Support for XPS, Microsoft's PDF-Killer, Gaining Steam
Corrected: January 23, 2006
by Alex Woodie
When Microsoft unveiled its new XML Paper Specification (XPS) format last spring at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, many people scoffed at the software giant's notion that it could dislodge Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) as the de-facto standard document format on the Web. With XPS, which was introduced at WinHEC under the codename "Metro," set to debut later this year with Windows Vista and Office 12, Microsoft and its backers are counting the advantages XPS has over PDF.
Microsoft is currently building XPS to compete with PDF as the dominant format for final paginated representations of electronic documents. Upcoming versions of Windows and Office will offer options for directly outputting XPS documents, as well as offering PDF options, and Microsoft is also working on APIs that let other developers tap into the XPS goodness.
Microsoft and others say XPS holds several advantages over PDF. For one, because it will be based on XML and adhere to the Open Packaging Conventions, it will play nice with other technologies, such as Microsoft's digital rights management technology (which incorporates digital signatures), and the ZIP compression technology, a component of the conventions. Another advantages is that XPS documents will be independent of software and hardware, and thereby users won't need a separate reader (such as Adobe Acrobat) to open and read XPS documents. Just the same, Microsoft is planning a stand-alone XPS Viewer that's similar to Acrobat.
XPS will make integrating documents into workflow applications easier, says Andy Simonds, one of the members of Microsoft's Digital Documents team, in his blog. "From a developer point of view, a single piece of code that reads and writes content and metadata, digitally signs and rights-manages both Office "12" XML files and XPS files . . . because these formats are open and fully documented, this makes effortless integration of these files into any document workflow," Simonds writes.
Microsoft understands that if XPS is going to impact the market, it needs help from its friends in the software development community, and the key to making this happen is developing XPS in the open, using available standards. To that extent, late last month, the software giant's XPS development team published the latest version of the XPS specification, version 0.8.
Developers are starting to jump onto Microsoft's XPS bandwagon. For example, Zoran, which makes print data stream converters and other devices that allow printer manufacturers to support the broadest array of print jobs, yesterday announced that it would support the new XPS format as a separate module in its flagship page description language (PDL) interpreter, called the Integrated Print System (IPS), and that this IPS/XPS solution will be available to printer manufacturers for testing as part of an early adopter program.
Zoran is touting XPS' capability to more faithfully render content on the screen. The company, which plans to fully support XPS later this year when it ships IPS/XPS 8.0, also cites the Microsoft format's "improved fidelity" and support for "advanced graphics such as transparencies and gradients." (Indeed, in addition to support for XML and the greater interoperability and use of metadata that that entails, one of the key advantages that XPS backers repeatedly tout is the superior quality of XPS documents. Perhaps when Windows Vista and Office 12 ship and people start using XPS, there will be a consensus on that.)
Microsoft has another XPS supporter in Software Imaging, an English developer of print drivers for Windows, and a development partner with Microsoft. Software Imaging is currently developing a slew of XPS products, including solutions for converting XPS to other PDLs, such as PostScript and Print Controller Language (PCL). Tony Harris, the founder and chief technology officer of Software Imaging, will be hosting a roundtable discussion called "XPS versus Acrobat: Goliath Challenges the ePaper Paradigm," during its Lyra Imaging Symposium in two weeks near Los Angeles.
Charles LeCompte, president of Lyra Research, says XPS has a shot at taking some of the shine off PDF. "The release of the XPS standard may very well become one of the major milestones of PC-based imaging history," LeCompte says. "All documents will be able to print to XPS without an intermediary file converter, such as Acrobat PDF. XPS aims to integrate that functionality in all Windows applications, not just high-end, professional applications, as with PDF."
However, LeCompte goes on to say that XPS' place in history is no sure thing, and that it will take solid backing from Microsoft to make it happen.
"Historically, Microsoft's forays into new territories have been slow from the gate. Take, for example, the early clunky versions of Windows and Internet Explorer," he says. "Adobe Acrobat's strong head start in the industry and its near ubiquity coupled with very sophisticated, evolved tools for workflow management and cross-platform portability demand that XPS comes out strong to be considered more than a PDF-light variation."
This article has been corrected. Andy Simonds is a member of Microsoft's Digital Documents Team, not the Digital Rights Documents team. IT Jungle regrets the error.