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A Closer Look At The XPS Viewer In Windows 7

17 Jan 2009 | | 9 Comments

The evolution of the XPS format continues. With the release of Windows Vista users were able to view XPS documents in a viewer that was hosted within Internet Explorer 7. A separate independent viewer was also available for download as part of the XPS Essentials Pack (supported on XP and Vista), however, this independent viewer did not include support for features like digital signatures. It felt like a somewhat sloppy introduction to the XPS format that reflected the formats infancy. It was certainly an experimental beginning.

The good news for those of you who are keen to see Microsoft’s vision for XPS become clearer is that an independent XPS viewer, with support for digital signatures, has been included with the early betas of Windows 7.

xps-viewer-windows-7

In comparison to PDF — a fair comparison to make since both formats are fixed-layout document formats, designed to preserve document fidelity — the feature set is quite limited (that’s an understatement). The XPS Viewer in Windows 7 only allows you to search an XPS document for a word or phrase, zoom in and out, digitally sign documents and set document permissions. Not exactly a PDF killer at the moment, but hey, PDF took close to a decade to mature, so XPS has got some catching up to do.

In addition, the Microsoft XPS Document Writer printer driver is now included with Windows 7 (correction: the XPS printer driver was included with Windows Vista) — no extra download necessary. I wonder if they will also include a PDF printer driver by default? No word on that yet as far as I can see.

xps-printer-windows-7

With the release of Windows 7 and its enhanced support for XPS it would be nice if Microsoft also presented a clear vision for the XPS format. The biggest hurdle they will need to clear in order to get people to adopt XPS is the why question. Why should I use XPS over PDF?

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9 Comments »

  • XPS Viewer And XPS Document Writer In Windows 7 | 4xPDF Blog said:

    […] in XPS I’ve written a short piece at Digital Documents on the new developments for XPS in Windows 7. The evolution of the XPS format continues. With the release of Windows Vista users were able to […]

  • Nick De Roeck said:

    Hi,

    Vista includes an XPS virtual printer by default ever since it was introduces, so this is not new in Windows 7.

    Regarding your point on why anyone would choose XPS over PDF;
    There might not be a decisive ‘that is it’ reason, but there are a couple of smaller advantages that make the format definitely attractive.

    By providing a viewer and a generator (MXDW) by default in Windows, Microsoft provides a compelling environment for digital documents.
    PDF may be ubiquitous these days, you cannot rely on your recipient being able to view the format. And it is not easy nor cheap to generate.
    A Vista (and furture Win7) desktop suffices to do both viewing and generating XPS.

    XPS is also meant for direct consumption by printer hardware. This holds the promise that what a user shares (XPS e-doc) is exact the same as the file the printer can ultimately print. This has an impact on fidelity and efficiency: less conversions to other formats means less quality loss (or risk therof) and less processinf (or risk thereof).
    Vista and Windows 7’s print architecture is build around XPS.

    And then you have all sorts of advantages that XPS has because of the fact it is a modern development: thay didn’t make the mistake to include media and programming capabilities, as you really do not want that in a e-doc format, it is completely self contained so you do not end up with ressource horror for fonts and images, the format is compact yet versatile enough that it doesn’t need a million different subsets to be usable, etc…

    It’s a fairly capable e-doc format, part of the world’s most used operating system, and not proprietary. I’m a believer. But also biased 😉

    Nick.

  • Rowan Hanna (author) said:

    Thanks for commenting Nick.

    > Vista includes an XPS virtual printer by default ever since
    > it was introduces, so this is not new in Windows 7.

    Cheers, silly mistake of mine.

    > PDF may be ubiquitous these days, you cannot rely on your
    > recipient being able to view the format. And it is not
    > easy nor cheap to generate. A Vista (and furture Win7)
    > desktop suffices to do both viewing and generating XPS.

    If you look at it from a purely Windows-centric point of view, then perhaps that statement holds true — but if you expand the scope to include Mac and Linux then it’s inaccurate. Both of these platforms have PDF viewers (Mac OSX has a PDF previewer built-in and Linux distros like Ubuntu come included with PDF viewers by default). In addition there is a plethora of free PDF viewers, not to mention applications like Gmail provide built-in PDF viewing capabilities.

    > And then you have all sorts of advantages that XPS has because of
    > the fact it is a modern development: thay didn’t make the mistake
    > to include media and programming capabilities, as you really do
    > not want that in a e-doc format, it is completely self contained
    > so you do not end up with ressource horror for fonts and images,
    > the format is compact yet versatile enough that it doesn’t need
    > a million different subsets to be usable, etc…

    It’s a bit of a stretch to say that including media and programming capabilities with an electronic document format was a mistake — it depends entirely on what you intend to do with the electronic document you create. If you’re intending to send it to the printer, then no you don’t want multimedia or JavaScript embedded, but if you’re using it for a presentation or using it for a product brochure or using it for a user guide, then you may want to make use of these “advanced” features. What’s more, these “advanced” features weren’t in the early specifications of PDF either, but user demand facilitated their inclusion. I’ll be very surprised if Microsoft don’t expand the feature set of XPS in the future.

    > It’s a fairly capable e-doc format, part of the world’s
    > most used operating system, and not proprietary. I’m a
    > believer. But also biased.

    PDF isn’t proprietary — it is an ISO standard (ISO 32000-1:2008).

    I’m also biased (have worked with PDF for a long time), but very interested in XPS. 🙂

  • Karl De Abrew said:

    I’m enjoying the discussion here — thank you both Nick and Rowan.

    My comment to say (presuming you meant cheap from a financial perspective), there are a plethora of free PDF creators. You’ll find a list I maintain at – http://www.pdfpdfpdfpdf.com/2008/10/create-pdfs-for-free-a-list-of-free-pdf-creation-and-pdf-generation-software/

    Each of the pdf creators is entirely free with no watermarks, trial versions, etc…

    When you’re looking at doing something with a PDF file and having to pay for it, nowadays it’s usually about editing.

  • Nick De Roeck said:

    I love a good debate, thanks for the insights!

    Regarding ecosystem; My point is that by being included in Windows, XPS holds the promise of being available effortless to the majority of the desktop population in relatively short time.
    I know there are free PDF viewers and free PDF generators, but these are not effortless, and hence you cannot simply rely on people having these installed.

    Regarding cost; there are quit a bit of non-free PDF generators out there that people actually buy. I know f.i. a popular PDF generation product of which a reseller personally told me that people actually buy it because it has a great installer which makes it easier to deploy in large network environments. So the value is there: in the fact that it is not available by default on Windows, and that that particular product facilitates ‘correcting this’. This stresses the fact that PDF has a hurdle on Windows, and people pay to take this hurdle.

    Regarding platform support; It’s true that the benefits don’t scale to to other platforms, but I do not think that this such a big argument in a reality that 90 percent of the desktops run Windows. With the rise of more computing platforms this could change, but looking around in my computer store lately I do not see the situation changing anytime drastically soon.

    Regarding ‘non document’ features; I stand firm on what I said about this, I really think it is a mistake to include programming and all kinds of non document things into an electronic document format.
    It is true that it may depend on what one sees as an electronic document, but then you end up defining it as ‘some file format people can send around that holds information’.
    But if it is meant to be ‘document’ using the metaphor as you and I know it in real-life, a piece of paper with text on it that we share in order to communicate, or archive for safe-keep, and so on, than all programming and interactive dynamism and so on has to go.
    This is important on different levels.
    If the scope is not kept focussed, you end up in what PDF is undergoing now, which is the total balkanization of the specification in literally hundreds of ‘sub-specs’ (PDF/A, PDF/X1, etc…) to a point that ‘I have here a PDF for you’ becomes totally meaningless if not adding, ‘but it’s ok to to archive, as I made sure its PDF/A 2006 whatever’.
    But also for security, and reliability, etc… In which scripting and dynamism are really such bad ideas.
    You say that Microsoft will add these eventually – I beg to differ.
    The TC46 ECMA committee decides on the spec now, and if you read the transcripts of their last meetings, you’ll see they are very focussed, and f.i. recently rejected an idea which would have caused balkanization (an idea to not require all resources).

    Regarding proprietary; I didn’t want to insinuate that PDF is proprietary, because of course it is not anymore. I wanted to stress that XPS is not proprietary, as a lot of commentators find that hard to believe for something that comes from Microsoft – which I understand, but facts are facts. And I wouldn’t be such a big supporter for the format if it would be proprietary.

    Thanks again for the great comments, and looking forward to your views.

  • Rowan Hanna (author) said:

    Thanks for linking to the post (and debating with me of course.:) )

    > Regarding ecosystem; My point is that by being
    > included in Windows, XPS holds the promise of
    > being available effortless to the majority of
    > the desktop population in relatively short time.

    This is true. It does give XPS an advantage of sorts. I guess it is sort of similar to the advantage that is given to Adobe when they partner with Microsoft’s OEM customers to bundle Adobe Reader with new PCs. Having said that, I imagine that Adobe won’t stand idly by waiting for XPS to gain more prominence if they feel like Microsoft are using their operating system as a medium through which they can promote/market their XPS technology to the detriment of other similar technologies. The kerfuffle surrounding the release of Microsoft Office 2007 comes to mind. Will Microsoft be forced to include a PDF viewer and PDF writer by default as well?

    > Regarding platform support; It’s true that the
    > benefits don’t scale to to other platforms, but
    > I do not think that this such a big argument in
    > a reality that 90 percent of the desktops run
    > Windows. With the rise of more computing platforms
    > this could change, but looking around in my computer
    > store lately I do not see the situation changing
    > anytime drastically soon.

    At this stage I think it’s more of a perception issue. You are right that the majority of people use Windows, but we appear to be seeing that shift occur now, with more people at least willing to contemplate switching to Mac or Linux. I don’t expect either of those platforms to “overtake” Windows anytime soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft’s market-share of the operating system space was reduce to around 75% in the next few years. I believe it’s important to note this because it’s going to take XPS a few years to get noticed. Remember, PDF has been around for 15 years and it’s only in the past few years that it became really common for everyone to use it.

    > Regarding ‘non document’ features; I stand firm on what
    > I said about this, I really think it is a mistake to
    > include programming and all kinds of non document things
    > into an electronic document format.

    Fair enough. I think you have a fair argument there. Adobe chose to go in a particular direction initially, but by and large, I think they responded to user requests. Do I see many videos in PDFs? No. But I do see a lot of forms and JavaScript — those features have been immensely valuable for a lot of people. Perhaps PDF wouldn’t have been as successful without them?

    > But if it is meant to be ‘document’ using the metaphor as
    > you and I know it in real-life, a piece of paper with text
    > on it that we share in order to communicate, or archive
    > for safe-keep, and so on, than all programming and
    > interactive dynamism and so on has to go.

    That’s true in a sense, but I wonder if we don’t need to be a little more liberal in our thinking about what a ‘document’ constitutes these days. Why is an image more valid than a video? Why does a document have to be static? In the past paper documents have been static because it wasn’t possible to have them any other way, but now that we have a choice, should we limit our imagination to the constraints of the past?

    I’m quite curious as to how XPS will be received. I have yet to see it used in real life (as in, no one has ever sent me an XPS file without me asking them to and I have never had to download an XPS document from a website that wasn’t selling/promoting XPS software), but perhaps with Windows 7 it will attract more attention.

    My general thoughts are that it will be a pretty hard slog for Microsoft to gain major traction with XPS. But I’m just speculating, time will reveal all.

  • Danang Probo Sayekti said:

    Yeah XPS is a new technologies here, sorry i am not try to promote my product here but i think you should try my new software Danet Studio.

    Danet Studio created base on the new technologies from Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

    There are Advanced XPS Viewer on Danet Studio that allow you to add Digital Signature, Ink Note, Text Note and Highlight annotations to your XPS Document (similar like PDF Annotator).

    Just search in Google with keyword “Danet Studio” or “Danet Studio 1.32”.

    Sory for my bad language..

    Best Regard,

  • Ben said:

    To respond to Danang Probo Sayekti’s comment – I recently found your product and I found it to be very useful. The default XPS viewer on XP was not very satisfactory.

  • Danang Probo Sayekti said:

    @Rowan Hanna: Sorry I’m not try to hijack your great article 🙂
    @Ben: Thanks for your support, I appreciate that. For standalone XPS Viewer we already releasing XPS Annotator. Support features including Annotations, Digital Signature, Document Properties Adder, XPS to Image Converter and Sidebar for ease of reading. And the license from this XPS Annotator is Freeware 🙂

    Regards,

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