Office 12, which is expected to be completed by the second half of 2006, will let end users take an Office document and convert it to PDF, Brian Jones, a program manager for Microsoft Office, said in a blog posting. People will not be able to actually read PDF files from within Office applications; a PDF viewer will still be required, he noted.
The PDF support will be built into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Visio and InfoPath, Jones said.
"We've really heard the feedback that sharing documents across multiple platforms and long-term archiving are really important," Jones said in his blog. "People now have a couple options here, with the existing support for HTML and RTF, and now the new support for open XML formats and PDF."
Microsoft's XML-based document formats will be the default setting for Office 12. The advantage of having an XML-based format is that information from documents can be more easily shared and archived, according to Microsoft executives.
The importance of multiple document formats came into sharp focus last month when Massachusetts decided to mandate the use of the OpenDocument format in desktop productivity applications used in the state's executive branch agencies. Adobe's PDF is considered an "open format" under the state's policy. Microsoft's Office 12 does not support OpenDocument.
Even as Microsoft adds PDF support, the company is working on a document format, called Metro, that offers many of the same features as PDF. Metro will be delivered in late 2006 with Windows Vista.
Metro is designed to enable people to view Office documents without needing Office applications. The format also uses the graphics engine in Windows Vista to have a consistent way of displaying data on a screen and sending document data to printers, according to Microsoft.
At a meeting with Microsoft partners Saturday, Microsoft's senior vice president of Microsoft Office, Steven Sinofksy, demonstrated the PDF support. A beta test version of Office 12, which will include the PDF feature, is expected to be released this fall.
In an interview on Monday, Sinofsky said that Microsoft has been getting 120,000 requests a month that it add an option to save files in PDF. He said the decision to add the support was made some time ago.
"It's been a feature area that has been under development for the whole product cycle; we just chose to announce it this past week," he said.
An Adobe executive said that the company welcomes Office's support of PDF.
"Microsoft's announcement is really a validation that PDF is the basis for customer critical workflows," Pam Deziel, Adobe director of platform strategy, said in an interview.
At the same time, Deziel acknowledged that the company is seeing increased competition from Microsoft in a variety of areas.
"Yes, we see them encroaching into areas where Adobe has long delivered products," she said, adding that Microsoft is both a key partner and a formidable competitor. "There is healthy 'co-opetition'...That's the way the game works in this industry."
Deziel said that Adobe might see lower sales of its low-end Acrobat Elements program, but that the majority of the Acrobat business comes from higher-end products whose abilities stretch beyond Office's PDF-handling features.
It is less clear, Deziel said, how Office's new PDF capabilities will dovetail with Microsoft's plans for Metro. The ability to save and share Metro documents from any program will be built into Vista and available as an add-on to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Sinofsky declined to say what built-in Metro abilities Office 12 will have.
"We're curious about that," she said. "I don't think they've answered that question very well."
CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.