Microsoft vs. Adobe heats up

Joe Wilcox says "there's more to the story" this morning about Microsoft's breakdown in negotations with Adobe.

I've interviewed the Word team about its PDF support and it seemed pretty straightfoward to me. That team just wanted to add capabilities for our customers. I'm pretty sensitive to this stuff cause I've had Microsoft's gun aimed at my head and I want to make sure we're always behaving properly when it comes to partners.

I wish we could all get along better to make our customers lives better, but there's big dollars at stake here so understand Adobe's concern here. It always pains me to see a breakdown in communication with a partner, particularly one as valuable as Adobe.

Update: Brian Jones of the Office team gives his side of the story on his blog.

85 thoughts on “Microsoft vs. Adobe heats up

  1. So… what kind of competitive preassure was Office 97 facing that made it change file formats? It still sounds like customer demand to me. People just need to learn to stop complaining. Do you want Unicode? If you do then a file format change is in order. You can’t have things both ways. I find it funny how people like to complain that MS doesn’t innovate but when they innovate, which usually breaks things, people complain that they do not maintain backwards compatibility. Honestly, would you like to restate your complaint? If you think MS did something stupid and wrong, and was not listening to customer demand, then are you also saying that Unicode was a completely joke?

    Hindsight is always 20/20 and Bill Gates did not design Office so your arguments make zero sense. Also, Unicode is a mostly based on implementation and conventions thus there is no way any program could have seriously anticipated and incorporated it, which is why Unicode induced significant changes to many pieces of software. Since MS software is popular, whiney people only like to complain about MS.. how pathetic.

  2. So… what kind of competitive preassure was Office 97 facing that made it change file formats? It still sounds like customer demand to me. People just need to learn to stop complaining. Do you want Unicode? If you do then a file format change is in order. You can’t have things both ways. I find it funny how people like to complain that MS doesn’t innovate but when they innovate, which usually breaks things, people complain that they do not maintain backwards compatibility. Honestly, would you like to restate your complaint? If you think MS did something stupid and wrong, and was not listening to customer demand, then are you also saying that Unicode was a completely joke?

    Hindsight is always 20/20 and Bill Gates did not design Office so your arguments make zero sense. Also, Unicode is a mostly based on implementation and conventions thus there is no way any program could have seriously anticipated and incorporated it, which is why Unicode induced significant changes to many pieces of software. Since MS software is popular, whiney people only like to complain about MS.. how pathetic.

  3. So why has Adobe jumped up about this? I think it has to do with the following two issues:

    1. Microsoft’s market share: if saving to PDF becomes a standard option in Office, it will obliterate Adobe’s profit from Acrobat, which is its most popular software package.

    2. Microsoft wanted to include the ability to save to PDF as a fully functioning feature – in other words, hyperlinks and other special formatting would be preserved. Typically, with the free products out there, and with the Mac, when one saves to PDF, it’s essentially a print to PDF function, where special formatting and tags aren’t preserved. If you want the full-featured save to PDF function, that has usually only been available with the paid Acrobat product.

  4. So why has Adobe jumped up about this? I think it has to do with the following two issues:

    1. Microsoft’s market share: if saving to PDF becomes a standard option in Office, it will obliterate Adobe’s profit from Acrobat, which is its most popular software package.

    2. Microsoft wanted to include the ability to save to PDF as a fully functioning feature – in other words, hyperlinks and other special formatting would be preserved. Typically, with the free products out there, and with the Mac, when one saves to PDF, it’s essentially a print to PDF function, where special formatting and tags aren’t preserved. If you want the full-featured save to PDF function, that has usually only been available with the paid Acrobat product.

  5. duh! You guys couldn’t see that the users would not buy this once shipped? The stalled sales probably lost you more money that slipping in order to put in “Save as 95″ functionality. Still, in the long run it worked out and got people moving. So, you succeeded in spite of yourselves. Still and all, you are missing the point. Customer “need” is way down the list. Competitive pressure more the motivator.

    As an aside I’m always nonplussed when I see folks from Microsoft write when referncing 1995-97 “we realized the world was changing” IOW: “Oh my God!!! We WON’T have the world by the shorthairs now that this internet thing is going to be big”

    Anybody else find is somewhat odd that two guys that could see the furture of PC’s long before anyone else could, couldn’t foresee the potential of the internet long before it almost passed them by? And now the same guy couldn’t see the potentail of search long before someone else came along to eat his lunch? Curious.

  6. duh! You guys couldn’t see that the users would not buy this once shipped? The stalled sales probably lost you more money that slipping in order to put in “Save as 95″ functionality. Still, in the long run it worked out and got people moving. So, you succeeded in spite of yourselves. Still and all, you are missing the point. Customer “need” is way down the list. Competitive pressure more the motivator.

    As an aside I’m always nonplussed when I see folks from Microsoft write when referncing 1995-97 “we realized the world was changing” IOW: “Oh my God!!! We WON’T have the world by the shorthairs now that this internet thing is going to be big”

    Anybody else find is somewhat odd that two guys that could see the furture of PC’s long before anyone else could, couldn’t foresee the potential of the internet long before it almost passed them by? And now the same guy couldn’t see the potentail of search long before someone else came along to eat his lunch? Curious.

  7. The fact that PDF has been available for a while is irrevelant. Back then there were virtually no features that PDF had that doc didn’t have that really mattered.

    As for why Office Mac 2004 has PDF output support and why Office 2003 doesn’t, there’s probably an interesting story behind it.

    Consider this interesting story behind the incompatible file formats issue.

    ——–
    http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley/archive/2004/04/28/122004.aspx

    So, file formats. Here’s the deal. In the 80s and early 90s, every time (nearly) that a new version of a product came out (1-2-3, WordPerfect, etc), the standard deal was that the new version had a new file format. This was a no-brainer and was considered normal and acceptable by the market. The product had new features that the old one didn’t understand, and you ran these things on standalone machines that had no network, so as long as the new version could read your old files, you were golden. You almost never had to send a file to someone else electronically – you printed it. Innovating meant a new file format.

    So, this was the tradition, and generally applications followed it. Word6 had a new file format compared to Word2, as was normal. Then Word95 came out – it was a 32-bit port of Word6 with only a few new features (although it had my all-time favorite – background red-squiggle spelling), and none of these affected the format, so it wasn’t changed. Word97 was started in 1994 at the same time as Word95, and almost the first thing that was done was the routine change of file format to accommodate some of the big plans we had (Unicode support being a huge one). Something really big happened in 1995 though – the internet, email, and Windows95. Suddenly everyone was getting a computer to access the internet, do email, and/or to experience the “wonder” that was Win95, since that had been such a big deal. PCs were becoming mainstream and were spreading everywhere. Corporations were deploying them in huge numbers. Another development was accelerating – LANs, and WANs – so electronic copies of documents could be shared inside companies much more easily.

    Around the beginning of 1996, well past “code complete” for Office97, we started to realize that the world had changed. Word6 had been sold into a market of about 10 million consisting of pretty techy users with few interconnections except via floppy disk (“sneakernet”), and it was the “challenger” product, so the installed base or older versions was small. Word95 had been unnoticed since it had the same file format, but it was widely adopted – not as much as Word 6 though. Word97 was going into a market of about 50 million, and Word was now “the standard”. We quickly tried to do something about the impending problem, but it was really too late. We had to ship without the ability to save the old binary format of Word6 (there is only one binary save path in Word and it is quite baked in), and of course we couldn’t go back to the old format since it would mean removing most of the improvements: all the new graphics, international support, etc, not to mention a huge delay. We started a crash project to build a “downrev save” converter to the old binary format using Word95 as a base, but that wasn’t ready at launch. Thus was born a legion of conspiracy theories about our “true” motivation for changing the file format.

    The reality of that was that customers were pretty dissatisfied, and wouldn’t buy the new version. Sales stalled at first, and we made a rule that the next versions of Office had to save in a format that was compatible with 97. We could still add new features, but whatever they were, they had to fit in the old format. This is why Word97, Word2000, Word2002, and Word2003 all use the same binary format. Fortunately we had those last few months to add some bits to the 97 format that made it possible to add things in the future that the old versions of Word would ignore politely, but sticking with the same format for the last 8 years (Word97 shipped in 1996) has put a significant crimp in our style. There is a corresponding claim that circulates the net that says we change the format “every release”. Since we bend over backwards not to do this, that one always makes me chuckle.

  8. The fact that PDF has been available for a while is irrevelant. Back then there were virtually no features that PDF had that doc didn’t have that really mattered.

    As for why Office Mac 2004 has PDF output support and why Office 2003 doesn’t, there’s probably an interesting story behind it.

    Consider this interesting story behind the incompatible file formats issue.

    ——–
    http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley/archive/2004/04/28/122004.aspx

    So, file formats. Here’s the deal. In the 80s and early 90s, every time (nearly) that a new version of a product came out (1-2-3, WordPerfect, etc), the standard deal was that the new version had a new file format. This was a no-brainer and was considered normal and acceptable by the market. The product had new features that the old one didn’t understand, and you ran these things on standalone machines that had no network, so as long as the new version could read your old files, you were golden. You almost never had to send a file to someone else electronically – you printed it. Innovating meant a new file format.

    So, this was the tradition, and generally applications followed it. Word6 had a new file format compared to Word2, as was normal. Then Word95 came out – it was a 32-bit port of Word6 with only a few new features (although it had my all-time favorite – background red-squiggle spelling), and none of these affected the format, so it wasn’t changed. Word97 was started in 1994 at the same time as Word95, and almost the first thing that was done was the routine change of file format to accommodate some of the big plans we had (Unicode support being a huge one). Something really big happened in 1995 though – the internet, email, and Windows95. Suddenly everyone was getting a computer to access the internet, do email, and/or to experience the “wonder” that was Win95, since that had been such a big deal. PCs were becoming mainstream and were spreading everywhere. Corporations were deploying them in huge numbers. Another development was accelerating – LANs, and WANs – so electronic copies of documents could be shared inside companies much more easily.

    Around the beginning of 1996, well past “code complete” for Office97, we started to realize that the world had changed. Word6 had been sold into a market of about 10 million consisting of pretty techy users with few interconnections except via floppy disk (“sneakernet”), and it was the “challenger” product, so the installed base or older versions was small. Word95 had been unnoticed since it had the same file format, but it was widely adopted – not as much as Word 6 though. Word97 was going into a market of about 50 million, and Word was now “the standard”. We quickly tried to do something about the impending problem, but it was really too late. We had to ship without the ability to save the old binary format of Word6 (there is only one binary save path in Word and it is quite baked in), and of course we couldn’t go back to the old format since it would mean removing most of the improvements: all the new graphics, international support, etc, not to mention a huge delay. We started a crash project to build a “downrev save” converter to the old binary format using Word95 as a base, but that wasn’t ready at launch. Thus was born a legion of conspiracy theories about our “true” motivation for changing the file format.

    The reality of that was that customers were pretty dissatisfied, and wouldn’t buy the new version. Sales stalled at first, and we made a rule that the next versions of Office had to save in a format that was compatible with 97. We could still add new features, but whatever they were, they had to fit in the old format. This is why Word97, Word2000, Word2002, and Word2003 all use the same binary format. Fortunately we had those last few months to add some bits to the 97 format that made it possible to add things in the future that the old versions of Word would ignore politely, but sticking with the same format for the last 8 years (Word97 shipped in 1996) has put a significant crimp in our style. There is a corresponding claim that circulates the net that says we change the format “every release”. Since we bend over backwards not to do this, that one always makes me chuckle.

  9. @34-35. Uh… PDF has been around for quite some time.
    And Office:mac 2004 has it. Are you saying those same customers didn’t want it for Windows Office? Anyway, you can categorize it as customer demand. I think it more competitive pressure. If MS had not lost the Mass. bid they wouldn’t have even bothered going down this path. They would have told their customer base “Let them eat cake”. Which they had been doing with previous versions of Office regarding file formating. (Again, Office 95 upgrade fiasco anyone? Were users clamoring for incompatible file formats when going from one version to another?)

    I apologize though. It was not you that said it was “to make customers lives easier”..it is Scoble that believes the motives are altruistic.

  10. @34-35. Uh… PDF has been around for quite some time.
    And Office:mac 2004 has it. Are you saying those same customers didn’t want it for Windows Office? Anyway, you can categorize it as customer demand. I think it more competitive pressure. If MS had not lost the Mass. bid they wouldn’t have even bothered going down this path. They would have told their customer base “Let them eat cake”. Which they had been doing with previous versions of Office regarding file formating. (Again, Office 95 upgrade fiasco anyone? Were users clamoring for incompatible file formats when going from one version to another?)

    I apologize though. It was not you that said it was “to make customers lives easier”..it is Scoble that believes the motives are altruistic.

  11. Yes, PDF has all that stuff, Great! But can you really prove that there was significant demand for PDF output in Office back in 2003 (perhaps 2002 when Office 2003 was being developed). The huge demand for PDF is fairly apparent now since open formats are supposedly the hippest idea in town. I honestly can’t say for sure but from my experience with PDF and Office I am inclined to believe that the answer is no.

    Because the IT industry is rather inept when it comes to changes, superior technology do not always gain acceptance immediately so it really doesn’t matter that PDF has been a superb solution to portable document creation for a long time.

  12. Yes, PDF has all that stuff, Great! But can you really prove that there was significant demand for PDF output in Office back in 2003 (perhaps 2002 when Office 2003 was being developed). The huge demand for PDF is fairly apparent now since open formats are supposedly the hippest idea in town. I honestly can’t say for sure but from my experience with PDF and Office I am inclined to believe that the answer is no.

    Because the IT industry is rather inept when it comes to changes, superior technology do not always gain acceptance immediately so it really doesn’t matter that PDF has been a superb solution to portable document creation for a long time.

  13. Scoble said “If I see a team doing something that improves our customers lives then I’m going to be happy.”.

    It’s an easy excuse Mr Scoble, too blatant easy.
    If customers really matter, then why isn’t PDF natively supported since Office 97? Back then, PDF already had a huge install base.

    Oh, I know the answer on that one. The MS PR guys ask you to say “we lack resources”. Yes, I have read somewhere that there is over 1000 employees in the Office team…

    And, for the record, I did write a native PDF generator. It’s a 3-week job for a single person, just in case you’d like to measure the cost of things.

    Scoble said “We are planning to remove Save as PDF, as well as Save as XPS, from Office 2007 and make both available only as a separate download”.

    If your customers matter, I’ll guess you’ll make this free download available to ALL Office versions, not only Office 2007, right?

    Come on, Scoble, this subject has way too much politics and back-channels for you to come and stand up with such obtu statements.

  14. Scoble said “If I see a team doing something that improves our customers lives then I’m going to be happy.”.

    It’s an easy excuse Mr Scoble, too blatant easy.
    If customers really matter, then why isn’t PDF natively supported since Office 97? Back then, PDF already had a huge install base.

    Oh, I know the answer on that one. The MS PR guys ask you to say “we lack resources”. Yes, I have read somewhere that there is over 1000 employees in the Office team…

    And, for the record, I did write a native PDF generator. It’s a 3-week job for a single person, just in case you’d like to measure the cost of things.

    Scoble said “We are planning to remove Save as PDF, as well as Save as XPS, from Office 2007 and make both available only as a separate download”.

    If your customers matter, I’ll guess you’ll make this free download available to ALL Office versions, not only Office 2007, right?

    Come on, Scoble, this subject has way too much politics and back-channels for you to come and stand up with such obtu statements.

  15. Wym, you really need to do some research on PDF, it’s everywhere. The US IRS is using fillable PDF for tax forms, the USPTO is using it, many states are all about it too. It’s cross-platform, self-contained, programmable, securable, and quite hard to modify when certs are used.

    There’s very little else that even comes close to what PDF can do.

  16. Wym, you really need to do some research on PDF, it’s everywhere. The US IRS is using fillable PDF for tax forms, the USPTO is using it, many states are all about it too. It’s cross-platform, self-contained, programmable, securable, and quite hard to modify when certs are used.

    There’s very little else that even comes close to what PDF can do.

  17. I should have also added that I never said that Microsoft did this to make people’s lives easier or they were being nice. If customers want their lives harder (increased security in Windows XP SP2 and Vista for example), Microsoft will do that for them too. All I am saying is that Microsoft did it because that’s what their customers wanted and the only way they can sell their product is by giving them what they want and making them happy.

  18. I should have also added that I never said that Microsoft did this to make people’s lives easier or they were being nice. If customers want their lives harder (increased security in Windows XP SP2 and Vista for example), Microsoft will do that for them too. All I am saying is that Microsoft did it because that’s what their customers wanted and the only way they can sell their product is by giving them what they want and making them happy.

  19. @dmad

    I really don’t know much about the historical demand for PDF. It’s conceivable that this demand is something rather recent especially given that the ISO specification for PDF/A was published in 2005 and the movement for the demand for an open format is also recent. Since the last Office was released in 2003, I am not surprised that PDF support is only added now. In fact when Microsoft refers to demand for PDF output, they are probably referring specifically to Massachusetts and other governments/organizations that have been recently clamoring for open formats. In other words, the addition of PDF and Open XML are definitely the result of customer demand, which was probably nonexistent prior to the release of Office 2003, so my point still stands.

  20. @dmad

    I really don’t know much about the historical demand for PDF. It’s conceivable that this demand is something rather recent especially given that the ISO specification for PDF/A was published in 2005 and the movement for the demand for an open format is also recent. Since the last Office was released in 2003, I am not surprised that PDF support is only added now. In fact when Microsoft refers to demand for PDF output, they are probably referring specifically to Massachusetts and other governments/organizations that have been recently clamoring for open formats. In other words, the addition of PDF and Open XML are definitely the result of customer demand, which was probably nonexistent prior to the release of Office 2003, so my point still stands.

  21. Ralph, didn’t say that was the reason.

    What needs to happen is for everyone to calm the hell down until both sides of the story come out. Right now, we don’t have that, so all we have is speculation right now.

  22. Ralph, didn’t say that was the reason.

    What needs to happen is for everyone to calm the hell down until both sides of the story come out. Right now, we don’t have that, so all we have is speculation right now.

  23. @John C. Welch: I’m pretty confident that the “structured PDF” argument is not valid. I have played around quite a lot with various versions of the PDF standard and the license you accept for implementing part of the specification or the full spec is extremely liberal. In fact, the license even allows you to implement solutions that read and / or modify PDF files, something a “save as…” doesn’t do. You can even get tools from third parties with Javascript and Forms support and all the other fancy stuff that’s in there.

    In fact, everyone who really uses Acrobat will have a good laugh at what Microsoft is coming up with. However, all the casual users will be presented with yet another Windows-only standard for these documents whereas PDF is available on virtually every platform and allows you to implement tools for supporting it without paying any royalties on any platform (even pure Java – see iText, PDFBox, Apache FOP et al.)

  24. @John C. Welch: I’m pretty confident that the “structured PDF” argument is not valid. I have played around quite a lot with various versions of the PDF standard and the license you accept for implementing part of the specification or the full spec is extremely liberal. In fact, the license even allows you to implement solutions that read and / or modify PDF files, something a “save as…” doesn’t do. You can even get tools from third parties with Javascript and Forms support and all the other fancy stuff that’s in there.

    In fact, everyone who really uses Acrobat will have a good laugh at what Microsoft is coming up with. However, all the casual users will be presented with yet another Windows-only standard for these documents whereas PDF is available on virtually every platform and allows you to implement tools for supporting it without paying any royalties on any platform (even pure Java – see iText, PDFBox, Apache FOP et al.)

  25. In other words: Apple is also bundling a browser and a media player with their operating system. Why is that not a problem if WinIE and WiMP are a problem? Because Microsoft is / has been actively abusing a monopoly whereas Apple hasn’t. Simple as that.

  26. In other words: Apple is also bundling a browser and a media player with their operating system. Why is that not a problem if WinIE and WiMP are a problem? Because Microsoft is / has been actively abusing a monopoly whereas Apple hasn’t. Simple as that.

  27. @Fernando: dead as a standard? Go to Adobe, download the specification, read the agreement, build your own tool implementing it.

    THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Why doesn’t anyone get that this is the old Microsoft all over again? The problem is not PDF support. The problem is Microsoft

    - bundling yet another feature to take on a competitor, just the same thing as IE and Windows Media Player. In _both_ cases a court decided that this bundling was monopoly abuse.

    - establishing yet another me-too, Windows-only standard just like they did with .NET vs. Java. First they pollute the existing standard (like Java), then they popularize the Windows-only solution (.NET / whatever-product-this-week)

    Why are some people so ignorant that they ignore this pattern? This is such a cheap, simple trick.

  28. @Fernando: dead as a standard? Go to Adobe, download the specification, read the agreement, build your own tool implementing it.

    THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Why doesn’t anyone get that this is the old Microsoft all over again? The problem is not PDF support. The problem is Microsoft

    - bundling yet another feature to take on a competitor, just the same thing as IE and Windows Media Player. In _both_ cases a court decided that this bundling was monopoly abuse.

    - establishing yet another me-too, Windows-only standard just like they did with .NET vs. Java. First they pollute the existing standard (like Java), then they popularize the Windows-only solution (.NET / whatever-product-this-week)

    Why are some people so ignorant that they ignore this pattern? This is such a cheap, simple trick.

  29. @28 agreed to a point, but are you telling me there was no demand for saving files to PDF format when Office 2003 came out? I find that extremely hard to believe. MS was drug to supporting the PDF “standard”. They didn’t do it to be nice. they did it to try to remain relevant and competitive. “Making users lives easier” was way down on the list. Otherwise, the would they would have done it much sooner. Again, afterall, Apple has been supporting it for quite a while now. Before OpenOffice started being more prominent I imagine MS would have been content not even playing the PDF game, or the XML file format in Office game, either. Don’t tell me they did that to make users lives easier, too. Go sell crazy somewhere else.

  30. @28 agreed to a point, but are you telling me there was no demand for saving files to PDF format when Office 2003 came out? I find that extremely hard to believe. MS was drug to supporting the PDF “standard”. They didn’t do it to be nice. they did it to try to remain relevant and competitive. “Making users lives easier” was way down on the list. Otherwise, the would they would have done it much sooner. Again, afterall, Apple has been supporting it for quite a while now. Before OpenOffice started being more prominent I imagine MS would have been content not even playing the PDF game, or the XML file format in Office game, either. Don’t tell me they did that to make users lives easier, too. Go sell crazy somewhere else.

  31. @dmad

    Yes, Microsoft is in the business to make money and before customers are willing to give them any money, they need to satisfy their demands and make them happy. So it can be argued that Microsoft, like any other business, is here to make people happy because that’s the only way a business can make money. You think MS would have added PDF support if the result is that customer will get pissed instead? You think MS would make money by making crappy software? I know many would probably attack to that point and immediately say that MS does make crappy software but those that do are too blinded by ideology and consequently have no clue about the actual metrics that define good software. It’s good software if they give what people want. Bloat and similar metrics are completely irrelevant because most customers really don’t care.

  32. @dmad

    Yes, Microsoft is in the business to make money and before customers are willing to give them any money, they need to satisfy their demands and make them happy. So it can be argued that Microsoft, like any other business, is here to make people happy because that’s the only way a business can make money. You think MS would have added PDF support if the result is that customer will get pissed instead? You think MS would make money by making crappy software? I know many would probably attack to that point and immediately say that MS does make crappy software but those that do are too blinded by ideology and consequently have no clue about the actual metrics that define good software. It’s good software if they give what people want. Bloat and similar metrics are completely irrelevant because most customers really don’t care.

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