Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Observations: A Look at XPS and Printing—Two Years Out

A Look at XPS and Printing—Two Years Out

A few weeks back, while prowling some favorite Web sites, I ran into a blog post that triggered a stream of memories and thoughts. It was on another printer industry blog (yes, there are others besides, and its subject included some memories of the Seybold Seminars. Posted on the PrintCEO blog and titled “1996 Is Calling, and So Is Seybold San Francisco”, Patrick Henry of Liberty or Death Communications writes about uncovering some show material from the 1996 Seybold Seminars held in San Francisco. In fact, reading Pat’s experiences with his “find” made me reminisce about my own discovery about three years ago, which was the inspiration for my premier column for The Hard Copy Observer that appeared in the December 2005 issue. But that’s another story, and also, rather than my recounting here his excellent recollections about Seybold 1996, I highly recommend reading Pat’s post.

As I enjoyed first reading the blog entry and its associated comments, it was also memory-jogging for me, with respect to another year for the Seybold show and a somewhat more recent column in the April 2006 issue: “Microsoft’s XPS—After All These Years, More Mumbo-Jumbo?”. In 1989, a monumental confrontation between Adobe (NASDAQ ADBE) and the odd-couple combination (then as now) of Apple (NASDAQ AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ MSFT) occurred at the Seybold Seminars in San Francisco and, having attended that event, I couldn’t help but resurrect a comparison between that brouhaha and the boiling XPS/PDF feud of 2006 once again pitting Adobe and Microsoft in a battle over file formats. (A footnote to my April 2006 column, by the way, warned of an impending schedule slip. The column had been originally written in what was thought to be the impending shadow of the XPS introduction, inextricably tied to the new Microsoft Windows operating system Vista and its anticipated mid-year debut. Vista and XPS finally made it out of the barn in late 2006 or early 2007, depending on the definition of official first-shipped dates.)

Now more than two years later, just how did that battle ensue once the marketplace had a chance to decide? As a general reaction, it would be easy to equate the XPS introduction aftermath with the Shakespeare play, “Much Ado About Nothing,” but let’s take a little deeper look for some evidence.

As goes Vista, so goes XPS?

First off, the XPS association with Vista, the product, and Microsoft, the company, cannot be helping, if only purely from psychological standpoints. Vista has been called many things, most not particularly favorable, including Microsoft’s “New Coke” by Forrester Research, as recently reported in Larry Dignan’s blog, ZDNet’s Between the Lines. And Microsoft’s overall corporate prowess seems deeply wounded, as this year’s machinations around its intended Yahoo! (NASDAQ YHOO) acquisition illustrate.

Though Yahoo! seems to be clearly the real loser in the ongoing fiasco, Microsoft’s inability to close the deal, let alone the strategic weaknesses revealed initially in the company’s perceived need to acquire the former search leader, contributes to egg on its corporate face. And even Office 2007, the seemingly innocent by-stander in all of it, would seem to have a bad rap, suffering from “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” syndrome, including, annoying new file formats that confound transferability of its files and require users to “think before they save” or suffer the consequences. The significance of this issue is underscored by the fact that among the top downloads at Microsoft’s software site, the “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats” regularly ranks near or at the very top of the list.

With that said, a look at the archives of The Hard Copy Observer provides a perspective directly relevant to our industry. Not surprisingly, an electronic search of the Observer archives (in PDF format, ironically) finds multiple mentions of XPS in virtually every issue since the Fall of 2005. And while most mentions in those earlier months, an example being my April 2006 column, centered on the capabilities, the controversy, and the early partners including the mostly smaller firmware and testing companies, more recent mentions include OEMs and their new printers and MFPs that include native XPS in their products. Canon, Konica Minolta, Océ, Toshiba, and Xerox (NYSE XRX) show up with XPS-capable entries, with just a quick random sample of the references over the last year, and Epson and HP (NYSE HPQ) have also endorsed XPS.

So there’s definitely an XPS footprint in our industry. But it would also appear that no one has lost out to XPS—inclusion of XPS compatibility would not appear to have bumped any other language or format off the list. But it’s an interesting situation: a powerhouse like Microsoft rocking the boat, for some ostensibly good reasons (like open source), and all the players reacting, but only as much as absolutely necessary for their given situations. And, by the way? The PDF open standard was published July 1, 2008!

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