Adobe may already own the market for electronic documents thanks to PDF, but the company knows that Microsoft has a habit of showing up late to the party and stealing the crown. In turn, Adobe is beta testing a new project it calls "Mars," which is an answer to Microsoft's new XPS format.
XPS, formerly known as Metro, is an XML-based "electronic paper" format that will allow documents to be displayed as they were saved on any platform. Many of the features of XPS mirror those in PDF, and Microsoft is working with printer manufacturers to include native support for the format - much like Adobe PostScript.
XPS is natively supported by Windows Vista, and will be offered as a free downloadable "Save As" plug-in for Office 2007. Microsoft originally planned to embed PDF and XPS export capabilities into the next generation Office suite, due out early next year, but backed off following pressure -- and threat of a lawsuit -- from Adobe.
Adobe's Mars could most-succinctly be described as PDF with XML. The format uses a new ZIP container -- just like Microsoft's XPS -- and incorporates additional industry standards such as SVG, PNG, JPG, JPG2000, OpenType, and Xpath. The company is encouraging businesses using XML-based services to get involved in Mars development and provide feedback on the new format.
There are a number of reasons for adding XML support, Adobe says. First, data can more easily be extracted from documents, or integrated from external sources. Second, indexing of a longer document will become far easier. Third, documents could more easily be generated from a database or enterprise application. And lastly, with standardized document assembly, verification and analysis would improve.
Mars files are supported in Adobe Acrobat 8 and Reader 8 through an external plug-in that is free to download.
"Keep in mind that this is an early build and not all feature and performance tuning work is complete. You should be able to get a good idea of what is possible and how it all works. Try creating a few Mars files, open them with your favorite ZIP tool and look inside," Adobe says on the Mars Project Web site.