Microsoft Strips Key Features from Office 2007, Vista

With Adobe Systems threatening a lawsuit over a new feature in Microsoft Office 2007 that would have allowed users to save any document in Adobe’s PDF format, Microsoft now says it will simply drop the feature. But Office 2007 isn't the only major Microsoft product to shed its features in recent weeks. The company recently revealed it would also drop an eagerly anticipated feature from Windows Vista and downplay another previously hyped feature.

Regarding Office 2007, Adobe and Microsoft had been talking contentiously over the past several weeks about the feature, a PDF conversion tool, for which Adobe wanted Microsoft to pay a licensing fee. Microsoft isn't interested in paying for the feature, however, and is now considering offering the PDF conversion tool to Office 2007 users as a free download instead.

Adobe is still expected to take legal action against Microsoft in the near future. "Microsoft has a monopoly and we are always concerned about the possibility that they might abuse that monopoly," an Adobe spokesperson said recently, alluding to the PDF discussions. The company says it hasn't yet decided whether to sue, but European Union (EU) antitrust officials have already weighed in, publicly stating that the spat is an intellectual-property issue, not a competitive one.

What's interesting about this whole debate is that Adobe normally licenses Adobe Acrobat PDF for free, and other Office suites, including those from Corel WordPerfect and OpenOffice.org, offer PDF integration already. Additionally, several free PDF conversion tools already are available and work natively with Microsoft Office products. So why would Adobe want to prevent Microsoft from making this functionality available from within Office?

Many are speculating that what Adobe is really upset about is Microsoft's new XML Paper Specification (XPS) format, which competes with Adobe Acrobat. In addition to providing PDF-like services to Windows Vista, however, XPS also forms the basis of the Vista printing subsystems. According to reports, Adobe wanted Microsoft to charge customers for both PDF and XPS export from Microsoft Office applications.

Not coincidentally perhaps, XPS is on the chopping block now in Vista. Although this technology will still be used under the covers as the basis for Vista's printing subsystems, (and Microsoft does plan to offer XPS functionality via a Web download to Vista users), XPS export and viewing functionality won't be included by default in any Vista versions. PC makers that bundle Vista on their machines will have the option of installing that functionality for users. It's unlikely that many PC makers will opt to do so, a fact that Microsoft freely admits.

Meanwhile, Vista is also losing a major feature, PC-to-PC sync, which Microsoft Co-President Jim Allchin described to me back in January as one of his favorite Vista features. "You really can leave all your documents on a server and use cached copies on the client," he said. "It's just synchronizing the files when you make changes, as needed."

It's unclear whether PC-to-PC sync will appear later, perhaps as a Web download update to Vista, or in a future Windows release. Typically, when Microsoft drops features from the Windows version currently in development, those features get lumped into the next release. Microsoft has indicated that it will be releasing more frequent Windows updates going forward, though it hasn't yet specified how it will deliver those updates.