More on the PDF support in Office

In the comments of my latest post around the legal issues we’re currently dealing with from Adobe around our PDF support in Office 2007 a number of folks were wondering when Adobe would provide their side of the story. Well while I was down in Tech Ed, there was a press release from Adobe that you can view here. I just got back today and was pointed at the official Microsoft response. You should take a look, I think there are some really good clarifying statements.

Adobe said that they view PDF as an open standard that is freely available without any restrictions or royalties required. That’s really great, and it was why we felt there would be no problems when we started the work at the beginning of the project to support PDF output. That’s also what had led to my initial confusion around why our built in support had become a problematic issue for Adobe. Someone in the comments even posted this interview at Wharton with Bruce Chizen:

Knowledge@Wharton: One of the other things Microsoft has announced is the ability to save as PDF in Office 12. This means that, once that happens, non-Adobe technologies are creating PDF in MacOS X, in StarOffice, and on Windows in Office [applications]. Isn't this a challenge to one of your major revenue streams?

Chizen: Maybe. But we don't think so. First of all, it's somewhat flattering that Microsoft has validated a document format that is not theirs, but one that is Adobe's -- which suggests that their customers were demanding that it do so. We had anticipated for many years that the revenue we achieve around PDF creation would, at some point in time, go away. It's an open standard! There are many clones out in the marketplace today that create PDF and compete with Acrobat. What we have done over the last five years is added functionality beyond PDF creation in our product line-up. If you look at Acrobat today it is much more than just simple PDF creation. In fact, we have a product, called Acrobat Elements, that just does PDF creation, and it represents a relatively tiny piece of our overall revenue -- less than one percent. Most customers choose to buy the more feature-rich products, Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro, which do annotations, digital signatures, web capture [and so on]. And many customers are buying LiveCycle, the server products for mission-critical workflows. That suggests to me that even though PDF creation will become free with products like Microsoft Office, our revenue streams will continue on. In fact, with more PDFs being created from Microsoft Office, it gives us an opportunity to take those PDFs and do more with them, like building mission-critical workflows around them.

From the latest public statement from Adobe, it appears that they are concerned that Microsoft would one day “extend” the PDF specifications. It looks like this is the root of the problem, and I’m hoping it's just a misunderstanding. We don’t have any plans to extend PDF, and if you think about it... doing so would serve no purpose. We’re only a producer, not a consumer. All we care about is that it’s easy for our users to export PDF, and that the PDF we export looks great in the main PDF viewers out there (otherwise no one would use the feature). I work with the team that built the PDF support and they did an amazing job. It was a lot of work, and they paid extremely close attention to the spec, and even spent a lot of time trying to decide which internal features (such as bookmarks and TOCs in Word) it would make sense to map to the proper PDF constructs. As I’ve said before, the output we provide is far more powerful that what you would get with just a printer driver, as there is an inherit awareness of the structure of the file, and not just the presentation of it. Adobe is actually a participant in the Office 2007 beta program, and if there is any place where they think we haven’t followed the spec properly, we would love to hear about it right away. You should all have the ability to download the Beta so let me know if there is anywhere that you think we’ve either diverted from or extended the spec.

I know that it is common for folks implementing a format to extend it in order to support whatever extra features that application has. Those of you who are developers know that the way you differentiate your product is to innovate and design new powerful features that deliver value to your customers – it’s good to continue improving. This is not the case though for our PDF support, and we have no intention of ever doing so (even though as far as I can tell there is nothing in the PDF spec that limits third party extensions and Adobe has never tried to stop that until now). We’ve publicly stated that we will not extend the spec, and I’m hoping that as long as we can be clear on that then Adobe will change their mind about wanting us to remove the support.


Comments (28)

  1. Rosyna says:

    Wow, their statement is very close to my guess.

    Also, "embrace and extend" oddly doesn’t always mean add features. There’s also that worry that MS Office would someday not export some part of a word document (such as tables or some graphics format) saying PDF doesn’t support them and then telling the user to use XPS instead (much like Photoshop’s and Word’s compatibility "wizards" do now when saving to an older format).

    Again, MS did this about 10 years ago with OpenGL.

  2. Brian, what you’re hitting here is the reality of most of Microsoft’s history, and the still long road the have to go to change the mindset of those who lived it.

    Even today, <i>as a company</i>, Microsoft still sends out utterly mixed messages when it comes to collaborating with !Microsoft. XPS is an example, Port 25 is another. Bill Hilf and the rest of the Port 25 gang can do Interoperability songs, dances, poems, sonnets, even a "We love Linux" musical, but when I open up the latest issue of Information Week and see a multipage ad with Bill’s picture and commentary all over it essentially saying "Windows kicks Linux ass, the only way to network nirvana is All Windows, All The Time", well which Microsoft is it?

    The Port 25 version or the Steve Ballmer multipage "MUST SLAM LINUX" version? Your version which is "We’d never do anything to PDF that would cause problems with it", or the historical examples provided by things like Microsoft’s Kerberos issues, Java, and the like?

    Right now, history and mixed messages are not your friend, and no one ever stayed in business by betting on a kinder, gentler Microsoft.

  3. zzz says:

    PDF support is just a case of Microsoft not understanding that when customers ask for one thing they actually mean another.

    In this case customers asked PDF but what they really wanted was XPS.

  4. Samuel says:

    I’m very disappointed with Adobe’s declarations. I can’t believe what they say about extensibility in their PDF format.

    All of those things about Microsoft conspirations on holding all the main technologies and releasing just the ones they can control… I am really tired of them.

    I guess that if Microsoft guys just sign a document where they state "We won’t extend the PDF format" the feature would be back again.

    Ah, one last thing! If at the end Office 2007 doesn’t come with the export to PDF feature, could Microsoft Update shows the patch as a Recommended Download? Just an idea for making our life easier. 😉

  5. Marco says:

    zzz said:

    "In this case customers asked PDF but what they really wanted was XPS."

    I am pretty sure that most people wanted PDF export when they said they wanted, ehm… PDF export.

    I find the statements of both Adobe and Microsoft pretty disappointing in the sense that they do not clear up anything. Adobe basically says the obvious and Microsoft acts surpised and reacts by pulling PDF? And all the world says: "figures, when you are a monopolist!". Come on.

    I feel I am repeating myself (and probably, I do): regarding PDF, there is no anti-trust case as long as Microsoft adheres to Adobe’s specification. Let them sue you once you do. XPS is a different matter. Welll, don’t include XPS then.

    So why don’t you guys (Brian et al) just leave PDF in? Your customers want it.

  6. Kevin Daly says:

    I’d like to contradict Marco: You *must* leave XPS in.

    Otherwise Adobe are in the position of being able to dictate that nobody is allowed to ever create an alternative to PDF.

    And Microsoft is a monopolist but Adobe isn’t? Obviously I haven’t worked out how that works.

    Acrobat is a memory-hogging home-phoning I-don’t-feel-like-closing-ever-so-there piece of crap, and all alternatives to the format that inflicts it on people are to be welcomed.

  7. Marco says:

    As I see it, it it not the the case that _nobody_ is allowed to create an alternative to PDF. It is just that Microsoft has an issue here, given the "monopoly" game.

    I do agree with Kevins remarks about Acrobat (sort of), which is exactly why PDF could use some healthy competition in terms of applications that support it. And I welcome alternative formats too (PDF wasn’t too bad as a page description language, but the format is getting pretty bulky now).

    We can all read the PDF Specs, but we cannot influence it one bit. Adobe’s appoach does not seem to be "embrace and extend" but just "extend and extend, and…"

    And that is exactly why I am not so sure that PDF would be a better option in the long run, thinking over Adobe’s remarks about offering healthy alternatives to users.

  8. Wesley Parish says:

    Oh the irony of it!  To quote the press release:

    "While the specification is available publicly, customers expect Adobe to ensure that the format does not become fragmented and that competing implementations of PDF do not undermine what customers have come to expect in terms of reliable viewing and printing of PDF documents across platforms and browsers."

    Fragmentation (forking) was the chief rhetorical weapon used by Microsoft’s big brass c. 1998-2003 to belabour Linux and the Free and Open Source community with.

    Well, Brian, you’re right when you say Microsoft has no valid reason to extend the PDF file format.  It can be hard enough to get two perfectly valid implementations of the spec to agree on some of the minute details.  But Adobe does have valid concerns about Microsoft.  Microsoft’s history is full of reasons to be very, very concerned.

    Anyway, if Microsoft’s Office team has no problem with developing a feature implementing a file format they don’t own, could you also get them to implement a "save as ODF" feature?  It’d save our poor ears from the incessant clamour of high-up ‘Softies proclaiming that Massachussett’s decision is aimed squarely at disallowing Microsoft to take part … when it appears is that Microsoft is too lazy to do it …

  9. Tom Servo says:

    Aslong there’s no PDF reader application from Microsoft nor roundtripping in Office 2007, there’s no reason why anyone should pull the FUD card on it.

  10. Patrick Schmid says:

    There really is no point for Microsoft to extend PDF with their own features as Adobe is afraid of. MS customers wanted PDF writing support, so that they could create PDF files adhering to the spec. The big value of PDF is that it is this ubiquitous. Maybe Adobe is scared that if MS provides this they won’t be able anymore to control the PDF spec on their own, but rather another party will have a loud voice at any future ISO PDF rounds?

    Why can’t Microsoft sign an agreement with Adobe that the Office PDF writing support will always adhere to the relevant ISO spec and that the only way Microsoft is going to influence the PDF format itself is through the usual ISO channels? It seems like Microsoft wouldn’t have a problem with such an agreement, but Adobe for sure would. I don’t buy their argument. I think they are hiding behind an argument that given Microsoft’s history is plausible. In reality, they are totally scared what would happen to their sales if people realize that they don’t need to buy the piece-of-shit Adobe Acrobat Pro anymore to just create PDFs. In all honesty, how many people who buy Acrobat Pro actually use it for more than plain PDF creation?


  11. Francis says:

    Rosyna: That is a valid concern, but software does this all the time (including Adobe’s own Photoshop.) Users are warned that saving to certain file formats will engender the loss of various features, cause layer flattening, etc.

    As far as I know, anything that can be displayed in Word can be saved in PDF, though, in the worst case, it may have to be rasterized (i.e. converted to a bitmap.)

  12. Francis says:

    Incidentally, if XPS and PDF support are included in Office, a welcome addition would be a "save archive copy" option (similar to "save backup copy.")

    Just because OpenXML is designed to be readable 100 years in the future does not mean it will be legible (due to missing fonts, broken object links, etc.) If, say, Word could generate XPS/PDF duplicates of any documents when they are updated, it would facilitate archival–users would not have expressly to make duplicates of their work in XPS/PDF.

  13. Molly C says:


    I can’t believe some of you are actually buying Adobe’s bs.  Adobe isn’t concerned about fragmentation of PDF (and there’s no evidence whatsoever that Microsoft has any intent to fragment it, despite what some deranged Micrsosoft haters have to say about it; if you have proof, the cite it, rather than your baseless speculations).  Adobe wants to limit competition with its own PDF creation software, that’s all this is.  Basically, Adobe is saying, you can include PDF-export features and compete with us, as long as that competition poses no *real* competition.  OO.o and the like are too small for Adobe to be concerned with.  But if you’re too big, then suddently PDF is no longer "open", which of course means that it was never truly open to begin with.

    Oh, and for those of you buying Adobe’s bull, what about the fact that Adobe said that they would allow Microsoft to include PDF-export out-of-the-box *if* Microsoft agreed to charge extra for that feature (so as not to undercut the price of Adobe’s own PDF creation software).  Read that again slowly, and then realize just what you are supporting by supporting Adobe’s bull.  I’ll spell it out for you: Adobe proposed that (and, since legal threats were used, tried to coerce) Microsoft into *colluding* with Adobe in *price-fixing* regarding PDF creation based on Office documents.  With such price-fixing collusion in place, Adobe could continue to charge high prices for such functionality, as would Microsoft.  That, my friends is the kind of business practice you are supporting.

    Put your hatred of Microsoft aside and look at the facts.  It’s clear as day what is going on here.

  14. Molly C says:


    There does exist an "archival" version of PDF, in which all of the information needed to display the document is embedded into the file (for example, all fonts used in the document are embedded into the document itself).  It’s not used often because it really blows up the size of the file.  But Office 2007 does (or did, and will with the downloadable add-on) provide a checkbox indicating whether to use the archival PDF format or not (the checkbox is labled "ISO something-or-other").

    See Gabe’s post about it here:

  15. marc says:

    @Molly C

    if MS is legally enabled to bundle ‘save as PDF’ functionality, then they must *do it* and fight for that ( the worst case scenario would be a court ordering to rollback the functionality ). If they don’t do it, it is suspicious.

  16. Marco says:

    The following is pure speculation. How about this theory?

    * Microsoft would rather blame Adobe for removing the PDF export functionality than admit that they _can_ offer it legally, but refuse to, if they cannot offer XPS as well.

    * Adobe somehow likes to give the impression that they control who is allowed to offer this functionality, while legally, they cannot.

    Neither is going to say this in public, obviously.

  17. Escamillo says:


    I think this is a case of taking the easy road.  Rather than a court battle (which I’m sure Microsoft is sick of, and such battles are crap-shoots anyway since the judges are utterly clueless as to the issues involved), Microsoft offers the add-in, and those that really care will download it.

    The question is how easily discoverable will Microsoft make the download addin?  Will there be an Export to PDF command that will pop up a message with instructions on how to download the add-in, or will Office 2007 have no indication whatsoever that the download exists (so the user would have to find out about it some other way), or something in between those two extremes?  I prefer the first option.

  18. Francis says:

    Molly C:

    I am aware of this option. I do embed fonts in my PDF files. What I meant, however, was a checkbox like "Always create backup copy" (in Tools->Options) that would cause Office to save an updated PDF/XPS file with every save.

    That way, years down the road, *every* document would also be available in XPS/PDF (i.e., not solely those whose creators had been prescient enough to save copies of their work in that format.)

  19. marc says:


    "I think this is a case of taking the easy road.  

    Rather than a court battle …Microsoft offers the add-in"

    Yes, could be. But with the MSN-search-default-in-IE7 issue [1][2] MS had another attitude: they took the hit.

    Why ? because MS and Google are not having an agreement at close doors and telling the public another story ( i’m not sure this is not the case with the ‘save as PDF’ thing )



  20. lseven says:

    I hope a "Save as PDF" feature in Office would work better than the "Save as HTML".  The HTML is not readable by all HTML interpreters, and I doubt it follows the standard.

  21. monoclast says:

    Iseven wrote:

    "I hope a "Save as PDF" feature in Office would work better than the "Save as HTML".  The HTML is not readable by all HTML interpreters, and I doubt it follows the standard."

    That’s *exactly* what Microsoft would do with PDF if given the chance!

    History has shown, time and time again, that Microsoft methodically undermines and damages otherwise open standards solely for Microsoft’s own gain (HTML, XHTML, Java, and the list goes on). Anyone who depends on the openness of PDF should be concerned here.

  22. Marco says:

    Okay, let’s repeat: Microsoft has no PDF reader, so there is no point in not adhering to the standard. Adobe roughly has the monopoly for PDF readers. If microsoft outputs PDF that is not viewable by the Adobe Reader, people will simply not use Microsofts PDF export.

  23. I have examined PDF code produced by Office 12 beta and it seems to have XMP packet inside.

    Does XMP will be supported also natively in OpenXML ?

    It would be interesting to get an XMP coded set of metadata inside docProps…

  24. Today we are announcing the creation of the Open XML Translator project that will help translate between…

  25. dbs says:

    <i>Okay, let’s repeat: Microsoft has no PDF reader, so there is no point in not adhering to the standard. </i>

    For a company that has constantly demonstrated the "Embace, extend, extinguish" philosophy, this statement rings hollow.  Microsoft does not have a PDF reader now.  But lets say next year they decide to create one.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Oh, and we’ll add some goodies into the PDF format that make it so the Microsoft reader can, gosh, dunno,, invoke Excel to make dishes or something.  "This PDF best viewed with Microsoft PDF Viewer" – that phraseology sound familiar?

    Microsoft has shattered any possible trust the world may have in it’s promises of open standards or support therein.  Their ongoing history of attempts to destroy competition through underhanded practices has made them a pariah in the industry.  No one trusts them.  Why should they?

  26. Adrian Tulloch says:


    In a previous entry, you pointed to this article which describes how developers can write their own fixed-format exporter, similar to the pdf exporter.

    According to that article, there’s a header file, fixedformatext.h which describes the interfaces which a developer needs to implement. So, where can I find this header? It wasn’t in any of the office SDKs I saw on msdn.

    Also, does the Office 12 pdf exporter use this interface? I see that the Office 12 beta includes a file called PdfExp.dll, but it doesn’t seem to implement the IMsoDocExporter interface.

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