Reports of the death of PDF support within Office 2007 and Vista are not only presumptuous but wrong. Despite the high profile publicity given to a spat between Adobe and Microsoft over the ‘Save as PDF’ function seen in the Office 2007 Beta, there is no doubting that users will be able to do just that in the release version. What they won’t be able to do is do so out of the box. Instead, a totally free and downloadable plug-in will be made available by Microsoft.

Apparently there have been discussions ongoing between Adobe and Microsoft for the best part of four months now, discussions which broke down according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on June 2nd. The article has a Microsoft lawyer, General Counsel Brad Smith to be precise, claiming that Adobe had “threatened antitrust action unless Microsoft “agreed to raise prices. Now quite apart from the fact that it’s unusual for a corporate lawyer at this level to say anything unless as a preemptive strike to gain the high moral ground in a dodgy argument, this quite obviously only tells one side of the story. The other will remain untold until Adobe makes up its mind in regard to filing suit against Microsoft, because commenting now could reveal legal strategy or otherwise negatively impact upon the strength of the case. What I do know is that any antitrust action is likely to be filed in Europe, not the US, where it at least stands a slim chance of succeeding.

As far as I am able to decipher it from my industry insiders here in the UK, the Adobe argument would appear to be based around the fact that they see PDF export technology as constituting a separate product, and further that by tying both Save as PDF and Save as XPS to Vista and Office 2007 as ‘free’ functions undercuts the ability of Adobe to charge for them. Well duh! This wouldn’t stand a snowball in hells chance of success in a US courtroom, the DoJ has already tried and failed to prove Microsoft is leveraging one market monopoly to create one in another after all. Proving the existence of the second market might not be as easy as it sounds, given that Adobe happily pushes PDF as a we won’t sue you 'open' standard. There are no moves to push for the removal of Save as PDF functionality from either the Mac OSX operating system or Open Office.org 2.0, both of which are direct competitors to Microsoft. And why should it? Taking Open office as an example, there are few users (relatively speaking) and letting them save documents as PDF isn’t going to do any damage at all to revenues for the low end Acrobat product (itself only accounting for a tiny percentage of Acrobat product family revenue). At the same time, however, it does expose the Open Office user base to the format, and so to potential sales of the high end Acrobat products that do affect the Adobe bottom line. When you move the argument to Microsoft Office the economics shift dramatically. Given an approximate 90% market share, the ability to produce PDF documents in Office might not only impact upon low end revenues, it could effectively destroy that business model altogether. Throw in the fact that Microsoft has its own competing product, XML Paper Specification (XPS), arriving with Office 2007 and you can see why Adobe are getting nervous.

So is this a big deal? For Adobe, for sure, for the reasons outlined above. For Microsoft, less so, although not having PDF creation functionality out of the box does detract from the upgrade marketing potential a tad (PDF support being one of the most requested Office features.) But for the end user, nah, why should it? If anything it’s ‘a good thing’ as it just means I have more choice: I can go and download the Microsoft plug-in, or the Adobe one which will no doubt be made available from adobe.com as soon as Office 2007 is released. This is why Adobe will, I suspect, be happy with the Microsoft decision to go for the plug-in download route. It gives Adobe a fighting chance to keep customers on side, and more importantly visiting the Adobe website to get the plug-in while being exposed to the Adobe product line and tempting upgrade offers. If you can see past the Adobe are good guys, Microsoft is evil argument and get over the legal posturing that will no doubt continue for weeks to come...