EPeriodicals: Microsoft Takes Aim at PDF

Adobe's PDF document-distribution format may seem entrenched among computing consumers, but that isn't stopping Microsoft from trying to throw its weight behind a competing publishing venture.

NEW YORK—Adobes PDF document-distribution format may seem entrenched among computing consumers, but that isnt stopping Microsoft from trying to throw its weight behind a competing publishing venture.

At its Tablet PC launch here on Thursday, Microsoft provided its first public glimpse of its e-publishing technology, code-named ePeriodicals.

At a mini-trade show at the launch, Microsoft demonstrated how ePeriodicals could be used to capture, display and deliver to subscribers XML-based digital versions of magazines such as Forbes and The New Yorker. The Financial Times and Slate are also working with Microsoft on ePeriodicals, Microsoft officials said.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates mentioned ePeriodicals briefly in his Tablet keynote address. Gates described ePeriodicals as "an extension of the eBook work that Microsoft has been doing for a number of years."

With technologies such as ePeriodicals, "We can bring the best of the Web and print experiences together," Gates told launch attendees.

Microsoft brass admitted that ePeriodicals is still years way from commercialization. Officials declined to offer any kind of guidance on when the first fruits of the companys ePeriodicals work might begin shipping.

At the Tablet PC launch trade show, Microsoft showed how Internet Explorer, combined with Microsofts ClearType online-font technology, could be used to display digital magazine content.

The company had little to say about how ePeriodicals will work on the back end.

Grant Duers, a general manager with Microsofts Advanced Reading Technologies unit, noted that Microsoft currently is working with three back-end partners—whom Microsoft officials declined to name—to develop the back-end ePeriodicals platform.

One might expect Quark Inc. to be one of those partners, as most magazine publishers store their print files in Quark format. Duers declined to comment.

Watch Out, Adobe

Quark was not among the two-dozen-plus software partners supporting Microsofts Tablet PC on Thursday. But somewhat surprisingly, PDF kingpin Adobe Systems was on hand to support the Tablet PC launch.

At the launch, Adobe was showing off a plug-in the company co-developed with Microsoft to enable pen-based PDF-form annotation for the Tablet. Adobe has yet to decide whether or not to sell the plug-in commercially, said Jonathan Knowles, worldwide evangelist of ePaper with Adobe.

Knowles acknowledged that Microsoft could end up positioning ePeriodicals as a PDF competitor. But he claimed that unseating PDF would be tough, even for an "eight-ton gorilla" like Microsoft. Knowles noted that PDF has been available commercially for 10 years, and that many U.S. government agencies, among other enterprise customers, mandate PDF as standards within their organizations.

Knowles also said that unless Microsoft decides to make its ePeriodicals document format a publicly available standard, it will have a harder time displacing PDF.

Distillation Tools

Microsofts ePeriodicals technology is being developed by Microsofts eMerging Technologies unit, which is part of Group Vice President Jeff Raikes Productivity and Business Services Group. ePeriodicals comes out of the Advanced Reading team, the unit that has championed Microsofts ClearType and eBook Reader products.

In its final form, ePeriodicals is expected to allow developers to create, store and display complex documents, like eMagazines, that can be read on a variety of devices, including the Tablet PC.

Microsofts Duers said that ePeriodicals is likely to emerge more as a set of "distillation" tools for publishers than as a complete end-to-end platform managed by Microsoft. But he also said Microsoft is interested in dabbling with different subscription models for making digital content available.

Sources said that automated layout tools for template creation and automated file creation will be among the ePeriodicals tools offered by Microsoft.

Officials with digital-content distributor Zinio said they expect to be an ePeriodicals partner, rather than a head-to-head competitor. Like Adobe, Zinio was a Tablet PC launch partner.

Zinio, NewsStand and qMags currently offer software and services that allow publishers to create and distribute electronic versions of their existing print magazines.

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