Adbobe Picks a File-Format Fight

The last two weeks have seen a big increase in the amount of press coverage and blog discussions of file-format issues. Working draft 1.3 of the Open XML spec is out, Office 2007 Beta 2 was released, and now Adobe is threatening legal action regarding Office's built-in support for the PDF and XPS formats.

My colleague Don Campbell forwarded me some information about the Wall Street Journal piece that broke the story this morning, but if you're not an WSJ subscriber you can also read the story in an article on Cnet now.

Brian Jones's blog covers the basics of what's going on regarding Office and PDF, and there has already been quite a bit of heated discussion in the hours since Brian posted his perspective this morning.

Bottom line, Office 2007 is ship without the "save as PDF" and "save as XPS" options (which we've all seen in the beta versions). Instead, those will be available as separate free downloads, which is much less convenient for the customer. And that's still not enough for Adobe, it seems: they want Microsoft to charge for PDF support, otherwise they're threatening legal action. Microsoft has even offered to ship Flash and Shockwave with every copy of Vista worldwide, and that's not enough to satisfy Adobe's lawyers.

PDF is a strange bird. It's a so-called "open standard," but Adobe retains control over who can use it and what they can do with it. Ironically, this threatened/rumored lawsuit could do more to limit PDF's future than anything Microsoft could or would do. And when you look at the downright incestuous relationship between PDF and the Mac, as well as the built-in PDF support in products from Corel, Sun and others, it's a bit hard to take the current posturing seriously.

Here are a few more blogs with more information and perspective on this issue:

Stay tuned, this is an issue that will likely grow much larger soon. Users want the simplicity of being able to publish documents in fixed digital form directly from the software they use to create those documents, and nothing Adobe (or Microsoft) does will change that. Another thing Adobe can't do much to change: more PDF documents are created in Microsoft Word than in any other software.