XPS format is a red-headed stepchild with MS

I am not sure why Microsoft is so good at hyping technology just introduced and also so good at abandoning it soon thereafter. XPS is a good example of how they take the promise of a new technology and kill it with apathy.

XPS was first shown in at the 2004 PDC. Then it came out within Windows Vista in the 2006 timeframe. It is their version of Adobe PDF. It has some great features like the fact that it is an XML file format and not a binary format. This means that it is easy for a third party to develop an application that can go into a file, parse it, add info, or even generate files of the XPS type without even having the MS engine in their application. It is also the format that the print spooler in vista renders to. MS was also supposed to work with Printer companies to make XPS processing within the printer engine standard. This is so that print jobs are delivered at full engine speed of the printer without losing any print fidelity because of format conversions along the way. This is all great stuff.

The issue is that Microsoft seems to have abandoned the client side of the technology. There has not been an update to the anemic viewer they released called XPS Viewer EP and is available for download as part of the “essentials pack.” The viewer is still at version 1.0 after almost 3 years. Yes they have done minor patches to the package to make it compatible with XP SP3, but no new features that I can see.

Ok well even though the XPS EP viewer doesn’t come preinstalled in Windows, Vista does come with support within IE. How does this work? Well I sent my dad an XPS file knowing he has a Vista Home Premium machine and what happens? He gets an error message “Your current security settings do not allow this file to be downloaded.”


Wow great experience… I then sent him a link for the XPS EP viewer which he tries to install and gets an error message that the update does not apply to his computer. This is getting even better…

So after all I gave up and PDF’d the file and emailed it to him. Worked like a charm. Not only was I able to easily go to the website, print to pdf (IE even suggests a name for the file unlike XPS), the file opens in Adobe Acrobat, I click the send as email button, he gets it, opens it, prints it, and all is right with the world.

Why can’t XPS work like that?  Why can’t there be an easy way to get the client application on every Windows machine? Why not make some improvements to the XPS application so that people will want to use it. How about adding commenting features. People would jump to use it if the client application had commenting features. Instead of paying Adobe hundreds of dollars for Acrobat to generate pdf files, and be able to add comments within a PDF, if there was a free MS technology that offered the features it would absolutely get adopted.

Here is a link to the XPS Blog.  There has been some activity with Windows 7. We should have to wait 3 years to get an update to the XPS client though if there is even one coming in Version 7.  I would be curious to know how many engineers are working on XPS at MS.

So Microsoft, please tell me why XPS has become a red-headed stepchild and what has it done to deserve this fate?

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