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Microsoft Readying a PDF-Killer?

SEATTLE -- One element of Microsoft's next OS 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 Longhorn, 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.

Bit-mapped printing loses some special effects visible on-screen, such as Longhorn's "Aero Glass" transparent windows. Metro is designed to improve print fidelity and performance, according to Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for the Microsoft Windows division.

The problem Microsoft wanted to solve, Sullivan said, was, "with the increasing use of graphics, transparency and rich gradients in documents and in the system itself, how do you view, share and print it?" He said Metro aims to provide the same view in print that graphics have on the screen, while also addressing some of the built-in printing performance issues of the aging Windows.

Metro also allows document creators to "lock down" the file, so it can't be altered. It supports the application of digital signatures within documents, and Microsoft plans to work in Windows Rights Management Services in Metro documents.

If this all sounds a lot like Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF), it does have that same benefit, but Sullivan downplayed any competition. He said that Metro would not replace PDF, which was introduced in 1993 and has grown to support a variety of collaborative tools and server software. Adobe added XML support in 2003.

Metro includes a set of application programming interfaces to match the technology with other applications, a print-to-file converter and a viewer, which will be available for Longhorn, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. Metro-enabled printing will be available in the Longhorn beta to be released this summer.

To produce Metro, Microsoft worked with Global Graphics, a vendor of document creation and printing software. Global Graphics, which had focused on high-end digital printing, provided consulting services for the development of Metro and produced a prototype to demonstrate consuming and printing of the format. It will provide a print reference implementation for its Raster Image Processor (RIP) that will ship with Microsoft's developer toolsets.

"Our biggest competitor today is generally Adobe with PostScript and PDF," Global Graphics CEO Jim Freidah told internetnews.com.

RIP technology converts text and images into a form that can be printed at high resolution. Global Graphics will license its own version of the RIP and Page Description Language (PDL) software to hardware and software vendors, so that they can support Metro and Longhorn.

"Metro will be exciting because it's both a document format and part of the new print spool format to be used in Longhorn," said Freidah. "Everything, from the application and user interface down to the printer is in same format. Old print paths involved a lot of conversions."

The open format will allow other ISVs and hardware manufacturers to write readers and implementations for Metro.

"Ideally, you'll have intelligent printers that can take metro in natively," Freidah said.