and product as an aspect of a larger creative purpose. Having developed an enthusiasm for the Bauhaus movement’s form and function philosophy, he identified design simplicity with products that were both beautiful and easy to use.

In his 2012 biography, Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Jobs from the early 1980s, “So that’s our approach. Very simple, and we’re really shooting for Museum of Modern Art quality. The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.” Jobs rejected the boxy, bulky and dark industrial style of the earlier generation of computer design in favor of elegance and what he later called “taste.”

It was out of this unique blending of art with science and business that Steve Jobs made two significant contributions to typography and printing technology: the creation of computer fonts and the launching of desktop publishing. As with every innovation associated with his name, Jobs relied on the skills of others to realize his vision and then packaged and presented the accomplishments with great fanfare to investors and consumers alike.

Computer Fonts

Jobs’ esthetic sensibility had been formed a decade earlier while he was briefly a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1972. After dropping out of school, he enrolled in a calligraphy course at Reed taught by Father Robert Palladino. The course had a lasting impact on him.

As Jobs explained in a commencement address he delivered to Stanford University in 2005: “Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. … I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”

While working with the Macintosh design team, Jobs was involved in every detail of its size, shape and color as well as every icon, window and box of the graphical user interface. This involvement included the design of a group of fonts which he insisted be named for the great cities of the world: Cairo, Chicago, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Monaco (monospaced system font), New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Venice.

Apple Macintosh font and desktop icon designer Susan Kare, developer Andy Hertzfeld and engineer Bill Atkinson

Apple Macintosh font and desktop icon designer Susan Kare, developer Andy Hertzfeld and engineer Bill Atkinson

Prior to the work of Macintosh designer Susan Kare, developer Andy Hertzfeld and engineer Bill Atkinson on proportional fonts, computers were mostly limited to monospaced typefaces much like a typewriter with al alphanumeric characters and keystrokes the exact same width. Jobs could see that the bitmapped display of the Macintosh desktop was capable of rendering typefaces with a sophistication equal to that of letterpress hot metal type and cold phototypesetting.

Others at Apple Computer, due to their limited perspective on the utility of the personal computer, could not relate to Steve Jobs’ insistence on the font library; they considered it a distracting personal obsession. In his biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson quotes Apple investor and partner Mark Markkula: “I kept saying, ‘Fonts?!? Don’t we have more important things to do?’ ”

The original Macintosh font library

The original Macintosh font library

When Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh on January 24, 1984 at the Flint Center in Cupertino, the font library was a critical part of the presentation of “the computer for the rest of us.” It was the first desktop system to offer not only the 9 city-named fonts listed above but also style choices—Plain, Bold, Italic, Bold Italic, Underline, Outline, Shadowed—for each.

While initially appearing somewhat primitive, bitmapped and lacking the finesse of professional typography, Jobs’ on-screen fonts were the beginning of a revolution in type technology. Firstly, fonts became something that everyone with a computer could use, not just professional graphic designers and printing specialists.

Secondly, the Macintosh font library encouraged professionals to push the limits of computer-generated typography and eventually transformed the field of typesetting altogether. Soon desktop fonts surpassed the quality and versatility of all previous type technologies and offered WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) output; i.e. the image displayed on the computer screen is precisely what is printed onto a sheet of paper or other final output media.

Desktop Publishing

Steve Jobs understood the promise of WYSIWYG long before the phrase was widely used in the printing and publishing industries. Nearly one year to the day after unveiling the Macintosh, Jobs was back on stage in Cupertino at the annual Apple stockholders meeting on January 23, 1985 to launch the Apple LaserWriter and demonstrate the first ever desktop publishing system.

Desktop publishing signifies an integrated publishing system whereby pages containing both text and graphics are designed in layout software on a desktop computer and printed in individual or multiple copies on a desktop printer. Building on the accomplishments of the Macintosh, Steve Jobs worked throughout 1984 with partner companies and publishing industry experts to integrate the Apple Macintosh computer with other basic elements of desktop publishing: the Apple LaserWriter, Adobe PostScript and Aldus PageMaker.

The Apple LaserWriter, Apple project manager Bruce Blumberg and laser printer invertor Gary Starkweather

The Apple LaserWriter, Apple project manager Bruce Blumberg and laser printer invertor Gary Starkweather 

Apple LaserWriter: Gary Starkweather invented the core toner imaging technology of the laser printer at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. Although Xerox never brought a desktop laser printer to market, HP and Canon developed systems independently of each other in the 1970s. The HP LaserJet, based on the Canon LBP-CX printing engine, was the first desktop laser printer and was released in 1984. The Apple LaserWriter, developed by a team led by project manager Bruce Blumberg, had two important differences with the HP device: it was networked (with AppleTalk) and could be shared and contained breakthrough PostScript software that enabled true WYSIWYG capability. The Apple LaserWriter was available for purchase in March 1985 and sold for $6,995.

PostScript Language Reference Manual. Steve Jobs talking with Chuck Geschke (left) and John Warnock of Adobe in January 1985.

PostScript Language Reference Manual. Steve Jobs talking with Chuck Geschke (left) and John Warnock of Adobe in January 1985.

Adobe Postscript: The software at the heart of the Apple LaserWriter was Adobe’s PostScript page description language. John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, who also came from Xerox PARC, founded Adobe Systems in 1982 with PostScript as their flagship product. Warnock and Geschke developed a state-of-the-art device independent print programming language that: 1.) captured all the elements—text, graphics, geometry, etc. —on the page of the desktop layout software during the “Print” function; 2.) interpreted the layout data as vector-based objects within the memory of the printer and; 3.) converted the PostScript objects into raster print data such that the page could to rendered onto a sheet of paper at a resolution of 300 dots per inch. The Adobe founders also signed a licensing agreement with Linotype that made 13 professional typefaces (four styles for each of the Helvetica, Times Roman and Courier families and a Symbol font) “resident” within the PostScript raster image processor (RIP) in the Apple LaserWriter.

Paul Brainerd and an early version of Aldus PageMaker on the Macintosh

Paul Brainerd and an early version of Aldus PageMaker on the Macintosh 

Aldus PageMaker: Paul Brainerd—the man who coined the phrase “desktop publishing”—founded Aldus Corporation in February 1984 in Seattle, WA. With a background in computerized newspaper publishing systems, Brainerd and a group of developers began working on layout software initially for newspapers. After getting some early peeks at the Apple Macintosh, Adobe PostScript and Apple LaserWriter, the Aldus team developed PageMaker as the first application capable of placing columns of text and images onto a virtual page and used a floating tool palette. The first commercially available version of PageMaker was released in July 1985 and sold for $495.

John W. Seybold

John W. Seybold

An important advisor to Steve Jobs throughout the process was John Seybold, a pioneer in computerized publishing systems and industry consultant. According to Paul Brainerd, “There were a couple of people that really were the glue that made all of this come together, and the most important was Jonathan Seybold. He was consulting to both Adobe and Apple. He and I knew each other for a long time going back … he told me some time during ’84, probably in the first quarter, that there was some confidential information that I needed to know. He got clearance from his clients to be able to share it with me.”

In an account published by Adobe in 2004, Jonathan Seybold reviewed the significance of the events that unfolded during the summer of 1984, “Steve wanted to see me urgently. He said they had a deal with Adobe, they were signing a deal with Linotype, they had real fonts. I went to Cupertino and walked into this tiny room, and there stood Jobs and Warnock with a Mac and a LaserWriter. He showed me what they were up to. I turned to Steve and said, ‘You’ve just turned publishing on its head. This is the watershed event.’ ”

Although they are less celebrated, Steve Jobs’ introduction of the Apple Macintosh font library and his pivotal role in launching the desktop publishing revolution in 1984-85 were watershed developments because they made designing and publishing accessible to anyone with a desktop computer and printer. The lasting impact of Jobs’ breakthrough continues to be felt today in the explosion of online and social media publishing by billions of people across the globe. Jobs’ death from cancer at age 56 on October 5, 2011 prematurely ended the life of one of the most important and unique figures of our times.

3-D printing: The next desktop revolution

Posted in 3-D Printing, Digital Media, Digital Printing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by multimediaman

I suspect there are more than a few readers who remember how printing and publishing changed dramatically in the 1980s as desktop computers and print-ready files displaced phototypesetters and camera-ready artwork. Many of us went from the hazards of darkroom chemistry to that of workstation ergonomics; I remember being unceremoniously lifted from the comfort of my paste-up boards, horizontal camera and film processor and dropped into the world of SyQuest disks, Apple system “bombs” and PostScript (infinite-loop) errors.

Steve Jobs Press Conference January 23 1985

Steve Jobs at the press conference where the first desktop publishing system was announced on January 23, 1985.

Actually, the birth of desktop publishing (a term coined by Paul Brainerd of Aldus Corporation) and its disruptive impact can be traced to a specific date. On January 23, 1985, at a press conference following an annual stockholder’s meeting of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs announced the first desktop publishing system. It consisted of the following component technologies:

  • Personal computer (Apple Macintosh)
  • Page layout software (Aldus PageMaker)
  • Laser printer (Canon/Apple LaserWriter)
  • Page description language (Adobe PostScript)

It is safe to say that few understood the meaning of what happened that day. For the first time, text and graphics were placed on a page simultaneously and imaged on paper as reproduction “copy” or as a final printed sheet. The breakthrough of desktop publishing was that it was possible for just about anyone—with a modest investment—to become a publisher. The full impact of desktop publishing would be realized over the next decade as it transformed several industries and was a significant element in the evolution of the World Wide Web.

Chris Anderson MakersWith the benefit of hindsight, Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail and former editor of Wired magazine) discusses the long-term implications of the desktop phenomenon in his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. “Remember, at that time publishing used to mean manufacturing in every sense of the word, from the railways that brought huge rolls of paper and barrels of ink to the printing plant … Taking publishing out of the factories liberated it. But the real impact of this was not in paper, but in the idea of ‘publishing’ online. Once people were given the power of the press, they wanted to do more than print out newsletters. So, when the web arrived, ‘publishing’ became ‘posting’ and they could reach the world.”

Today Anderson believes that we are living through a similar paradigm shift. But this time it is in the world of physical objects and the making of things. Today’s Maker Movement—the design and manufacture of things by individuals instead of industrial corporations—is with personal computers, CAD software and desktop 3-D printers and other equipment like laser cutters and CNC machines.

Form 1 desktop 3-D printer

Desktop 3-D printers take geometric data from CAD software and fabricate objects out of liquid plastic or resin

Distinct from the desktop printers that produce 2-D black and white or full color images on sheets of paper, a 3-D printer uses electronic geometries and turns them into objects that you can pick up and hold in your hand. Desktop 3-D printers usually extrude molten plastic in layers of liquid or powder resin. They can typically put down plastic material in thin layers (.33 of a millimeter) in processes like fusion deposition modeling (FDM), stereo lithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS).

3-D printers are an “additive” manufacturing technology; they build up objects from nothing, layer by layer. This is distinct from older industrial techniques—like “subtractive” routers and mills—in which spinning raw material is cut or ground away to reveal the object. Although they are newer and undergoing rapid development, additive 3-D printers have the advantage of producing little or no waste in the production process.

3D Print Sales Chart

Market size by 3-D printing sector application in US$ million

According to a recent report by IDTechEx, large-scale 3-D printing surpassed revenues of $1 billion in 2012 and growth is expected to quadruple by 2025. Industries that are heavy users of 3-D printing technologies are medical and dental, automotive and aerospace. The promise of the 3-D print is that it opens up inexpensive variability and complexity to the mass manufacturing process. For example, 3-D print used in the manufacture of prosthetics and orthopedic implants makes possible mass customization based on patient CT or MRI scan data.

Some believe—including Chris Anderson—that the digital Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Maker Movement are generating a much bigger market than that of the large-scale commercial applications. The aggregate value of the design and manufacture of entirely custom products in medium to small (or even single) quantities is potentially greater than the manufacture of mass consumer products where each item is identical.

This is a business concept that everyone in the printing industry is very familiar with. We have been dealing with the economics of the digital print for two decades and understand very well that the cost per unit of a digital print product (custom) versus conventional offset printing (mass production). The cost per unit in digital print is “flat,” i.e. it do not rise or fall based upon a decrease or increase in quantity or a change in complexity, whereas the cost of the setup (make-ready) of a traditional offset print project is amortized across the entire print run.


The relationship between the cost per unit and the quantity of mass manufacturing (injection molding) versus digital fabrication (3-D printing).

Anderson explains it this way, “Digital fabrication inverts the economics of traditional manufacturing. In mass production, most of the costs are in up-front tooling, and the more complicated the product is and the more changes you make, the more it costs. But with digital fabrication, it’s the reverse: the things that are expensive in traditional manufacturing become free.”

We can rightfully question Chris Anderson’s assertion that digital desktop fabrication heralds the beginning of new industrial revolution on the magnitude of that which occurred in the nineteenth century. However, there is no doubting his commitment. Anderson recently left his position after more than ten years as editor of Wired magazine to become full-time CEO of the firm he founded called 3D Robotics that manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

As we think about the meaning of 3-D printing technology today, it is important to reflect back upon the desktop revolution of the 1980s. We should recall that many in the publishing industry viewed the nascent desktop system—inspired by Steve Jobs of Apple, Paul Brainerd of Aldus and Chuck Geschke and John Warnock of Adobe—as not measuring up to the professional requirements of the day. Many who initially dismissed desktop publishing as a fad and resisted the transition away from mechanical graphic arts technologies would later live to regret that perception.

The promise of 3-D printing is significant. Perhaps Chris Anderson will not be alone in the migration from the printing and publishing industries to that of digital fabrication, DIY manufacturing and the Maker Movement.