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Adobe and Microsoft having creative differences? Part 2: the standards

an image of the Adobe and Microsoft logosGood ideas count for nothing without commercial backing and trust. In this day & age, standards and file formats are the flags under which massed armies of developers now march.

Adobe has their PDF format and Microsoft has their Metro format. With their respective standard-bearers ready, these two armies march forward to begin battle for the mind share and market share of creative businesses around the world.

In the first installment, I looked at the history of Adobe Flash and the factors that prompted the buy-out of Macromedia by Adobe.

As formats go, the humble (or not-so-humble anymore?) Adobe PDF format is something of a do-all bag of tricks. But the PDF wasn’t always as broadly versatile.

Now, I’m not going to dwell on the size, scale and width of the PDF format too much because that would take exceed the scope of this article.

Suffice it to say, the PDF format has grown! Also, the PDF format is now the spearhead format through which Adobe hope to tie together their various media endeavors and in doing so offer the likes of me and my fellow creatives a consistent, reproducible and reliable format through which to markup and manage our content.

It’s an intriguing proposition. So intriguing that Microsoft want a part of the whole portable digital document format action:

“One element of Microsoft’s next OS [Vista] will be Metro, a new document file-format that will support printing the fancy graphics effects in the client interface.

Metro is the code name for a new XML-based document technology framework, to appear in [Vista], Microsoft’s next generation of Windows. Metro is an open-format page description language that allows users to share, print, view and archive the layout versions of documents. It’s designed to improve print fidelity while reducing file size to make printing more efficient.

A Microsoft executive downplayed the similarity, but the company’s description mirrors many elements of Adobe’s PostScript / PDF technology.

The key phrase here is: “Metro is an open-format page description language that allows users to share, print, view and archive the layout versions of documents.”

Is this the Microsoft we all love / loathe? An open format? What is this nonsense of which they speak?!

In addition, Metro is a play on the XML format, which is itself another do-all format that is the workhorse of many web applications.

It took Microsoft a while to warm to the idea of truly open formats, but they’re now a fully paid-up member of the ‘open standards can really make proper money and keep things really simple, too’ school of thought.

And what better way get one over on the other guy?! Not quite. At least, not if the other guy is Adobe.

In my previous article I mentioned how Adobe tried to play the standards-compliant card themselves with the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. However, for whatever reason, their hand was a poor one.

Personally, I think Adobe was a little ahead of their time.

So what we see here is Microsoft beginning to encroach further into Adobe territory. Territory which Microsoft has little real commercial experience of.

However, even a half-arsed stab by Microsoft at producing a painting, illustration and effects package would would enjoy some success given the truly massive market share of their operating system franchise.

Well guess what? With their eyes fixed on the digital prize, Microsoft showed their hand:

Microsoft Unveils Expression Family of Designer Tools
New tools to accelerate business opportunity by reducing the complexity and cost of delivering richer user experiences on the Web and Windows Vista platform.

LOS ANGELES – Sept 14th, 2005 – Today at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference 2005 (PDC05), Eric Rudder, senior vice president, Servers and Tools at Microsoft Corp., introduced Microsoft® Expression, a family of professional tools for the design and production of enhanced user experiences and rich content for the Web and Windows Vista™ platform. The announced products and their code names are Expression code-named ‘Acrylic Graphic Designer,’ a painting, illustration and effects tool for creating graphic designs; Expression code-named ‘Sparkle Interactive Designer,’ a user-interface design tool for modern application development…”

Thing is, this new Microsoft; the one that embraces open standards, didn’t make a half-arsed stab at anything. By all accounts, Microsoft made a damn good job of things with Expression, Microsoft’s web page editing package:

Expression Web Designer smells like future spirit … it’s nice, has a lot of new features, supports all technologies up to date and can be tried for free. I can’t wait to see the final version! … I don’t have any doubt that Expression Web Designer will successfully replace FrontPage, but I am also sure that some people will remain faithful to it. Why? Compared to FrontPage, this is a larger application, with more features, up to date when talking about the latest technologies,…”

What I can tell you is, Microsoft had to come out swingin’ on this one. They knew that to even stand a miniscule chance of garnering a fraction of the creative market, Microsoft had to produce something very special indeed.

With regards to Expression Web Designer, Microsoft have added in the usual battery of hooks, tags and links into their various software development environments, such as their .Net frameworks, to add value to Expression and to help take it beyond the perception of being merely a web page editor:

“Incorporating design concepts into the development process has typically been difficult due to communication and technical gaps between design and development teams. With its Expression family of products, Microsoft bridges these gaps by leveraging common file types and languages such as Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML), HTML and ASP.NET and through seamless integration with Microsoft Visual Studio®, which greatly simplifies development processes and maximizes the creative solutions that teams can deliver.”

So in one fell swoop, Microsoft have made it clear they intend to come to market with not only a suit of creative software packages, but to also offer an end-to-end platform of sorts onto which a wide range of media types can be created atop and exist.

This isn’t just a foray into enemy territory, this a declaration of war. Question is, will Adobe respond, and if so, how?

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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