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17 October 2006

If the analysis in this article about a standards-based XPS format is correct, then the EU really may be helping consumers - whether intentionally, or through an unintended consequence. If the article is right, and Microsoft follows through with the changes to XPS licensing, the EU might have created a serious competitor to PDF in the form of XPS.

In my view, it is almost certainly the case that Microsoft would have otherwise been too restrictive with the licensing, and XPS would have become a mere footnote in the long list of would-be PDF competitors. It isn’t like Microsoft hasn’t tried beforeto compete with PDF, and simply failed by being too closed. It looked to me like they were headed down the exact same road with XPS - until the EU intervened (ironically at the behest of Adobe).

The end result is that the EU might have (presumably unintentionally) increased competition for PDF, creating a more open market in which consumers benefit. The fact that Microsoft will likely gain indirect benefit will undoubtably rankle many people. But frankly, those people have lost sight of the real goal, which is to ensure fairness to consumers, not fairness to Microsoft’s competitors (or Microsoft itself for that matter).

Of course the proof is in the pudding. It does remain to be seen whether Microsoft follows through on their XPS promises. But if they do follow through, and we start seeing open source XPS readers for Wndows, Mac and Linux, there really may be a viable alternative to the PDF monopoly of today.