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Microsoft's PDF support conceals hidden agenda

Vole PR campaign ahoy
Mon Oct 03 2005, 07:47
I'VE NOTICED A NEW TACTIC in Microsoft corporate PR lately, and it is amazingly devious.

It spins the corporate line through PR, not through official channels as a supposedly grassroots effort to shape community views.

Microsoft is adding PDF support to Office 12. First, this is a very good thing, no question there, it was probably the most requested feature that Office could have. It is also 10 years too late.

Now, you could look at it from the perspective Microsoft wants you to, that is it is getting request after request for it, that sounds good. The other way you could look at it is it resisted said requests, nothing new mind you, for a decade or so. Then suddenly, it does an about face in a matter of a week or two and support the format of their last sworn enemey before Google? Why? Keep in mind this honestly huge long sought after feature wasn't even on the agenda at PDC a couple of weeks ago. Odd that.

The answer is painfully simple, Open Document. Microsoft has its ass to the wall, the blindfold is being fitted, and cigarette choices are being argued about with respect to the Massachusetts requirements.

For reasons we discussed earlier, it can't support the format even though it is on the steering committee. So, what do you do? Stall and bluster.

It did that while the decision was pending. There are enough public choice quotes, FUD and outright lies swirling around the argument that it is almost comical. In the end though, even with Microsoft a mere 3000 miles, barely a raised voice and a chair throw away, it lost, badly. That is when plan B came in. It can't lose Massachusetts, that would set the ball in motion. Once it lost the entire state, and people saw you really do save money with free software, the rate at which people flee would be staggering. Can't let that happen until there is no other course of action left to take.

So, supporting PDF is the other open format bandied around by MA, but it gets none of the press that Open Document does. The point of PDF support is to comply with the MA requirement, pure and simple. The 'it is what our fans wanted' spin is pure BS. Microsoft has never listened to its user base unless it was going to cost it money. This time is no different.

This brings up a whole new battlefront for everyone involved. Microsoft is now going to say 'we can export PDFs so we are open, put us back on the list'. Fair enough, I actually do think it might have met the letter of the law here if it is a true two way importer/exporter. The problem is I really don't see Access or VBScript translating all that well into the format. It may export some of a document to that format, but especially for Excel, the resulting functionality will be absolutely broken.

So, Microsoft has some fight left in it, big surprise there. I do applaud it for this multilayered spin cum FUD cum PR blitz cum weasel effort because it is truly masterful. I think it was hoping that everyone would be so wrapped up in the shock of it all that they would not look past the shiny stuff. µ


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