Microsoft to Drop PDF Support in Office

Amid threats of a lawsuit from Adobe, Microsoft acknowledged Friday that it would remove support for saving files in PDF from Office 2007, as well as dropping its own rival format XPS from the productivity suite and Windows Vista.

The changes follow a breakdown of talks between the two technology giants after Microsoft announced last year it would include native PDF publishing with the release of Office 2007. The feature has long been a top request from customers, the company said at the time, and other office suites have the capability.

But Adobe was unhappy with the move and a dispute has been brewing for four months, Microsoft's lead counsel Brad Smith said Friday. Although PDF claims to be an open format and is integrated into OpenOffice and Apple's Mac OS X operating system, Adobe apparently sees Office 2007 as a real threat to its business.

Adobe wants Microsoft to charge for the feature, which the Redmond company has refused to do. Smith said Adobe threatened to file an antitrust suit in Europe, and his company was preparing for that eventuality. Now, however, Microsoft says it will make the feature available through a downloadable add-on.

"PDF is usually viewed as an open standard and there are other office suites out there that already support PDF output. I don't see us providing functionality that's any different from what others are doing," remarked Microsoft's Office Open XML format lead Brian Jones in a blog posting.

"This really is one of those cases where you just have to shake your head. Adobe got a lot of goodwill with customers, particularly in government circles, for making PDF available as an open standard. It’s amazing that they would go back on the openness pledge."

In addition, Microsoft will drop support for its own fixed-layout format known as XPS from Office and offer an XPS-free version of Windows Vista to OEMs that request it. Windows Vista includes XPS -- formerly code-named "Metro" -- as part of the Windows Presentation Foundation. The company will host a session on using Vista as a document platform at TechEd 2006 in Boston on June 12.

However, it is unlikely many computer makers will opt for the XPS-free option. European computer makers have balked at Windows XP N, a special version of Microsoft's flagship operating system that strips out Windows Media Player. When running a standard Vista install, Office 2007 will have the "Save as XPS" feature.

Some analysts have remained skeptical that Microsoft's side is the full story. Adobe has yet to comment on the matter, and may not publicly if it indeed intends to file a lawsuit.

"I had no idea that Adobe carried such swath it could force Microsoft to raise Office prices," chided Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox. He noted that Microsoft is clearly using the media to push its position that if it cannot use PDF freely, then Adobe's format must not be open.

"Whatever occurred in private between the two companies, Microsoft is aggressively taking a very public PR position. I see Microsoft as trying to make this a debate about formats and the openness of PDF. Microsoft claims new Office formats are open, but some governments--Massachusetts, for example--disagree."

Already, industry groups have come out in support of Microsoft, and customers have expressed their dismay at Adobe's actions.

“If recent reports are accurate, Adobe is turning PDF from an open standard into a double standard. It seems their new position is that the PDF standard is now open for some to implement, but not all,” commented Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT).

"The Commonwealth did pick PDF as an open standard. Microsoft could gain favorable position with Massachusetts or other governments by launching a FUD campaign that portrays Adobe as exacting a double standard with respect to PDF openness," added Jupiter's Wilcox.

Microsoft's Jones said he hopes Adobe realizes it has made a mistake and, "that they probably shouldn't try to sue people for using an open file format." Microsoft has pledged not to go after anyone that implements its Office Open XML formats, which are currently being certified as a standard by Ecma.

"If you're like me and think this is just a bad thing all around, you should let them know," Jones wrote. With no lawsuit filed just yet, Adobe could still give into the public pressure and forge an agreement with Microsoft.

"The worst thing Adobe could do is not respond," said Wilcox. "The company needs to tell its side of the story, before Microsoft's version is seared in the public consciousness."

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