TonerNews.com: How Steve Jobs Unveiled The Apple Laser Writer Printer in 1985, Thanks to HP and Canon18 Feb, 2015
How Steve Jobs helped launch the desktop publishing revolution
The original Hewlett-Packard LaserJet had come out the year before when on Jan. 28, 1985, a month before he would turn 30, Steve Jobs unveiled the LaserWriter at a press event in New York. Both printers used the same Canon engine modified from Canon's copier technology. Both could turn out 300 dots per inch (dpi) documents at eight pages per minute in gorgeous silence — quite a feat in a time when conversations were regularly cut short by the repetitive impact from an office printer.
The obvious difference was the price. The LaserJet was $3,500; the LaserWriter, $7,000. So, when I asked Jobs why someone should spend twice as much on Apple's laser printer, he went ballistic. "Because HP is brain-dead!" he exclaimed.
"It doesn't do graphics worth beans," he went on. "The text and fonts it prints are nowhere as beautiful or ambitious as what we're doing here."
It took another presenter, John Warnock, president of a 27-employee company called Adobe Systems, to compare the LaserJet in slightly more diplomatic terms.
"It goes nowhere. It's a daisy wheel replacement," he said referring to business letter-quality printers that hammered metallic characters in one font through an inked ribbon onto the page. "It has no growth potential in type, no growth potential in graphics, no growth potential in communications."
The LaserWriter was the first desktop printer to incorporate Adobe's PostScript, a page description language that contained scalable typefaces and supported smoothly drawn graphics. The same file created on a Macintosh computer and proofed on a LaserWriter could be output to a Linotronic 300 phototypesetter at 2,540 dpi, which was commercial quality.
Some context is helpful in understanding that 1985 event. Eight days earlier, Apple followed up on its 1984 Super Bowl commercial, still perhaps the most memorable in Super Bowl history, with an ill-conceived spot that disparaged potential Macintosh customers who instead bought IBM-compatible computers as lemmings going over a cliff.
The Mac in its nascent years was often seen more as a toy by corporate America than a serious computer, and its sales were dismal. But the LaserWriter with more computing power than a Mac might have been the leverage Apple needed to get its systems through the corporate door. In a way, Jobs was betting the future of the Mac on the LaserWriter. But time was running out. In May, Apple's board sided with John Sculley and stripped him of all executive duties; in September, Jobs resigned from Apple.
Despite his fall from grace at Apple, Jobs' bet on LaserWriter proved prophetic. Warnock says, "I think you need to know a story that is not widely known. In November or December of 1984, there was a meeting of marketing managers at Apple. Chuck (Geschke, Adobe co-founder) and I attended. The cost of the LaserWriter's components were about $7,000. There were NO margins in the machine because Steve wanted to sell it for $7,000.
"The majority of the managers thought Steve was crazy to announce the machine and that no one would buy a printer that was more than twice the cost of the computer. Steve said the high cost was due to the ROM (read-only memory) and RAM (random-access memory). Steve said that within a month or two, the cost of memory would drop (which it did), and therefore the machine would make money. He also argued that because the LaserWriter could be networked over AppleTalk, it could be used by more than one computer. He also understood that the ImageWriter (a dot matrix printer) would never be adequate in an office environment.
"Steve was passionate about the LaserWriter and overrode all of the manager's objections. In this case Steve deserves the reputation he has for changing the world."
As the LaserWriter was launched, the term "desktop publishing" entered the vernacular. One way to track usage is to search for a phrase in Google Books Ngram Viewer, which graphs the number of mentions in books by year. Starting in the mid-1980s occurrences of "desktop publishing" tracked steeply upward, peaking in 1992, then settling into a gentle downward slope into the new millennium.
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