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Analysis: Adobe Sending Mixed Messages About PDF Openness

Adobe says anyone is free to implement PDF in their applications, but the company is setting different rules for Microsoft.
Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake reiterated Microsoft's claim that it "chose" to drop built-in PDF support in Office 2007 only after Adobe objected and insinuated that it would go after Microsoft in the European courts on antitrust grounds. (Adobe said it "has made no determination" about legal action.) Without pressure from Adobe, Microsoft have would continued with its original plans to include "export to PDF" as a native feature in Office 2007, Drake said.

Microsoft's decision to take its Adobe fight public seems to have caught Adobe off guard. Adobe is in a bind: though it benefits from widespread support for its PDF format, the practical upshot of not having PDF read/write tools built into Microsoft Office--by far the dominant office productivity software--is greater demand for Adobe's Reader and Acrobat applications.

"In the short run, Adobe loses revenue if people use the PDF tools in Microsoft Office," said Rob Helm, research director of Microsoft pundit Directions on Microsoft.

Adobe may say it wants to see PDF adopted by developer partners of all sizes, but deals with Apple and OpenOffice don't compare to the tidal wave of change a PDF arrangement with Microsoft would bring. "Office's enormous user base puts it in a different class," Helm said.

"Adobe has been telling shareholders for some time that they expect diminishing revenue from the PDF market," he said. "[Adobe CEO] Bruce Chizen has made comments to that effect--that they should be prepared to move off Acrobat authoring into areas like document workflows--but it's a difficult thing for them."

For now, Adobe continues to dodge direct questions about how it reconciles pressuring Microsoft to downplay Office PDF functionality with its public commitment to a broadly supported, open PDF standard. Its silence opened the door for Microsoft to spin the PDF fight story to its advantage.

Although declining to answer questions about the issue, Adobe's PR firm replied to press queries with a pointer toward Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox's blog posts on the scuffle, which note that Microsoft has plenty to gain from focusing attention on the "Adobe won't let us fully support PDF" angle and away from any antitrust and consumer-impact questions raised by the software giant's potential invasion of the PDF market.

Until Adobe is willing to publicly answer questions about its PDF stance, users will be stuck sorting through the pieces of a confusing and incomplete story.