Adobe's Gary Cosimini reflects on 'First Acrobat PDF Decade'
Will give keynote at DigiPub Solutions' PDF Conference in June

4 March 2003

By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Editor's Note: Planet PDF is a founding co-sponsor of the PDF Conference (, developed and hosted by DigiPub Solutions Corp., and we were delighted to learn recently that Gary Cosimini of Adobe Systems, Inc. will be the keynote speaker for the June 2-4 event in Bethesda, MD. In the past, this event has had a significant focus on government and enterprise uses and users. For the upcoming event, they've added a track for creative professionals. With Cosimini's publishing background -- prior to joining Adobe, he was the Senior Art Director for The New York Times -- and long-term Acrobat/PDF involvement and interest, he's a perfect choice to help commemorate 'The First Acrobat/PDF Decade.' Cosimini, still based in New York as the Business Development Director of Adobe's Creative Professional Product Group, also is the person from whom I first heard about a unique software product code-named "Carousel." We recently linked up with him to reflect on his career-changing interest in Acrobat and PDF, and to trace some of the highlights of the product and format's soon-to-be 10-year history (it was introduced in New York on June 15, 1993).

Original PDF icon
"My job was to wear a suit, push the mouse, and create eggs without chickens; that's what Business Development is."
-- Gary Cosimini, Adobe Systems

Planet PDF: Gary, thanks for agreeing to talk with Planet PDF about your work at Adobe Systems in general and, in particular, the first decade of Adobe Acrobat and PDF. Let's back up the tape up to a point before the June 1993 public introduction of a product-in-development previously known by its "Carousel" codename.

We knew you in a previous life as the very technology savvy Senior Art Director for The New York Times, someone whose knowledge and experience was widely respected within the newspaper industry. Some certainly were surprised when you eventually resigned that position to work for Adobe, especially as a point person for a new and unproven technology we've come to know as Acrobat and PDF. Can you tell us how that situation evolved: How did you first learn about Acrobat, what about it appealed to you as someone with a publishing background -- why were you so interested in it that you left a job with the Times?

Gary Cosimini: "Actually, the betting line at the time was that I'd join Apple!

I was introduced to Acrobat by Wes Lem, this great guy from Adobe's New York office. He came by one day really excited and said I had to see this demo. Adobe knew me because I was an early PostScript enthusiast. While working at The Times, I tracked Adobe's innovations closely and implemented a lot of their technologies in ways that later became standard practice. We were among the first users of Illustrator and Photoshop, and created workflow and automation tools based upon them for mapping, charting and photography.

The product Wes showed me was a rudimentary document viewer and had a splash screen which said 'New Technology,' not Carousel. It must have been 1991, before laptops, and he had to install it on my computer. It was really, really interesting, so naturally I poked into some of the files after the demo. This is cool, I thought: it's PostScript for viewing. It had a lot of the characteristics of PostScript, but was declarative like Illustrator rather than interpretive, which is good for efficiency, and had a clear representation of the notion of pages and fonts and images. And a Cross Reference Table allowed rapid access to all the file's components. What a great idea!

The application of this technology for transmitting finished documents was obvious! At the time we were making photostats of pages to distribute by airfreight overseas and scanning pages at high resolution to 'fax' them by satellite or microwave for printing. If making digital pages could be as simple as converting a PostScript file, everyone would save a lot of money and all that bandwidth could be put to better use.

The trouble was that very few people understood the position of PostScript in the manufacturing chain. I thought Adobe would need someone to explain this to customers and developers, and to catalyze change in the entire industry. PDF had the potential to transform the way literally everyone communicates and does their work.

So on January 1, 1992, I made a fateful New Year's resolution -- to ask Adobe for a job representing Acrobat. Because so many of the industry decision makers essential for Acrobat to succeed came to work every morning in Manhattan, my one condition was that I work from a New York base."

Planet PDF: What was your first job title and role?

Cosimini: "The first day I reported to duty in Mountain View was in May 1992 -- the same day [Adobe co-founder and former CEO] Chuck Geschke was kidnapped. I was sitting in a office not 100 feet away, but out of the line of sight, from the parking lot where it took place. Chuck impressed everyone with his fortitude and depth of character by addressing his employees in person the day after he was freed. Adobe grew up a lot that year; I think it became more serious and committed to doing something important. Perhaps Acrobat provided us with a type of mission, and John and Chuck supplied the imagination and leadership.

My job title at Adobe -- Business Development Manager -- was something they found in an HR manual. I reported to Clint Nagy, Adobe's original Vice President of Sales, who taught me just enough about the software business to get by. My job was to wear a suit, push the mouse, and create eggs without chickens; that's what Business Development is. My assignment was to identify leverage points for Acrobat, and then craft and implement programs to capture these opportunities."

Planet PDF: What was your expectation for Acrobat and PDF in 1993?

Cosimini: "We all shared John Warnock's vision and were on the same wavelength: We thought it would take five years before anyone recognized how useful this technology could be, and another five before the whole world took it for granted. If we achieved that timetable, we'd feel we had been successful.

This was, of course, in the days before mid-quarterly updates for analysts! Wall Street now expects earth-shattering news every 45 days."

Planet PDF: Were you surprised by the less-than-enthusiastic adoption of Acrobat 1.0, back when Reader was *not* a free product, when the Distiller for the Network *was* free and when there were several competing products?

Adobe Acrobat 1.0 product family

Cosimini: "In addition to defining features for Acrobat and to PDF, creating a business model and value proposition were the hardest parts of developing the product. At one point in negotiations with a New York banking firm, we were told that Acrobat was not worth more than a screen saver: ouch. Another time, I was actually booed by an audience at the Boston Computer Society because the Common Ground demo guy had to run to the phone and call tech support in the middle of a demo, and I smiled! Actually, I think they were most upset that I didn't bring any Frisbees or hats. We did pretty good presentations, but had lots to learn about marketing.

Our two competitors, Replica and Common Ground, had free viewers with very small footprints; one could even embed the viewer in a document, which was a perfectly idiotic idea if you think about it. But they both took shortcuts with fonts and couldn't get them to work cross-platform. Fonts, and the PDF file format of course, were the keys to Acrobat's ultimate dominance.

When you think back, our real competitors were overnight delivery and the fax machine.

The free viewer was a philosophical challenge. How do make money by giving software away? This was a long time ago, remember. You couldn't even download Acrobat because the connections -- AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy -- were slow and unreliable; floppies, CDs and pre-installs were the only viable options. Computers did not yet come with CD players built-in.

So we had LOTS of animated arguments. In the end, the opinion which converted me came from the graphic arts students of KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm where I was invited to speak. Swedes are very interested in fairness. They told me, 'You don't have to pay for your eyes to read.' A very European argument. You can't disagree with the reasoning. Eventually we came to the correct conclusion: Charge for the razors, but give away the blades!"

[CONTINUED in Part 2 of 3]


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