To the list of companies who overnight find themselves competing with Microsoft, you can add one more name: Adobe.
Microsoft Longhorn operating system will now include a graphics feature called Metro that allows documents to be displayed and created across platforms.
Only Microsoft's tool seems designed to bridge the gap that exists between displaying the same unaltered document on PCs and mobile devices, as the XML-based Metro will display documents via Internet Explorer.
That's a gap Adobe also appears ready to close through its $4.3bn acquisition of Macromedia, announced last week. Ovum senior analyst Bola Rotibi believes one outcome of Adobe's decision to buy Macromedia could be to make Adobe's PDF available on mobile devices.
Metro, though, raises the stakes against Adobe and sends a message Microsoft is pitching Longhorn as a platform that serves the needs of "pervasive computing" - a term loosely defined as rich-client access to data from any desktop or mobile device using a variety of interfaces.
Apparently recognizing that potential, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, said of Metro at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC): "You can create these documents on any platform and consume them on any device of your choosing."
Microsoft is taking the added step of releasing the draft Metro specification on a Royalty Free (RF) basis. A RF license is a great way to seed the market, because it encourages early uptake by developers looking out for new APIs without fear of patent or license fee concerns.
If a Gates' WinHEC demonstration of Metro is to be believed, users saving Microsoft Office applications and digital photos will automatically generate Metro documents with their files. These Metro files can then either be distributed to other users or sent for printing. Metro is apparently built on top of Longhorn's XML-based Avalon interface.
Gates demonstrated a Metro document being printed using a Xerox printer featuring a Metro engine. Gates claimed the set-up could print between 40 per cent and 70 per cent faster than a conventional printer while retaining a high-quality feel to graphics.
In related Longhorn news, Microsoft outlined the operating system's hardware requirements. Microsoft is recommending a "modern" CPU, 512Mb or RAM and Longhorn display driver capable graphics. Microsoft did not share details on what it defined as "modern". From experience, though, such recommendations are normally a basic minimum.
Gates also announced general availability of the 64-bit editions of Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003.®