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Adobe plan ahead and then play catch-up

Thursday, 4 January 2007 — by

an image of the Adobe and Microsoft logosWhat with Microsoft having fun with their Office Open XML format, Adobe seem to have found themselves in the awkward position of being caught in the headlights of a juganaught of a strategy that could well have implications for their PDF format:

“In an effort to preempt this move, Adobe is now testing a set of XML extensions to its own PDF document format. The new format, called ‘Mars,’ is supported by a plugin that works with existing copies of Adobe Acrobat 8 (both the professional document creation versions and the free Reader).”

Bleagh! Reads like a kludge to me, and it gets worse:

“The Mars format consists of a single file with a .MARS extension. This file is actually a ZIP compressed archive containing multiple files inside it. The text of the document is contained in human-readable XML files; bitmaps are stored in the PNG format, and scalable vector graphics are saved in Adobe’s SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. Additional files in the package include metadata information, color maps, and optional file attachments.”

Well, as kludges go, it’s a less messy kludge than I imagined, but a kludge none the less. And in the absence of a more complete strategy, it’ll have to do.

Microsoft has never made a secret of their desire to break into the portable document market, since it’s something of an inconvenience to them. Mind you, Microsoft isn’t having it all their own way:

“Microsoft has long been trying to combat the PDF format with a document viewer standard of their own: earlier versions of Office came with a way to save files as Microsoft Document Images (.MDI), a format that never really caught on as a way to exchange documents because viewing it required the receiver to have a recent copy of Office installed.”

However, given the amount of penetration Adobe’s PDF has, even with Microsoft getting right into the XML thing with their new Office format, Adobe’s Mars kludge would appear to be enough to hold Microsoft at arms length until the PDF format is moved over to XML proper itself, which I imagine will happen, it’s just a question of when.

Meanwhile, when asked about the threat posed from Microsoft, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen was quite pragmatic if not a little circumspect:

“On the challenge from Microsoft, Bruce said he’s pleased Google is ‘a heat shield’. He says ‘the good news is that Microsoft has lots of enemies’. He notes that Microsoft has been competing with Adobe almost as long as they’ve been in business.”

That’s the public face, and I imagine that behind the scenes, the more recent intensification in conflict between Adobe and Microsoft will have spurred both parties to draw up new battle plans…

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