Microsoft expects Adobe to file new EU antitrust suit over portable formats

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Microsoft expects Adobe to file new EU antitrust suit over portable formats

Redmond (WA) –The Wall Street Journalis reporting this morning,according to Reuters, that Microsoft expects an antitrust lawsuit to be filed against it in the European Union, by Adobe. The subject of the suit is expected to be Microsoft’s planned use of a new portable document format, called XPS, which will be supported throughout the Microsoft Office 2007 suite of applications, but whose support will apparently also extend into Windows Vista.

Microsoft’s unofficial statement to WSJ is the first clear indication that talks between the company and Adobe broke down last week, as bloggers observing the talks had feared. Adobe’s own Portable Document Format (PDF) had been expected to receive prominent support in Office 2007, as an alternative format for saving documents from Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other applications to be shared with others who might not have Office 2007. But testers of the latest Office 2007 beta noticed that Microsoft’s new, more descriptive menuing system for saving documents places PDF and XPS format in the same command – specifically, “PDF or XPS” – and appears to link to a Help file that compares the benefits of the two against one another. Such placement could arguably give Microsoft a prominent location from which to make its competitive value proposition.

Another point of contention between the two companies may concern possible preferential support for XPS in Vista, specifically within the new printer subsystem which renders images in memory for redirection to the printer. Printing engineers have noted that Windows’ print subsystem has historically been faced with negative issues with respect to rendering accurate colors. Information about the specific hues in an image’s color gamut, for instance, are often lost when an image is sent to the printer. Currently, Windows supports the use of color space profiles which help the subsystem more accurately translate colors rendered on screen to colors printed with inks – in other words, translating optical color into pigment color. Engineers have noted that the act of exporting rendered images to XPS apparently bypasses some of these limitations; apparently, the XPS renderer has a better working relationship with the Windows print subsystem than does an ordinary printer driver.

If XPS export should become a more accurate way of rendering color images than standard print, and if Microsoft’s new proposed alternative to JPEG format plays a supporting role, then conceivably Microsoft’s strategy may be perceived by some as an unfair competitive advantage – once again. leveraging the monopoly advantage of Windows to unseat competitors.

Further speculation about a possible formal Adobe complaint centers around how the document reader for the XPS format will be managed, not only for Windows Vista but for XP as well. Testers have noted that XPS format is being supported within the new “Document Focus” feature of Vista’s document explorer, and that a similar retrofit feature may be made available for XP’s document explorer. Some are skeptical that this, too, may give preferential treatment to Microsoft’s format, although others will argue that PDF already has adequate, freely available support within Internet Explorer and other Web browsers, enabling users to at least read PDF documents without cost.

Previously, Microsoft had been touting its support of PDF within Office 2007 as a key selling point, and developer documentation continues to explain how low-level drivers can make use of exporting information to PDF format using APIs. An apparent breakdown of talks between Microsoft and Adobe could jeopardize the state of the licensing arrangement between the two companies, and in a worst-case scenario, lead to a complete rewrite of many of the underlying Office and Windows drivers which had already been updated to support PDF. Potentially, this alone could be cause for further product delays. Also, whether this ill will could bleed over into the two companies’ continuing agreements on font rendering technologies such as OpenType, is unclear at this time.

Spokespersons for both Microsoft and Adobe have been contacted by TG Daily for comment, and responses may yet come later today.