May 3, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft gunning for Adobe's PDF format?

When Bill Gates showed off the new Metro document format in Longhorn at a hardware conference last week, some analysts were quick to call it a PDF killer.

Indeed, there's plenty of overlap between Adobe's popular Portable Document Format and what Microsoft is planning to include in the next version of Windows. Metro is designed to do things PDF already does, namely to allow for the creation of files that can be printed, viewed or archived without needing the program that created them.

It's that omnipresence, analysts say, that Microsoft covets, laying the groundwork for a significant battle between the two formats.


What's new:
Microsoft's new Metro format, due in the next version of Windows, is designed to do things Adobe's popular Portable Document Format already does--namely to allow for the creation of fixed-format documents that can be viewed, printed and archived on many types of computers, without needing the program that created them.

Bottom line:
Some analysts see a struggle brewing, but the companies are downplaying such a scenario. Microsoft says Metro is designed to do only a fraction of what PDF can. Adobe says it expects that operating system makers will eventually move into areas once handled by third-party software but that there will still be room for different products.

More stories on PDF

"I'm sure this is a long-standing point of chagrin for Microsoft," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. "Microsoft understands the power of controlling a document format. You wield quite a bit of power with that."

However the two companies have sought to downplay the competition.

"There is a crossover at the very basic scenario," Gregg Brown, lead program manager for Microsoft's digital documents unit, said following a presentation at Microsoft's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle last week. Brown said that if what someone wants to do is create a document and send it to someone else for viewing, both Metro and PDF offer similar abilities. But, he said, "PDF does an enormous amount more than that. We are focused just on that scenario."

With Metro, Microsoft basically wanted to create a file format that would handle two specific tasks. First, the software giant wanted a way to save files from within any Windows program that could then be opened, viewed and shared without needing the specific program that created it. Second, Microsoft wanted to use the same method for sending data to a printer that it uses for displaying data on screen. So Metro uses the same method for describing and understanding graphics and text that Longhorn's Avalon graphics engine uses.

But that is where Metro's ambitions end, Brown said, pointing out that PDF is useful for entirely different kinds of documents, such as multimedia files or electronic forms.

Adobe's Pam Deziel, director of product marketing for the company's Acrobat product line, agreed that PDF offered capabilities far beyond Metro's, describing the Microsoft format as a way to update the current Windows print architecture, which has become "a little long in the tooth."

But Gartenberg said Microsoft faces challenges even if it seeks only to supplant PDF as a way to view, share and print basic documents.

"The real question is why would someone do that as opposed to using PDF?" Gartenberg said.

The battle is an interesting one. Gartenberg noted that whenever Microsoft builds something into the operating system, "It's got a home-court advantage." However, PDF has been on the market for years,

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What's the point? A castrated proprietary PDF? It
probably goes without saying that Linux (and
presumably Mac OS/X) use PDF precisely the way
Microsoft is intending to use Metro. Any
application can generate PDF output, and that can
be printed.

What's so difficult about writing out PDF through
the printing subsystem and using that to
rasterize the image later (perhaps for the
printer)? Nothing at all.

So where's the value in a proprietary alternative
that isn't as flexible, doesn't have an existing
base of tools to deal with it, is encumbered by
onerous licensing and patents, and isn't already
cross-platform? None at all.

Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Never could understand....
... why it took a 60 MB program (Acrobat) to read a 10 KB PDF file.
I'm not too sure that I really like to see MS gaining control of more
of the computer environment, but I have had it with Adobe's
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stealing ideas again ...
... and from everything they steal, comes an alterantive that's worse (for [L]users), not better (except, of course, for Microsoft)

From TFA:
"With Metro, Microsoft basically wanted to create a file format that would handle two specific tasks. First, the software giant wanted a way to save files from within any Windows program that could then be opened, viewed and shared without needing the specific program that created it." ...

This isn't an issue, if one uses open file formats. Just uses whatever program you want, not one that's being crammed down your throat, and only works on Windows.

..."Second, Microsoft wanted to use the same method for sending data to a printer that it uses for displaying data on screen. So Metro uses the same method for describing and understanding graphics and text that Longhorn's Avalon graphics engine uses."

Sounds like reinventing PostScript to me. Remember? PS was originally a display technology.

I'm still waiting to hear what Metro does that PS/PDF DOESN'T do, except cut off Adobe's air supply.
Posted by Eggs Ackley (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft Bully
Here is MS pushing everyone who do not use MS being forced to
using MS. Just because they think they are the big kids on the
block, they think they can transform how the world works for
Why couldn't MS incorporate the already standard Adobe PDF
format in to the already LONG over due Long(moo)horn? Apple
did... Years ago! I don't know what to say! MS = Bully!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
If it works don't mess with it!
Microsoft should concentrate on writing an effective secure OS instead of trying to recreate something that already works.
Also I don't need to clutter my harddrive with another bit of software that only tries to duplicate something that already works.
Posted by r2_52 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Eight years too late?!?!?
I looked at my clock to make sure I hadn't time warped back to 1997. They were too busy trying to product their .doc format that they fell asleep. Microsoft could have easily made .doc what PDF is today by opening up their spec but they didn't. What's worse is that they probably won't open up the spec to Metro or at least as much as Adobe has done. What's next? A Google killer? Ooops! They tried that too! I think they should stick to operating systems and video games.
Posted by frankz00 (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some competition will be good
as Acrobat is expensive.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I love PDF but see nothing wrong with Microsoft's effort
I love PDF and use it everyday for web and offset printing. PDF is loaded with all types of features that work great with Adobe and other software. I does so much that I don't see Microsoft hurting marketshare much. Microsoft has a lot of work to do to directly compete with all that PDF does...and now that Adobe has Flash...MS can't touch that
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why are we hearing about this now?
How do we know this is not one of the items that will be pulled
from Longhorn in order for Microsoft to make its new "for
certain" shipping date?

MS has dropped several core technologies from Longhorn over
the last 9 months in order to get it out the door in the next 18
-19 months. (Ballmer has stated MS will do whatever it takes to
make certain Longhorn ships no later than 31 December 2006.)
This could be another candidtate to be dropped.

We should be hearing about this next spring when it will be
fairly certain what will and will not be shipped with Longhorn.
Reporting on it now is just being a shill for Microsoft. It is a way
for Microsoft to hype the vaporware of Longhorn even though it
is well over a year away and may not be the OS currently being
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Other Alternitive PDF's
I don't think everyone realizes how many "alternitives" to pdf are out their. They are not direct competetors to PDF, but a nusiance all the same. My point here is that the world doesn't need more way to show a document. It needs one standard way with many different way to create and view them.

I think Microsoft would better benefit from creating a better publisher and viewer for the PDF format. They could also, with others, push adobe to let loose of the PDF standard and move it to an open working group that could control the PDF standard like W3C does with HTML.

Although Microsoft has every right to bring a competing document format to the table it doesn't benefit the end user that much. All it does it create more problems for the end user. They will be no different than all those other half baked alternitives to PDF except that Microsoft will be backing it. I have no doubt that they will at some point get rid of PDF export from Office and use only thier format. Creating more problems for those that choose to use better office application.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free vs. $299
There are a lot of folks who would like to be able to distribute portable documents but don't want to spend $299 for Acrobat. This is particularly the case for home users, small businesses, education, and non-profits. Metro will offer a free, simple solution for these users. Many do not need all the bells and whistles in Acrobat. Once Longhorn is released and gains momentum, I expect that Adobe will attempt to counter by offering a lower-end version of Acrobat aimed at these markets. Of course, it will be too little, too late, a defensive rather than offensive strategy. You could make the case that buying an upgrade to Longhorn, at let's say $149, is half the price of Acrobat alone, and all the other benefits of Longhorn are included for free.

Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Read carefully -- there is a low-cost Acrobat alternative available now
As mentioned in the article itself, Nitro PDF is the first true alternative to Adobe Acrobat, priced at $99 USD.

It allows you to create, comment (add sticky notes, draw on document), secure, search, create forms and a whole lot more. Just like in Acrobat.

- Chris.

Chris Dahl - Chief Technology Officer
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Official PDFlib Global Integrators
The Acrobat® alternative is here... Try Nitro PDF" now:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by cdahl (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Adobe needs the competition
First off, PDF is great. It makes a great way to cut document size and still keep the look and feel of the original. And online forms are so much easier than having to print and fill in the blanks. But some of their install configuration leavs a lot to be desired. When I do an upgrade on a product, I want it to upgrade...Not add another version which seems to be the way Acrobat reader behaves. PDF is great but if Microsoft gets it right...
Posted by (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Foxit Faster then Abode
Foxit PDF Reader 1.3.0429 beta
Foxit PDF Reader is a small alternative to Adobe Reader (the download size less than 1MB), so you can download it quickly.
It doesn't need any lengthy installation, so you can start to run it as soon as you can download it.
And it starts up immediately, so you don't need to wait the annoying "Welcome" screen to disappear.
Foxit PDF Reader is extreamly easy to use, just double click it to start and then click open button to open your PDF document.
If you want to print, click on "Print" button. If you want to setup the page layout for printing, select "Print Setup" from "File" menu.
Foxit PDF Reader runs on Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP/2003. It is provided by Foxit Software Company for free non-commercial use!
Posted by trgbeck (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mac OS X Already Made This Ancient History
Why is this even a news item?

Mac OS X's Quartz Extreme rendering engine has been based on
PDF technology from the get go. By the time MS gets LongYawn/
Metro out the door, Mac OS X will have had PDF as part of the
Print dialog for over 1/2 a decade!!
Posted by MacSmiley (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tactical first move
I feel it is a very strategic first step in attacking PDF - initially providing the basic technology FREE with Longhorn. Adobe would be definitely alarmed by this move. Would this lead to another (mini) browser-war kind or probably is it too early to speculate anything?
Posted by manodud (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
cross platform
since when has cross platform been a M$ objective. They only
go cross platform to spoil, JAVA, Mpeg4, HTML
Posted by simty (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
unfortunately some of the codecs used in QT are not free. So
the ability to author into them comes at a price. If what you are
say were true the Microsoft publishing department wouldn't have
had a whole van load of MAC G5's delivered.
Posted by simty (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Macintosh Dominates Publishing
Macintosh computers dominate the publishing world and for
that reason alone the PDF format will stay firmly entrenched in
the business. The use of PDF workflows has grow
tremendously in the last couple of years. Microsoft has been
promising Longhorn for a long time now. Mac OSX is in its 4th
generation now and left Windows in the dust a long time ago.
The Macintosh INSTALLED base may only be around 10% of total
market share but in the publishing world it is near 80%. All the
numbers the media keep posting about the Macintosh having
only 3% market share are based on new purchases (which
include terminals at every checkout at Wal-Mart etc..) not
installed base.

My two cents
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Remember Adobe ATM?
That was toast when Windows 3.1 came along. I project this will hurt Adobe in the long run. That is probably why Adobe is licensing the pdf framework.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I hate Adobe ... And I don't see the point in using it, If Microsoft uses a free service I'm for it, tho I do Agree that we need to move away from Microsoft dominated WORD and such
Posted by Angmarr (642 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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