Microsoft to remove PDF support from Office 2007 in wake of Adobe dispute

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

Redmond (WA) - Acknowledging the strained state of relations between itself and its sometimes-friend, sometimes-rival Adobe, Microsoft today told TG Daily that it has decided to withdraw its support for Adobe's Portable Document Format from Office 2007. At the same time, Microsoft said, it intends to remove direct support for its own XPS portable format, in an effort to avoid the appearance of self-favoritism.

"We have taken a number of significant steps to accommodate Adobe, and offered many proposals in an effort to avoid a dispute," writes Microsoft spokesperson Stacy Drake, "but we have now reached a point where we feel what they are asking for is not in the best interest of our customers."

The capabilities for saving Office documents in both portable formats, according to Drake, will now only be made available as separate, optional downloads. While these downloads will presumably be free, their lack of default inclusion will likely affect the future training regimens for Office 2007. For instance, requirements for Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications will probably not require that users know how to export files as portable documents. Third-party documentation and manuals will also likely exclude mention of portable exports.

Microsoft also offered Adobe the inclusion of its Flash and Shockwave vector animation software (previously a Macromedia product) with Windows Vista, according to Drake. In addition, the company plans to offer OEMs the option of removing XPS support from Windows Vista installations altogether, implying that although XPS export will not be an Office 2007 feature, Microsoft doesn't plan to cancel its own support for its format altogether.

The sticking point in the debate, according to Drake, is what Microsoft is characterizing as Adobe's demands that it apply royalty fees for Microsoft's use of the PDF format. "Unfortunately, the changes we are planning to make are not enough for Adobe," continues Drake, "and they are pressuring us to do even more. Adobe is asking us to charge our customers a price for using what everyone else in the world can use for free. Adobe has long claimed that PDF is an open standard and dozens of companies, including a number of our competitors, have implemented that standard, but Adobe insists we need to charge a price." Thus far, Adobe has yet to offer a rebuttal, and may yet provide comment.

Originally, Microsoft's move to include PDF in Office 2007 was touted as a demonstration of its willingness to support formats that have been adopted by the general public. The company's hesitancy to support OpenDocument Format (ODF), the open-source XML-based scheme used in OpenOffice and StarOffice, has been attributed to the public's lack of acceptance of ODF, often in favor of more commercially supported standards like PDF.

While Microsoft's move today is being characterized by the company as an avoidance of conflict, it has the potential of ironically being construed as a power ploy, by ISVs and other parties who believe Microsoft may be using its own Office Open XML format - the new native format of Office 2007 - as a way to stonewall potential competition from other XML-based formats. PDF support had been seen as a kind of "safety net" for Microsoft, a sort of self-applied seal of approval that it was truly supporting the standards its customers chose for themselves. ODF proponents argue that Microsoft's push of its own format as Office's default, prevents the playing field between ODF and Office Open XML from becoming level. Whether by accident or design, Microsoft now finds itself in an XML-based minefield.