Sunday, November 04, 2007
  XPS in print
How XPS will fare in professional print is an interesting subject.

The format is clearly designed with professional print in mind - the spec has all the bells and whistles. At the same time a lot of 'modern' know-how is in there to make it even more attractive (good resource management, color management, ...).
I have a history in professional print, and more specifically in the software side of that industry. I talk to quite a bit of people that work there, and I've noticed that there's a lot of ignorance, and - dare I say it - resistance, against XPS in the industry.
I'm not entirely sure where this comes form, but there are a few arguments that seem to surface quite often;

The fact that Microsoft introduced this standard seems to be enough for a lot of people to downright dismiss it. Also often people call it a 'me too' technology that solves issues that have been solved already. All in all an odd and useless format, introduced by a suspect company, which it's only purpose with this seems to be: competing with Adobe.

In my view this is not correct. And dismissing the format on these grounds is foolish.

Granted, Microsoft doesn't have a great track record when it comes to open file formats, or software in the graphical arts - let alone both.
It has a poor track record when it comes down to proprietary file formats; the amount of information that is entombed in proprietary Office file formats is probably mind boggling. But that's something that is typical for a whole generation of software vendors: Microsoft with their Office file formats, Adobe with their Illustrator & Photoshop formats, AutoCAD DWF, Filemaker format, etc... Proprietary formats protect (or used to protect) the application business, the format can only be 100% correctly opened and edited in the original application.

However, proprietary standards are a thing of the past. The 'zeitgeist' is in favor of open standards: moving away from vendor lock-in, and towards a situation where data and container is really free. It's an evolution, and some companies are maybe a bit slower than others, but it's really happening - and Microsoft is joining in with their OOXML (Office 2007 format), HDPhoto (still image format) and XPS.

The XPS format is fully documented, available for free, and licensed in such a way that it allows for royalty free implementations.
There are third parties that roll out implementations as we speak, and take it from someone with first hand experience: Microsoft effectively supports and encourages third parties in these endeavors. And also take a look at TC46; Another clear indication that the openness of XPS is not some fancy marketing message, but in stead a unambiguous indication that Microsoft actively wants the format to be open in true sense of the word.

The qualities of the format in print remain to be seen, and will also depend in large part on third party support in devices and software.
The spec however, is pretty solid. Co-authored by Global Graphics, and with the vast experience Microsoft has in supporting third-party printer hardware, this is very good specification that easily rivals the capabilities of similar formats like Postscript, PDF or PCL.

Looking at it objectively I think it's fair to say that XPS really is an open standard, well specified to perform good as format for (professional) printing.

But there's more. Or, better, XPS is more. XPS is all about printing in Windows too - this is important. XPS is a central part in the improved printing architecture of Windows. It is the spool format of Windows Vista, every print job will end up being an XPS file. This means that every application on Windows can generate XPS, just like that. So, Microsoft put a very capable printing format in the core of its next-gen Windows OS. This is not new - Apple did this a lot earlier by integrating PDF in Mac OS X - effectively making PDF creation from any application on OS X a snap.

Bottom-line: Windows, the most used desktop OS on the planet, has XPS creation and viewing ability by default starting with Vista.

To me this present a formidable opportunity to the professional printing industry. With XPS creation becoming ubiquitous, it deserves a very good look as delivery format. With XPS viewing becoming ubiquitous, it deserves a very good look as a collaboration/(soft)proofing format. And with the introduction of more and more devices natively supporting XPS, it deserves a very good look as output format.

It would be foolish no to take advantage of these opportunities.

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