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Karl's Corner: Adobe vs. Microsoft

June 07, 2006

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Editor's Note: Formerly CEO of Planet PDF, Karl De Abrew is now the CEO of Debenu (www.debenu.com) -- maker of the Quick PDF Library (formerly iSEDQuickPDF | QuickPDF) (www.quickpdflibrary.com), a powerful royalty-free PDF developer SDK, and Benubird Pro, the easy-to-use personal document management system.

Well, you'd need to have had your head in the sand to not have noticed the Adobe and Microsoft spat that's been going on during the past week. In fact, everybody seems to be talking about it, except for Adobe themselves.

Just in: Adobe have provided a response to Planet PDF on their official position.

In an interview with CRN, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, "I think we're talking about it pretty publicly... The only thing I'd say is that: PDF is a published open spec and the second most requested feature we got for Office is 'save to PDF'".

Certainly, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen, in his conversation with Wharton Publishing (presumably about the time or after he sent the much reported letter to Steve Ballmer about removing the "Save As PDF" from Office 12) didn't seem to have a problem it back in late March, '06. The conversation went like this:

Knowledge@Wharton: One of the other things Microsoft has announced is the ability to save as PDF in Office 12. This means that, once that happens, non-Adobe technologies are creating PDF in MacOS X, in StarOffice, and on Windows in Office [applications]. Isn't this a challenge to one of your major revenue streams?

Chizen: Maybe. But we don't think so. First of all, it's somewhat flattering that Microsoft has validated a document format that is not theirs, but one that is Adobe's -- which suggests that their customers were demanding that it do so.

Chizen goes on to say that Adobe had expected the proliferation of free (or cheap) PDF-creation tools for "many years" and that Adobe had as a result already become less focused on PDF creation as a source of revenue, instead placing greater emphasis on advanced features such as PDF manipulation. He even suggested that the increased number of PDF documents would provide increased scope for Adobe's commercial PDF applications.

That all said, it was presumably a surprise to Adobe that Microsoft publicly released information on their "behind closed doors" conversations. Thus far, we seem to only know Microsoft's version of events, since we've had very little feedback from Adobe themselves -- other than a general, "No comment," at this stage. Hopefully this will change over the coming week as it'd nice to see Adobe's official position on the matter rather than just speculation from industry pundits. I've submitted a few questions to the Adobe team on which I'd hope to be able to report back in the next few days.

According to reports, Adobe appears to have got what it was after, with Microsoft backing off, and now it's interesting to ponder how this back flip may affect the importance of the PDF format in the future. Within the next year (or whenever Office finally gets released) we could have had millions more users creating and exchanging PDF documents. Imagine how many more PDFs would have been in circulation.

Adobe, Planet PDF, and the many other PDF evangelists out there have always touted PDF as something amazing -- a smart, innovative piece of technology that is going to help us move documents towards a truly electronic workflow. As PDF evangelists, we all know that there's a fair bit of education still required for more people to get what PDF is all about. We're still amazed with friends -- very familiar with workplace productivity applications like Microsoft Office -- who still see PDF as a "dumb" format that is annoying because all you can do with the files is view and print them.

Isn't "Save as PDF" almost as expected as "Save as HTML" or even as rudimentary as a spell checker? Who is really wielding the power in this situation? Who is the monopolist? Some say that it's Adobe? Will Adobe's move protect the PDF ecosystem including the swagger of third party developers or shift more people toward Microsoft's XPS (formerly known as Metro)? Will Adobe lose the trust of ISVs and its customers as being the protector of the PDF specification? Or is Microsoft making a preemptive strike here to shift public sentiment against Adobe? Will this influence PDF's status as a "standard", de-facto or otherwise? Does this bring into question Adobe's ability to independently act as the gatekeeper of PDF? Is Microsoft attempting to replace put XPS side-by-side with PDF as part of a longer plan to oust it?

We don't pretend to have all the answers in this scenario -- in fact, we'd like to call for feedback. Please drop into the Planet PDF Forum Talkback section and let us know what you think.

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