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Microsoft announces Office support for PDF after State of Massachusetts shuns proprietary document formats

OCTOBER 5, 2005 — Recently the State of Massachusetts announced that it is going to phase out the use of proprietary file formats in state offices. Then, just a few days after that announcement, Brian Jones, a program manager for Microsoft Office, said in a blog posting that Microsoft Office 12 (slated for release next year) will have built-in support for converting Office documents to PDF format. These two announcements are almost certainly related, and there has been a lot of recent buzz on the Web that is focused on what the Microsoft announcement really means and how things might evolve in coming months and years.

As was pointed out in a September 23, 2005 article on DesktopLinux.com, adoption of the Massachusetts plan to move away from proprietary formats could conceivably mean that State of Massachusetts employees would no longer use the Microsoft Office applications at all. One could speculate, too, that other government entities (state, federal, and even municipal) might follow Massachusetts' lead, in which case Microsoft would stand to lose even more customers.


What does it all mean?

In the short time since these two announcements occurred, ePubs-centric sites on the Web have been full of talk about what was behind the Microsoft announcement and how things might unfold. For example, in an October 3rd PDFzone article, Chris Preimesberger says,
"Analysts, and even Adobe officials, expressed some surprise over the Monday announcement that Microsoft will support Adobe's PDF (Portable Document Format) after 12 years of all but denying that the file interchange standard existed."
Preimesberger's article also quotes Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupiter Research who follows Microsoft, as saying he would be "shocked if the timing of [the Microsoft announcement] is a coincidence," and that the Microsoft decision to support PDF could both "help and hurt" Adobe.

An >October 3rd Microsoft Watch piece by Mary Jo Foley contains quotes from several industry experts who are pondering what prompted the Microsoft announcement and how it might affect the growing Microsoft-Adobe rivalry. Foley states that some pundits were surprised by Microsoft's announcement while at the same time acknowledging that Microsoft has lagged behind competitors such as OpenOffice and Corel WordPerfect Office, which already have built-in support for creating PDF files. According to Foley, Rob Helm of Directions on Microsoft says that he is "surprised" and also says, "It seems to strengthen the role of PDF as a neutral document format and weaken the role of the binary Office formats. The Office team must have concluded that the binary Office formats have already been fatally weakened." In addition, Helm states that "It's possible that adding PDF will also take some revenue away from Adobe, which has one of the most widely used PDF add-ons to Office."

In an October 3rd Microsoft Monitor blog, Joe Wilcox points out that Microsoft's implementation and packaging of PDF support in Office 12 could be done in a way that makes it easier for users to utilize Microsoft's forthcoming Metro format instead of the PDF format, thus nudging users toward Metro and away from PDF. (Metro is viewed by many industry insiders as a PDF rival.)


To what degree will Office 12 support PDF?

Another thing to wonder about is "to what degree will Microsoft Office 12 support PDF? The issue here is that there are no "PDF police"! Those of us that live and breath electronic-publishing systems & PDF workflows are all too familiar with this concept; there are many, many "PDF-creation solutions" available these days that claim to support PDF but in fact do not really (many of them are ridiculously inexpensive). The problem is that the designers and developers of some of these software products have simply chosen to ignore some parts of Adobe's PDF specification completely and/or have done a shoddy job of supporting some parts of the Adobe PDF specification. The sad story is that virtually anybody can create a software product that claims to "create PDF" or "support PDF"!

Most of the companies that peddle these shoddy products are not big enough or powerful enough to have a strong affect on the acceptance of and use of PDF files (though they have certainly caused some confusion and have also driven prices down to a level that is artificially low). But if Microsoft, behemoth that it is, comes out with a deficient PDF implementation, it's possible that things could evolve to a point where there is a "Microsoft flavor" of PDF; this could split our industry into two camps.


 




    
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