Legal issues around PDF support

About 8 months ago we announced to our MVPs that we would provide PDF publish support natively in the 2007 Office system. We made the move due to overwhelming customer demand for PDF support, and it was received really well. The blog post I made around the announcement was probably one of my most widely read posts of the year.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we're going to be able to do the right thing for the customer now. There was a news article in the WSJ today (and now on CNet) indicating that Adobe didn't like that we provided the save to pdf functionality directly in the box, and so they’ve been pushing us to take it out. I'm still trying to figure that one out given that PDF is usually viewed as an open standard and there are other office suites out there that already support PDF output. I don't see us providing functionality that's any different from what others are doing.

It looks like Adobe wanted us to charge our customers extra for the Save as PDF capability, which we just aren't willing to do (especially given that other companies already offer it for free). In order to work around this, it looks like we're going to offer it as a free download instead. At least that way it's still free for Office users, but unfortunately now there is an added hassle in that anyone that wants the functionality is going to have to download it separately.

This really is one of those cases where you just have to shake your head. Adobe got a lot of goodwill with customers, particularly in government circles, for making PDF available as an open standard. It’s amazing that they would go back on the openness pledge. Unfortunately, the really big losers here are the customers who now have one extra hassle when they deploy Office.

This is also surprising to me given that certain governments have viewed PDF as being more open than Open XML, yet Open XML is now proceeding through Ecma and there is a clear commitment from Microsoft that it will not sue anyone for using the formats. Anyone can build support for our formats, and we've already seen people starting to do this today ( a couple weeks ago I actually referred to a demo we saw from the Novell folks where they had a prototype of a product using the Office Open XML formats ). I don't think this was the intention, but Adobe seems to be saying that PDF is actually not open (or that it is open for some, but not for others). I'm not sure that any of those government policy makes could justify this outcome.

Hopefully Adobe will decide that this is a mistake and that they probably shouldn't try to sue people for using an open file format. If you're like me and think this is just a bad thing all around, you should let them know.