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Will an Adobe-Microsoft Suit Sprout in Brussels?

Belgium is a pleasant enough place -- a flat, marshy country that offers the traveler robust beers, sumptuous chocolates and scenic canals. Once mostly a train-through country between its more glitzy neighbor, France, and its other, more notorious neighbor, the Netherlands, Belgium is now the nerve center of Europe. That's because its capital, Brussels, is home to the bloated, ineffective, thoroughly unpopular bureaucracy that is the European Union.

These days, that makes Brussels home to the anti-Microsoft crowd as well. You remember them -- the die-hards who still insist on kicking and screaming about something that the rest of us accepted a long time ago, that Microsoft has a monopoly in the operating-system and office-suite games and sometimes uses its position of power to muscle out competitors' products in favor of its own. Having failed to bring down Microsoft through legal channels in the U.S. -- and having especially failed to bring it down by free-market, competitive means -- the last of the Microsoft haters are now quaffing pints of Leffe in the city that gave us both Audrey Hepburn and Jean-Claude Van Damme, plotting from thousands of miles away some way to end Redmond's software hegemony.

Microsoft is already fighting a pretty serious antitrust battle in the EU courts, one that could eventually cost the company a lot of money if it can't escape the European competition hounds the way it snuck away from the U.S. Department of Justice a few years back. Thus far, the EU is putting up a much stiffer fight than what the DOJ offered. Now comes news that one of Microsoft's closest partners might also paddle up the antitrust lawsuit canal to Belgium's capital city: Adobe Systems is angry about Microsoft's plans for handling portable document formats in Vista and Office 2007. Given that major legal attacks against Microsoft have largely proven unsuccessful stateside, Adobe is mulling taking its case to the European Union.

There's a lot going on here. You might remember that Microsoft promised a "save as PDF" feature in Office 2007 that would have let users save Office documents in Adobe's popular portable format from right inside Office applications. Redmond even shipped Office 2007 Beta 2 with the feature included. Well, Adobe freaked out about this, saying that it wanted Microsoft to charge users extra for the feature -- after all, Adobe sells Acrobat Professional for $449 to do just that sort of thing.

So "save as PDF" is gone. Microsoft won't include it in Office or Vista. Redmond has also offered to bundle some Adobe technologies, such as PDF Reader and possibly Flash or Shockwave, into Vista. But even those moves haven't placated Adobe yet, mainly because Redmond has a portable file format of its own -- XML Paper Specification, or XPS -- that sure looks a lot like a competitor to Adobe's PDF and will have some level of integration into Vista. Adobe isn't thrilled with that, either, and CEO Bruce Chizen has let his Microsoft counterpart, Steve Ballmer, know as much. So Microsoft, in an unusual act of capitulation, is going so far as to remove a "save as XPS" feature from Office 2007. It will not, however, remove XPS saving and viewing capabilities from Vista, instead leaving the decision up to PC makers as to whether they want to include the XPS functionality or not. And after all that -- and, let's face it, Microsoft is doing far more to satisfy a disgruntled ISV than it usually does -- Adobe is still thinking about taking Microsoft to court in Brussels. Mary Jo Foley gets into even more details here.

All of this will add up to a potential bad move by Adobe if the company chooses to sue. First of all, Adobe should have accepted the "save as PDF" functionality in Office and used that native integration into the world's most popular office suite as an endorsement of its technology. After all, other office suites (yes, there are some) already feature a "save as PDF" option, and there are free tools out there that users can download to avoid paying Adobe almost $500 for converting their documents into the portable format. Beyond that, trying to charge users for creating PDFs when Microsoft is coming up with a free, natively integrated portable format of its own is a recipe for disaster. PDF might be a near-universal standard, but it won't take long for users to switch to XPS if it works even half as well given how easy (and free) it will be to use.

Most of all, even though the EU presents a greater threat than the U.S. courts ever have --and that might be why Microsoft has made so many compromises on this issue -- nobody has ever taken down Microsoft in the courts. And nobody has ever helped the user community by squabbling in court rather than doing whatever it takes to ensure that users have the smoothest, easiest technology experience possible. In this situation, Adobe shouldn't trade Napa Valley wine for Belgian beer.

Will you use XPS instead of PDF? What do you think about companies that try to fight Microsoft in the courts? Tell me at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Dell Too Rich for Redmond's Blood
So, apparently, Microsoft was more than happy to let Google cough up huge money to make its search engine part of Dell's default home page. Check out what Steve Ballmer had to say -- here's a hint: "This is a case where you could say we decided that the return to our shareholders was not there in the business deal that could be done."

Meanwhile, Gartner says more PC makers are about to sign up with Google -- three more out of the top 10 by the end of the year, specifically.

Schmidt Leaves a Browser Window Cracked
You might have heard that Google CEO Eric Schmidt put the kibosh last week on Google creating a browser. Well, he didn't, exactly...in fact, he said, "We would only do so if we thought there was a real user benefit." So, not to speculate or anything, but...will that browser come out with a Google OS?

Speaking of a Google OS, I asked last week whether you would like to see one. Reader Gene wrote to say:

"I would not wish to see a Google OS if it meant that Google would know even more about me and my computing habits. It is not that I think (at least at this time) that Google would turn that kind of information over to the government, but with all that information about a population in one place it would be too much to resist for some folks in the U.S. They rob banks because that is where the money is, they would mine Google because that is where the info is."

A legitimate concern these days, I would say.

Matt, a repeat writer and faithful follower of the Update, had this to share:

"I would like to see a Google OS that is basically a great desktop on a stable Linux platform that Google uses its clout to develop the hardware detection and setup that Windows has as well as get vendors to support with drivers and software. Linux is a great platform that is hampered on the desktop by it still being difficult to install and configure relative to Windows as well as not being supported by hardware vendors.

I think if Google added itself to either developing a GUI or facilitating the KDE/Gnome factions, it could be a tipping point.

Novell, IBM, et al are big players in the computer industry, but Google is a name that Joe Sixpack knows about. If he hears that Google is putting out a Google OS, he won't care that it is Linux, he will be more apt to check it out because it is Google. You can tell him about Novell, IBM and anyone else and he will just give you a blank stare. But...BUT!!! Google better have all the other ducks in a row with support before Joe Sixpack tries it out because they won't get too many chances since Joe isn't willing to spend two hours getting his printer to work!"

I'm right there with you, on that last paragraph especially, Matt. Thanks again for sharing.

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And Ruth wrote to say:

"I think that I have used Google maybe twice in the last few years. Actually, my preferred search engine is Dogpile (which probably pulls in some of Google's findings, so technically you could say I use Google indirectly all the time). So...like...am I weird, or what?"

Ruth, yes, you are weird...no, just kidding. You're a sophisticated surfer and a lot less lazy than I am when it comes to finding a search engine. Thanks for writing.

Last week's newsletter generated a record number of responses on a variety of topics. Thank you for participating! Please keep it up! I do plan to use all of your thoughts at some point, so stay tuned...on Wednesday, we'll hear what you had to say on Office and Vista pricing.

Remember, drop me a line anytime: lpender@rcpmag.com.

Spam King Gets Hooked in Texas
Finally, pity the poor spammer in this story, the final line of which nearly brings a tear to the eye...not.

Posted by Lee Pender on June 05, 2006 at 11:53 AM


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