Microsoft gunning for Adobe's PDF format?

New Metro format could challenge the de facto standard for creating fixed-format documents.

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.

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"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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