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PDFs Native to The New Office

UPDATED -- The next version of Microsoft's popular Office suite is going to include native support for PDF documents, according to what one of the suite's program managers wrote over the weekend.

Brian Jones, a program manager for Office, wrote in his blog Sunday about the inclusion of the popular archival and presentation format in Office 12, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Visio and InfoPath.

"We've really heard the feedback that sharing documents across multiple platforms and long term archiving are really important," Jones wrote in his blog.

Support will come in the form of a "save as" feature, allowing users to save their Office document in the form of a PDF. The feature is found in a number of office applications, including the open-source OpenOffice.org project and commercial StarOffice suite championed by Sun Microsystems , which lets users export files as a PDF.

Microsoft officials said the inclusion of native PDF support will not affect its work on XMP Paper Specification (XPS), which formerly went by the code name Metro, to create a persistent document file format similar to PDF.

XPS, they said, provides an XML-based fixed format that goes beyond PDF.

"XPS support in Office '12' will enable customers to create a high-quality, full-fidelity fixed document based on a file format specification that is fully described in XML," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. "A fixed document format based on XML will enable a host of new capabilities for archival, search, document management and other scenarios."

Some components of the XPS technology are already part of Windows Vista beta 1, with the rest to appear in the second half of 2006. Office 12 beta 1 is expected in the late fall of this year.

PDF is a popular archival and presentation document format because of its neutrality. Documents saved as a PDF file look the same regardless of operating system or application when viewed through a PDF reader, keeping all formatting as the author originally intended.

Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at research firm ZapThink, said the support is a realization by Microsoft that PDF is an important part of the workflow process for many organizations. Many use Office for their content and collaboration work and go to PDF to archive their work in a format everyone can use, he said.

Microsoft's decision to include PDF natively is also going to put the pinch on Adobe , the document format's creator, Schmelzer said.

Adobe announced it was acquiring Flash platform creator Macromedia for $3.4 billion in April, setting the stage for a direct confrontation with Microsoft's own graphics software initiatives.

"I think [Microsoft] sees the Adobe/Macromedia combination as a formidable challenger in the market, especially in the Office side of things, and by embedding PDF, they're cutting off one form of revenue that Adobe gets, which is obviously from Acrobat," he said.

Pam Deziel, Adobe's director of platform strategy, said Microsoft's upcoming support for PDF validates the value of the file format in the workflow process but isn't worried it will cut into its own revenue streams.

"We really see it as a net positive in terms of growing the overall PDF ecosystem," she said. "The functionality [Microsoft] discussed offering is equivalent to the low end of our desktop product line."

Customers who use Acrobat or the other products in its lifecycle application line will be able to take advantage of the enhanced business process and workflow capabilities to be found in the applications -- like intelligent forms and 3D content.

To a much lesser extent, Microsoft's native support for PDF is also a hedge against its recent setback with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' new IT requirements.

Starting Jan. 1, 2007, government employees in the commonwealth will only be able to use applications that save files by default in the OpenDocuments format, a file format Microsoft has said it won't support.

PDF documents, however, are an appropriate archival format, according to the latest version of the commonwealth's Enterprise Technical Reference Model.

Jones indirectly reiterated the company's staunch refusal to support OpenDocuments. Microsoft officials have said their decision to stick with Open XML as its file format of choice in the future was a matter of maintaining backward compatibility.

In this case, Jones' blog states it's a matter of customer feedback. Where Microsoft officials have seen more than 30,000 searches every week for PDF support on its OfficeOnline Web site, the requests are not nearly as much for other file formats.

"I've heard some folks comment asking the question: 'Why is Microsoft going to so much effort to not support the format I'm interested in?' " he noted in his blog. "This is to be expected, because every customer has unique views that we want to respect; but it's work and cost to build and support a format ... work and resources that go on for a long time."