Adobe, give yer head a shake

I really don’t want to be Bill Gates.

Yeah, you heard right.

Even with a trillion dollars in my bank account and enough money to buy Belgium I just really wouldn’t want to be him. There’s just so much crap going on in the Microsoft world, I sometimes wonder how he sleeps at night (on a mattress filled with BillBucks?).

Yes, yes. Microsoft is evil and all that DOJ jazz, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and they have to tread carefully when embedding things into operating systems and everyone cries foul when something comes out that’s apparently unique but has really been around for years. However this Adobe thing is just silly.

Last October when were were at the MVP Summit, Steve Sinofsky (he’s really a nice guy despite 2,000 people at a TechEd presentation walking out on him) dropped the bomb and told us Office 2007 (then Office 12) would support saving PDF formats. Out of the box. And told us to go blog about it. There was much rejoicing.

That was October. This is now.

According to CNET (which we all know how much of a technical resource for news it is) Adobe pipes up and cries foul and says that MS has to remove the saving as PDF feature or else bad things will happen (we’re not sure what those bad things are, but I’m sure they would be more court days and mudslinging).

It’s all very confusing. Joe Wilcox wrote up a good take at Microsoft Monitor on what was reality compared to the various claims being tossed around the media circuit. Brian Jones, a PM on the Office team, has a writeup on what’s going on from his side of the fence. There’s a Channel 9 interview with the Office team developer who created the feature (from back in January). Heck, even Scoble got his say on things (which doesn’t surprise me as that blogging machine doesn’t seem to sleep).

News travels fast. And wide.

So what’s with Adobe. Is PDF open or not? According to Adobe it is since they have the PDF Specification online (and have had for awhile). If it’s online and Adobe says “Adobe publishes the PDF specification to foster the creation of an ecosystem around the PDF format.” then why are they bitching about Microsoft releasing a product supporting this “ecosystem”. More importantly, why does Adobe wants MS to charge their customers extra BillBucks for this feature.

Not only do Word Perfect (sorry, I refuse to call it Word Perfect Office) and OpenOffice support this and have a PDF feature, there are gobs of free PDF tools out there all producing Adobes much touted “open” file format (and some that plug into Microsoft Office).

That’s pretty open from where I sit.

At least it looks like MS is going to play nice and remove the feature but offer it as a free download. That’s a bummer because I keep stumbling over Office workers and users who have no idea there’s a thing called the “interweb” out there, let alone downloading an add-on and installing it. Hopefully the IT guys of the world will download it and make it part of their corporate images or something so at least the untechs who know not of this thing called the internet (or is it the Internet? I can’t never be sure) will have their precious PDF functionality (which should make at least the legal suits happy).

Kinda sucks that one mega-corp goes off and tries to dictate what another mega-corp is charging their customers for. Like I said Adobe, give your head a shake and stop being such a pissant in the technical sandbox. Oh here’s how we made our sand so you can build your own sand castles if you want, but only if you’re not that big bully over there with the biggest sand castle machine of the whole beach. Sheesh.

P.S. Bill, if you’re reading this (as I know you always keep up with my blog) then feel free to hire me as your personal SharePoint guru and all around code monkey. I would be quite fine with that too.

P.P.S. Brian Jones has a second update (or maybe it’s a third) on the PDF legal issues here on his blog. Good read to round out this discussion.


  • Well, your analysis conforms nicely with the talking points that MS has doled out.

    I am skeptical that the MS story represents the whole picture. Are PDFs produced by MS conformant with the PDF standard? Does MS include the appropriate copyright notice per Adobe's terms?

    If both are true, MS need not fear including the "Save As PDF" option as there would be no basis for legal action on Adobe's part. But MS seems to have taken the legal challenge seriously, which leaves me thinking that MS may not be implementing its PDF functionality according to the PDF specificaion you linked to.

    More importantly, MS can release a story to the media and blogosphere to spread the following self-flattery:

    "We were SO EXCITED to offer a competitor's proprietary file format in our software!"
    [ = We have been dreaming for years of trying to kill PDF format and put in its place a format that we control. ]

    "But -- can you believe this?! -- those darn meanies at Adobe have threatened to sue US AND ONLY US for incorporating it!"
    [ = So we 'negotiated' over this for months, consistently refusing to conform fully with Adobe's terms of use. See, we could count on them not putting up with our nonsense. ]

    "So now --SIGH-- with deepest regret, we have caved in to those darn meanies' legal threats. We won't be able to offer their lovely format."
    [ = Don't worry! We have OUR OWN proprietary format that you are just going to LOVE!!!!!!1111" ]

    "If you still want to use those darn bad guys' dumb stupid format, we will still offer it as a plug-in."
    [ = See? We CAN make a legal-proof implementation of "Save as PDF." Naturally, we'll make it a lot harder for people to set up. Want to bet that most of the schmoes out there won't just stick with our preinstalled format? Hee hee hee!!!!!!!!11111111 We t0tally pnw u Adobe! we r so 1337" ]

    Anyway, that's my take on it.

  • "but most of the people working at Microsoft are actually interested in created great software for use by real people in the real world of work.". I am sure that's true, somewhere, but definitely not when it comes to such sensitive subjects. I think you are simply supporting an easy tagline, forgetting that Microsoft is as much as Adobe part of the problem in this mini-earth quake and that nobody, NOBODY, from Microsoft or Adobe should even be allowed to discuss this very subject. Let's take a look at Brian Jones's blog, where he ridicules Adobe. Explain me how sane is that?

    A PDF generator is a 3-week job for a single person. It's not like those massively inter-dependent modules. Give me a freaking break!

    As for making genuinely better software, you seem to forget a couple of things : 1) why isn't PDF supported since Office 97 if it is that great? 2) why isn't PDF going to be supported (free fownload) in all Office versions if customers count that much? After all, Office 2007 is a zero-install base so far 3) Why is Microsoft so late? 4) Why is there an issue exactly when it comes to the "openness" of things? 5) What makes you think there is no link with the many other related and unrelated file formats such as XPS, WPF/E and so on?

    Again, none of us know the truth.

  • I don't doubt that much if not all of what you said about interdependencies, marketing stories, and political in-fighting between Adobe and Microsoft exist at some executive level, and that's not what I'm questioning. What I'm questioning, and what annoys me to no end when folks jump into these discussions claiming vast expertise on how the corporate world of Microsoft or other major corporations function, is the simple out-of-hand dismissal of the possibility that there are people in the company who really are trying to do what they feel is best for the customers. Claiming that nobody from Microsoft or Adobe should "even be allowed to discuss this very subject" just kills me. What is it, exactly, that gives you or anyone else outside of Microsoft or Adobe the moral certainty and complete objectivity to comment on it, either, if that's the case? Can I presume that you're an attorney involved in the dispute? I think that you have every right to express whatever opinion it is that you have about Bil's post, the whole Microsoft/Adobe issue, or anything else that you'd like to discuss. I'd only ask for an ounce of realization that beyond the tit-for-tat in media, blogs (including Brian Jones's blog, which I personally feel often goes too far), and posts like these, there are actually some non-evil (some people might actually say "good") whose goals are, in fact, as simple as creating software that customers want. We could fill pages with the features and functionality that have been left out of software because of legal or other political/corporate reasons -- I'm not saying it's good or bad in the final judgement, I'm just saying that not *everything* that is done by people at Microsoft is motivated by the tired and typical "Microsoft is evil" claims that abound in the blogosphere and internet at large.

  • ". Claiming that nobody from Microsoft or Adobe should "even be allowed to discuss this very subject" just kills me. "

    Yes, that's right. None of the bloggers are spokepersons, so they are crossing the line by doing so. Have you any idea the damage those guys do to the company and lawyers both at Microsft and Adobe?

    I am outside the two entities, and don't own shares from any either, that's why I speak objectively. I have been reverse engineering file formats for two decades, so you I have an opinion on the subject...

    But I am not taking the side of anybody at this point. For the third time, I'll repeat that none of us know the truth (of the back-channels that led to this).

  • I don't entirely disagree that bloggers writing about this issue -- particularly those from within Microsoft and/or Adobe -- are probably causing their PR/Legal departments fits. Where you and I differ, I suspect, is that I don't think it's such a bad thing for legal and PR departments to be shaken up a bit, particularly when the company in particular is notoriously monolithic (e.g. Microsoft). One of the points that Scoble and Israel make in Naked Conversations is that coporate blogging beneficially decentralizes the corporate "message" so that the corporate legal/PR meat-grinder isn't the only voice, and that customers get to see some of the behind-the-scenese "real people" that make up the company as well. Unfortunately, that means that for every positive, customer-endearing blog message out there, we have folks who will fly off the handle and probably alienate customers in the process. That's a pretty simple disagreement, and you definitely aren't the only one who feels that bloggers should shut their mouths where sensitive issues like these are concerned and let the corporate powers run the show.

    Like you, or -- at least, as you say -- I don't have a strong opinion on the actual Microsoft/Adobe dispute one way or the other right now. But if you make claims like "Those who think that this PDF support meant that Microsoft was listening to their customers are fooled by the obvious strategic move" without making any concession to the possibility that somebody at Microsoft actually *was* listening to their customers is to be just as one-sided as Brian Jones or any other biased blogger out there.

  • Interesting discussion. Thanks.

    For the record, I have absolutely no claim to "vast expertise on how the corporate world of Microsoft or other major corporations function." Thanks for inferring that, though ... I guess ....

    I still feel that my take on the situation makes the most sense to me. I'll be happy to listen to a substantive refutation of it, and if it's convincing, I will bow to your vaster knowledge.

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