From inside the Redmond Reality Distortion Field: Why publish documents in PDF?

A few years ago, the Windows 7 team developed a document to introduce technology writers to the features of Windows 7. The document was released in PDF format, which created quite a stir among certain people trapped inside the Redmond Reality Distortion Field, who indignantly complained,

Why are we releasing this document in PDF format? Shouldn't it be in docx or XPS? I would expect people interested in Windows 7 to be willing to use more Microsoft technology.

Um, hello from the real world. It's the people who are critical of Windows 7 who are least likely to use Microsoft technology!

"Okay, so Microsoft has this document telling me about their new product, but it's in some Microsoft proprietary file format that requires me to install a custom viewer that works only in Internet Explorer? You've gotta be kidding me."

No wonder people hate Microsoft.

It's like handing out brochures titled "Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest."

Bonus plug: Stephen Toulouse bookified his blogerations. (Part 2: The Hardbackening.) I've read the softcopy of his book. Good stuff. And I would've endorsed his book even if he didn't promise me a personalized copy.

Comments (51)
  1. nathan_works says:

    Ah, Simon, LMGTFY|en|%22Gr%C3%BCnde%2C%20warum%20du%20Deutsch%20lernen%20solltest.%22

    No idea if bing can do the same.. (or if this URL will get manged by spammy filters)

  2. RichB says:

    erm HTML?

    Only last night, I was on a Win7 box without a PDF viewer and had to "install a custom viewer".

    The only question was, install Acrobat or Chrome to use it's sandboxed, secure, inbuilt PDF viewer ;-)

  3. Bart says:

    "Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest." That's not very polite, isn't it? "Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lernen solltest." would be a lot better.

  4. DWalker says:

    Pero no hablo Espanol.

  5. Jochen Kalmbach says:

    @Bart: Your german sentence is completely wrong… your sentence should be: "Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lernen sollten."

    But from my feeling (as native german speaker), the first sentence is correct:

    "Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest."

    @Nathan_works: Also "solltest" is from my perspective correct. It is not as pushy than "sollst".

  6. Daniel Rose says:

    @Bart: Correct German would be "Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lernen sollten."

  7. Laughing my ass off at this says:

    A brochure that says "Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest" is killing me

  8. rfour says:

    As a native speaker, I'd say Raymond's version ("Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest." is correct, apart from the missing capitalization of "Du"(but that would make me a – ummm – Grammar Nazi). The more formal version "Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lenrnen sollten" (not "solltest") would probably be used if the target audience is older than 30.

    @SimonRev No, "solltest" makes learning German optional (but a good idea), whereas "sollst" makes it an offer you should not refuse.

    This story reminds me of downloading Windows in MSDNAA(Microsoft * for students): The first step is downloading an exe file, which extracts a useless download manager, which depends on IE. Luckily, I had a friend with a Windows installation who could give me the final ISO. Since then, I have a cherished Windows XP VM for downloading new Windows versions. Interestingly, the regular MSDN works fine with any browser on any operating system.

  9. or.. says:

    > The only question was, install Acrobat or Chrome to use it's sandboxed, secure, inbuilt PDF viewer ;-)

    Or Foxit reader – it's great. Really :)

    [and no, I'm not getting money from them, I'm just an happy user]

  10. Will says:

    Reminds me of the various signs that go something like "Trouble reading and writing?  Send to $address for help."

  11. lurker says:

    MSDN is definitely the place to come to brush up your subjunctives….

  12. Miff says:

    Not only is it a custom viewer that only works in Internet Explorer, but for some (I suspect EU-lawsuit-related) reason an XPS file opens in the /default browser/, which of course, unless it's IE, has no idea what to do with the file.

    (This is very much the wrong place to complain about this, but hey.  I actually think other browsers might be able to render XPS if they had the WPF plugin enabled, but meh.)

  13. Alex Grigoriev says:

    Microsoft used to provide whitepapers and other downloadable documents as self-extracting CAB or ZIP. Thanks $deity, they don't do that anymore.

  14. Yuhong Bao says:

    Some MS documents are published in both formats, BTW.

  15. J. Daniel Smith says:

    I wish we had a "Like" button (ala Facebook) or voting up (Stackoverflow), the German at the end and ensuing comments are wonderful!

  16. J. Daniel Smith says:

    I wish we had a "Like" button (ala Facebook) or voting up (Stackoverflow), the German at the end and ensuing comments are wonderful!

  17. nathan_works says:

    Mr. Smith, should you register an account, there are those fancy "Rate This" stars that appear in the upper right of the entry's title panel.

  18. asf says:

    @Alex Grigoriev: Not sure if it was Raymond, but IIRC someone said MS does/did this because they can then sign that .exe

  19. Nobody Famous says:

    If you go to Bing, search for Translate and click on their link it says, "Reasons why you should learn English."

    Compare that to Google translator to see who is smarter.

  20. Nik says:

    Raymond, your German sentence is correct.  You are truly cursed with obsessive-compulsive nitpickers.  

  21. Nik says:

    @Nobody Famous: I got the same correct translation from both Google and Bing.

  22. Gabe says:

    Such a reality distortion field is not uncommon at all. That explains why so many companies have web sites that don't tell you what the company does — it may tell you that they're the leader in their field, but without telling you what their field is. It's common for web sites that only apply to a certain area to never tell you their location ("We're your news source for the tri-state area!" — sure, but which 3 states? Every tri-state area has a newspaper called the Sun Times, so how do I know I found the right one?). The people who work at that company are all in the reality distortion field, making them think that since they know where the company is and what it does, everybody else already knows so it doesn't need to be on the site.

    Similarly, many companies have web sites that require you to know what product line you want or which of their arbitrary categories of products your needs fall into before showing you any products. I'm in a small company in the healthcare industry, but I work from home. Should I click on "Home", "Small Business", or "Healthcare"? Once I choose a category, how am I to know which meaninglessly-named line products to select? Even worse are the sites where you can only find out about a product if you already know its model number. How am I supposed to know that I need a Wx7-5BH? Apparently some companies have a reality distortion field so strong that the people who make their web site think that everybody has memorized their arbitrary model numbers.

  23. Alex H says:

    As a German speaker, I found Raymond's sentence to be hard on the mind. Grammatically it may be correct, and when translated directly it reads "Reasons, why you German learning should" (nicely translated it would be "Reasons why you should learn German" but it still comes out feeling kind of broken.  To try to put the "brokenness" into English, imagine I wrote "Reasons, you why learning German should".

    I would rather write "Deutsch lernen: Ein paar Gruende" (Learning German: A few reasons) or maybe "Warum brauche Ich Deutsch?" (Why do I need German?)

    Whatever, I'm just nitpicking anyway :)  I agree that PDF has pretty much become the de-facto document standard.

  24. Neil (SM) says:

    @Troll: As to why no native PDF support in Windows, for one thing I remember a few years ago MS wanting to include "Save as PDF" as a standard feature in MS Office 2007 and Adobe threatening a lawsuit for it.  One might extrapolate from there…

  25. SimonRev says:

    Love the comment at the end, although you have a chicken-and-egg problem with the joke (which I realize is the point, but makes it impossible for those who know no German to get).

    By the way, my German is very rusty, but doesn't use use of the subjunctive case on "solltest" imply that you think the battle is already lost? (i.e. they *should*, but you know they won't).  Wouldn't a persuasive brochure use "sollst"?

  26. Yuhong Bao says:

    BTW, on the ISA Server and Xbox Live, someone could still hook a Xbox to an corporate network with a firewall running ISA server.

  27. Troll says:

    PDF is an ISO standard since ages and Microsoft should implement it in Windows, just like it expects Open XML to be implemented by others. XPS is good only as a print/spooler format and powers Windows' awesome new print pipeline but it is updated only once every years. As a fixed layout format for reading/web documents, it's severely deficient in features. Where is the native ability in Word and Publisher to *edit* XPS files?

  28. GAThrawn says:

    @yuhong2 WTF has that got to do with the topic?

  29. Ruudjah says:

    The real WTF in this story is not the PDF vs XPS war. The WTF is this war itself. Solely the existence of an argument of one paper format over another, is silly and is wasting everybody's time. HTML is a document not designed for paper (as is .doc, .docx, .odt, .pdf, .xps etc). At HTML, it's not paper-first, but paper-second. We should not be releasing any documents bound to sheets of tree. We should be releasing them aimed for electronic view, and add convert functionality (hint: file > print). We have good viewers: They are called a browser.

    Now, where is that WYSIWYG HTML editor?

  30. Cheong says:

    @Neil: But… if just a build-in PDF viewer, it shouldn't really matter, right?

  31. Cheong says:

    @ Ruudjah: I think lots of WYSIWYG text editors (such as Word, OO, AbiWord, etc.) allow you to save document as HTML already.

  32. Robb Snobb says:

    @Alex H –  Wieso Deutsch lernen?

  33. Worf says:

    @BAThrawn: To be fair for once, yuhong was referring to the linked article. Though nI think Raymond covered that topic a few years back, too.

    I'm just surprised that no one here made any sort of joke about "Microsoft always copies. See they copied Steve Job's Reality Distortion Field, too! (snark: again, they made a worse copy…)".

  34. Anton says:

    rfour, capitalization of "du" would be wrong in this context (

    Alex H, to me it doesn't feel broken at all, and it is a quite common expression. Just look at how many results you get when searching for "Gruende, warum Sie".

    Raymond, thanks for the great article!

  35. PaulOnMSDN says:

    Dear Raymond, the page you list as "Contact Me",…/10040074.aspx , seems to have comments closed. So, I take a chance to contact you on the unleated topic here. I'm a great fan of your "Stating the obvious about Windows API" series. Could you please dedicate one of your posts to the matter described in…/3241 (supposed discrepancies in WM_CONTEXTMENU handling on Win32 and WinCE). Thanks!

  36. Steve says:

    @PaulOnMSDN – The suggestion box is only open for a little while adn then it closes, you missed the last one back in July. See this link for details:…/10040074.aspx

  37. Eric Brown says:

    @PaulOnMSDN:  SHRecognizeGesture is purely a WinCE function.  Raymond is unlikely to be able to answer this.  From the MSDN documentation, it's entirely possible that the Windows Mobile team added the WM_CONTEXTMENU message between Windows Mobile 2000 and Windows Mobile 6.5 (probably at Windows Mobile 5.0, as that's when Windows Mobile added WM__CONTEXTMENU support).

  38. ChrisTX says:

    XPS or PDF? Bah, Microsoft should use WWF ( ) instead :D

    So far – hello, XP – PDF is still the 'best' general purpose document format, no question on that. Having to install XPS viewers will rather make people to not read your document at all, than to actually do that. Personally, I do prefer XPS for various reasons, but PDF is available everywhere. I mean, who does not have a PDF viewer installed nowadays? Offering both formats for new documents is probably the best one can do at the moment.

  39. Rand says:

    As a non-native German speaker, but an Ami having lived there 25 years: "du" should properly NOT be capitalized. Capitalizing it is just an informal way of honoring the recipient…

  40. Cheong says:

    @ChrisTX: Talking about availability, I'd argue RTF is better format for thie defination. You can read it without additional software since Win 3.X (or even earlier!), or Apple II for Mac, or various *nix editions.

    It can embed pictures if you want, just make sure don't do any serious formatting there as lots of implementation renders them slightly differently. (Like many people has mentioned before, even Microsoft RichEdit control doesn't support all features in RTF format).

    Regarding HTML, it'll be okay for printing if you follows various guides on safe-printing HTML/CSS. And in fact, there's trend of Microsoft to push using web pages to replace help files.

    The common "drawback" of both format is that they don't support digital signature, so not seen as good enough for any "officical announcement" type application for business peoples.

  41. Dave says:

    >"Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lernen solltest."

    Then it would be "Gründe, warum Sie Deutsch lernen sollten", although to get into the spirit of things I'd make it "Achtung! Sie werden jetzt Deutsch lernen!".

    [If you want to go in that direction, you may as well go all the way. "Achtung! Jetzt Deutsch lernen!" -Raymond]
  42. Nick J says:

    I started publishing my release notes in XPS a year or two ago; after a month I dropped it and used PDF again.

    People were complaining: what is it, how can I open it, on some machines the reader gave problems,… people begged to get a PDF version so I went back to good old PDF.

  43. Dave says:

    If you want to go in that direction, you may as well go all the way.

    "Achtung! Jetzt Deutsch lernen!"

    That's more of a general instruction, in the form I was using I was trying to have it come across as a military order.  Think Basil Fawlty doing his German impression…

  44. Charles says:

    @cheong "I think lots of WYSIWYG text editors (such as Word, OO, AbiWord, etc.) allow you to save document as HTML already."

    If you then open it up in an HTML editor, you'll discover that what Word thinks is HTML is better described as "a stylesheet for every single damn paragraph even if it's exactly the same as the one that went before which will make any normal browser barf". I refuse now to deal with "HTML" generated by Word. I send it back to people and tell them to resend as plain text.

  45. Anon says:

    That's nothing. The "Hiding in Plain Sight" article from the year-end link clearance post of a few days ago linked to a whitepaper… Which is available for download as a MSI. Not a ZIP. Not a CAB. A MSI. Needless to say, I stopped right there; why should I have to INSTALL a random package just to read a whitepaper?

  46. Anon says:

    Forgot to mention: I am on Linux, but I have Wine installed on this machine, so I could probably read the whitepaper (who knows what format it actually is in…). But it still is too much work to install a package, read the whitepaper, and then uninstall the package, dealing with whatever droppings the uninstaller decided to left over.

  47. Alex Grigoriev says:


    The "whitepaper" is just "installed" along with the actual programs by the MSI package. Of course, it's a shame it can't be downloaded separately, but your complaint doesn't stand.

  48. Alec Soroudi says:


    a whitepaper… Which is available for download as a[sic] MSI. Not a ZIP. Not a CAB. A MSI… why should I have to INSTALL a random package just to read a whitepaper?… But it still is too much work to install a package, read the whitepaper, and then uninstall the package, dealing with whatever droppings the uninstaller decided to left over.

    Between copies of the 7-Zip file manager, InnoUnp, and Orca, I never /have/ to install anything; I can just open them as archives and extract whatever I please from inside, along with accompanying installation scripts. ;)


    "Gründe, warum du Deutsch lernen solltest."

    Um besser einschätzen Fettes Brot, E Nomine, Wolfsheim, Rammstein, etc. natürlich. :)

    "Raisons que vous devriez apprendre le français."

    Pour mieux apprécier Damien Saez, mickey 3d, Karl Zero, etc. bien sûr. :)

    "Why are we releasing this document in PDF format? Shouldn't it be in docx or XPS?"

    No; why?

    "I would expect people interested in Windows 7 to be willing to use more Microsoft technology."

    Were the aforementioned complainants part of the Office team? If not, then the problem is that they are Microsoft fanatics. They fail to understand or acknowledge that Microsoft can be good at some things and others can be good at other things. In fact it is foolish to assume that Microsoft can have the best everything. Why is it so offensive to them to allow someone else to be the best at something, like one specific document format in this case? Surely they don't insist that Microsoft is the best at making Games too do they? That MS has the best 3D-graphics packages? The best audio middleware or video editing tools? Come on. Unfortunately there are plenty of similar fields in effect on most people in most other areas as well.


    PDF is an ISO standard since ages…

    Well, if by ages you mean 2008, then yes, ages.

    and Microsoft should implement it in Windows…

    Indeed. I had not even realized that PDF was open-source. If Microsoft were to incorporate support for it (well), then it would likely be able to dominate Adobe on PDFs. For all these years, it baffled me why PDF was so successful when it was proprietary and required money to be able to produce it. Then came those third-party tools that could create PDFs and I felt awkward about them because they felt like reverse-engineered hacks, and I wondered about the integrity of the files. But now that it is open-source, there will be more and more alternatives to Acrobat popping up everywhere, and if Microsoft doesn't acknowledge PDF's dominance and try to jump aboard and even improve it, then they will miss the bandwagon and some other team will garner success by putting out PDF software that everybody loves and prefers to the rest. Then again, that sounds pretty good; Microsoft is already rich and successful enough…

  49. Paul Parks says:

    @Alec Soroudi: Adobe threatened to sue MS to keep PDF support out of Office 2007. It's the same old catch-22: it's either, "MS didn't add Windows support for XYZ so it could push its proprietary technologies. MS sucks," or, "MS bundled support for XYZ into Windows to drive ABC, Inc. out of business. MS sucks."

  50. EU edition says:

    MS could release "Windows 7 P" – without PDF reader.

  51. Miral says:

    I think part of the problem with XPS is that even on Win7 which has more built-in support for *creating* the files (is that true of Vista as well? I forget), there is no built-in support for actually *viewing* (or editing) them.  <b>Everybody</b> has to install a viewer — and while that is also true for PDF, the reality is that so much documentation already uses PDF that there's a very high probability that any given machine has at least some version of Acrobat Reader on it.

    (And yes, that German quote at the end also reminded me of the whole "Illiterate? Write to X for help." thing.)

    [Huh? XPS Viewer has been installed by default since Vista. -Raymond]

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