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25 Years of DTP
April 30, 2010 - Dave Hecei
I’ve recently been reading about the anniversary of the Apple LaserWriter, which was introduced 25 years ago. What makes this so important is that most techies attribute the Apple LaserWriter as the instrument that brought forth Desktop Publishing. In actuality, we should say that it was a group effort that includes the Apple Macintosh, LaserWriter, Adobe Postscript, and Aldus Pagemaker.
The Mac had a Graphical User Interface (GUI, what is commonly pronounced as gooey) that allowed a user to see a document on a monitor as it would appear on paper. The Mac OS, I believe it was System 2.1, had the graphic tools necessary for a program like Pagemaker.
The Mac, LaserWriter, and Pagemaker all worked because of Adobe’s Postscript. John Warnock was one of the creative minds behind Adobe and Postscript. In essence, Postscript is a programming language. It is not a device driver, but a way to describe, in text, how to recreate a page.
You have to remember that this was at a time when personal computers were connected to dot matrix printers. These would either print a character made out of dots, or when used with a Mac, would be sent signals of where to print a dot or not print a dot. This allowed you to print text and graphics, but the resolution was low and the images were not very crisp. Lines looked more like stairs and don’t even talk about curved lines.
By sending a Postscript file to a Postscript printer you are actually sending a set of instructions on how to print a page. If you wanted to print a circle in the middle of the page a dot matrix printer would be sent the data line by line. In Postscript you would just send the instruction to create a circle. What makes Postscript so powerful was the fact that that circle would be perfectly round with no ‘jaggies’, as they were called back then. By adding a few commands that circle could be any size, enlarging also would not induce jaggies, or could be duplicated hundreds of times. It could even be moved slightly and duplicated creating a spirograph like image, all with just a few lines of text.
The first LaserWriter was huge, weighing in at over 77 pounds and measuring 11.5 x 18.5 x 16.2 inches. In the beginning, there were only a few fonts to choose from. However, these fonts could be practically any size, with little to no loss in quality. It had a resolution of 300 dots per inch (DPI) and had a print speed of about 8 pages per minute. It also could be connected directly to a Mac or to a LocalTalk network and shared with other Macs. The price for all this amazing goodness was a mere $6995.
Soon after all this came the other players, some of which switch teams – Aldus sells Pagemaker to Adobe and such. After Pagemaker came QuarkXpress and it soon became the standard in desktop publishing. With the arrival of Photoshop and then Illustrator/Freehand, most of the players were in place.
When the 90’s started, Macs now had color and were bigger and faster. I remember the Mac IIci was one of the most popular Macs at the time for desktop publishing. It could use more RAM and had bigger hard drives. And all through this, Postscript grew and expanded. PDFs are essentially Postscript files. Mac OS X uses Display Postscript to draw text and graphics on the screen and to help in printing to non-Postscript printers.
Of course Windows got into the picture, but the Mac had set the standard, and one that was so good that it has essentially held up to this day. Desktop publishing helped make the Mac what it is today. It also is what likely kept the Mac alive through the tough years, those just before Jobs returned and brought the company back to life.
Yes the Windows PC may have won the war in numbers, but today, Macs are the primary computer used to create most of the magazines and newspapers you read today. And it’s all thanks to that first LaserWriter.
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