Saturday, June 03, 2006

Microsoft vs. Adobe

Recently Adobe is making a lot of uproar about suing Microsoft for bundling PDF export and XPS document format in Office 2007 and Windows Vista. XPS (XML Paper Specification) is Microsoft's answer to Adobe PostScript format and as Microsoft is saying is going to be a better technology.

Microsoft plans to integrate XPS tightly into its upcoming operating system Windows Vista. Together with this they had plans to add a feature "Save as PDF" into their Office 2007 suite. This PDF integration into office was motivated by a similar feature in OpenOffice 2.0. Now Adobe did not make any hue and cry when this feature was integrated into OpenOffice because OpenOffice does not a have wide user base. Adobe is concerned that if the feature is available in Office 2007 then no one would buy its Acrobat PDF Maker plug-in. And I am sure that they must be feeling pretty pissed off by this Microsoft move.

After some negotiations between Adobe and Microsoft, Microsoft finally has agreed to remove "Save as PDF" from Office, but they are providing this feature as a separate plug-in free of cost. Now that's completely fair because PDF is an open specification and any damn company can make tools for manipulating PDF files and charge whatever it wants for the tool. Microsoft just happens to be giving the tool for free (probably because it wants to beat Adobe in terms of price).

Why doesn't Adobe beat Microsoft in terms of quality rather than suing them? In recent years their Acrobat suite of tools had deteriorated much in terms of quality (although they had improved user interface and font rendering) and it has become a sort of bloatware eating up your CPU and Memory like anything. There are much better tools, like Jaws PDF Creator, available at a much a cheaper price. But Adobe is not suing them and neither improving the quality of its tools. They just want to restrict the options available to the customer. In fact, the way Microsoft maintains monopoly on Operating Systems and Office suite, Adobe has always maintained monopoly on PDF and is still trying to do so.

But they went slightly far ahead. Instead of keeping the PDF as a closed proprietary file format like Microsoft did with its Office file formats, they made the specification open to all to attract developers from all around the world. Opening up the file format increased the user base substantially and subsequently Adobe's revenue shot up. But the desire for monopoly remained with them. The file format was designed to be too complex for editing tasks, so that only Adobe would be able to make editing tools and thereby they created the Acrobat bloatware and started adding features to it like anything.

They created an open standard for widespread adoption by users and at the same time wanted monopoly on the technology to create and edit PDF. Now they are realizing slowly that they cannot have it both ways. If they wanted monopoly then should not have made the PDF as an open standard.

Thanks to Microsoft, they are giving strong competition to Adobe and I hope that they will be able to make a product better than Adobe PDF Maker. And who knows, if XPS file format turns out to be better than PostScript, then the whole PS/PDF thing will vanish.


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