Silverlight, the rich media technology that Microsoft trotted out last week, isn't the company's only attack on Adobe Systems's multimedia dominance. In addition to Silverlight, touted as a potential Flash-killer, Microsoft is quietly putting the moves on Adobe's other popular consumer technology, the Portable Document Format (PDF).
For more than a decade, PDF has been the most popular way of saving and exchanging static, graphics-rich documents so they can be easily read on any computer. Just as important, PDFs can be sent to any printer without the need of extra drivers, or the fear of garbled text or improperly displayed graphics.
As with Flash, Adobe gives away software to view PDFs -- in this case, the Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) -- to consumers in order to sell pricey software to create PDFs to graphic designers, publishers and other creative types. Adobe's entry-level Acrobat 8 Standard costs US$299 per user, with higher-end versions running more.
But for XML Paper Specification, or XPS -- Microsoft's new rival to PDF -- the Redmond company is making the software for free to both consumers and pros.
In mid-April, Microsoft released a combination XPS reader and creator for free download. The software runs on Windows XP and both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003.
Moreover, XPS is built into Vista itself, meaning users can open up and print XPS documents in Internet Explorer 7.0 and create XPS documents from any relevant application by simply choosing the "print to XPS" command.
Microsoft did not comment for this story, though it is likely to make some XPS-related announcements at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in mid-May.
Some independent supporters say XPS's price -- it's also being licenced for free to potential software and hardware partners -- can't be beat.
"XPS is built into Windows' APIs, and the tools to manipulate them are free," said RanDair Porter, president of Pagemark Technology Inc., a Redmond, Wash.-based company offering XPS support services. "If you want to do this with Adobe, you have to go and buy a bunch of software."
Microsoft also claims a number of technical advantages for XPS. For one, XPS' use of compressed XML makes XPS documents more searchable and easier to manipulate by outside applications.
XPS also supposedly renders on-screen colors and images to paper better than other technologies, including PDF. Finally, XPS serves as both a file format and a printer language similar to Printer Command Language, which was developed by Hewlett-Packard Co., and PostScript, which was developed by Adobe. That, says Microsoft, allows it accelerate print times.