Microsoft Goes After PDF with 'Metro'

Longhorn may have taken center stage at WinHEC 2005 in Seattle this week, but perhaps the most important news coming from Microsoft is a new document spec known as "Metro." Metro encompasses a family of technologies covering document creation, viewing and printing, which could serve to replace Adobe's PDF platform.

At the core of Metro lies a specification for an XML-based "electronic paper" file format called "Metro Reach" that boasts portability for use with any application on any platform. Metro Reach uses XML to describe the layout of documents and how they should be rendered.

Many of Metro's features closely mirror those found in PDF. Metro will include a "viewer" to manage and print files, a print-to-file converter for creating Metro documents from any Windows application, and an optimized driver to speed up print jobs.

Microsoft is also working with printer manufacturers to include native support for Metro documents, similar to Adobe PostScript.

Unlike Adobe PDF, however, Metro will be tightly integrated into Windows when Longhorn arrives in late 2006. Metro directly leverages Longhorn technologies including the WinFX programming model and Avalon graphics subsystem. Because Metro support is built into the system, Windows can display Metro documents using Avalon without launching an external application.

For users running Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, Microsoft will make available a Metro viewer akin to Adobe Reader. Despite the similarities, Microsoft says that, "Fixed document formats are just one small aspect of what both Metro and PDF provide."

"PDF provides a broad scope of solutions for information workers, one aspect of which is a fixed document format. Metro is aimed at solving a specific set of challenges in the document lifecycle, including viewing, sharing and printing," a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews.

"PostScript will continue to be fully supported on Windows. Microsoft
and Adobe will continue to work jointly to develop the Windows PostScript driver," the spokesperson added.

Microsoft hopes to promote adoption of Metro by pushing its use of open standards. The company will provide a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers that wish to incorporate Metro technologies into their applications. Microsoft will also offer a royalty-free license for Metro.

But Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox contends that Metro's use of XML doesn't necessarily translate to an open format. "Microsoft partners and, in particular, competitors shouldn't misread open, which I would say Microsoft has used way too liberally. As Microsoft's own approach to Office schemas proves, using XML as the base doesn't make a format 'open,'" says Wilcox.

Digital rights management will also play a key role in Metro with the use of digital signatures and document access rules governed by Windows Rights Management Services.

Microsoft plans to complete the Metro specification during the development of Longhorn and deliver the technologies with the next generation Windows release. Metro-optimized printing will be available in Longhorn Beta 1 this summer, along with the Metro viewer.

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