Adobe Turning to the Dark Side?

According to Microsoft's Dave Heiner, Adobe has requested Microsoft remove the "save as PDF" option from the new Office (Office 2007) . Adobe has also requested that Microsoft removes support for Microsoft's XPS-format (XML Paper Specification, formerly known as Metro – a Microsoft controlled alternative to PDF).

Up to now, Adobe has positioned PDF as an open format. The specification has been controlled by Adobe, but Adobe has let anyone that wants to do so create applications that read and write PDF files without imposing royalties or other restrictions. Adobe owns some patents relating to the PDF format, but licenses them on a royalty-free basis for use in developing software that complies with the PDF specification.

So far, the openness of Adobe PDF has been taken for granted.

By objecting to Microsoft's use of the format, Adobe casts severe doubts on its continued committment to PDF as an open format. This move may very well jeopardize the support PDF so far has received from the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community, rule out PDF as an option for governments and other organizations that insists on using open formats in its communication with the public, and even make Adobe less credible as a purveyour of other allegedly "open" formats, such as the recently proposed Digital Negative (DNG) format.

Adobe appearent reneging on its promise of granting anyone the rights to implement PDF support as long as they adhered to the standard is a bad (and sad) move from a company that I've always admired and trusted.

Even worse (and sadder) are Adobe's objections to Microsoft's bundling of XPS with Office 2007 (and Vista?). Sure, XPS is designed to compete with PDF. but what is wrong with that? Competition is one of the things that drives innovation, product improvement and competitive pricing. But even without these benefits, competition is at the core of the market economy, and Adobe has to accept it like everyone else that wants to be part of the market. Microsoft has gone out of its way to make sure that XPS is just as "open" as PDF. I.e. the format's documentation is free and openly available, and there is a BSD-like license that grants royalty-free use of the technology and any associated patents.

At this point in the conversation, some Adobe apologists tend to bring up Microsoft's antics of the past, and in particular Microsoft's brutal destruction of Netscape by using dumping, subsidies and coercion to erode the marked for Netscape's for-pay web browser.

I am sorry, but I do not mourn Netscape. Netscape prior to to being bought by AOL was never very much more than a thinly disguised a rip-off of publicly funded software originally created at the University of Illinois. It really wasn't Microsoft that killed Netscape, but its willingness to participate in the silly game known as "the browser wars" (where Netscape's major contribution was the infamous <blink> tag). But that was almot ten years ago. In the year 2006 MSIE is not the only other game in browsertown. We have Opera, Firefox, Safari, and others - and the general trend from all of these seems to be towards standards conformance and more innovative business models. There really is no grounds for the public do mourn Netscape.

Up to now, my main gripe against Microsoft has been the company's strategic use of proprietary file formats to sabotage free document interchange and put users of competitive document platforms at a disadvantage. If XPS is as open as it appears, and Adobe at the same time tries to put restrictions on the use of PDF, XPS may very well be the natural PDF successor.