Adobe’s PDF document format finally has some serious competition for market share. Microsoft XPS (XML Paper Specification) is a new electronic document format that can be generated from any application and then distributed without requiring that application to view it. XPS essentially does the same thing as PDF. Windows Vista has a native viewer, but viewers can be installed in Windows XP and 2003.

Installing on Windows XP and 2003

Free XPS viewers can be found at the View and Generate XPS page from Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Developer Central site. There are two options, the Microsoft XPS Viewer, which Vista already has, and Microsoft XPS Essentials Pack. The Microsoft XPS Viewer only integrates XPS with Internet Explorer, but the Essentials Pack installs a stand-alone viewer. All users, including Vista, should install this for viewing documents outside of a web browser.

Once either application is installed, you can generate an XPS document with the Microsoft XPS Document Writer by printing to it in the same way that a PDF is made. One thing that you’ll notice is that an XPS file can be created much faster than a PDF. This is probably due to the more limited functionality that it has as opposed to PDF, but over time this will change as more is added to it.

The Future

Will XPS replace PDF? More and more companies are starting to use it, notably Autodesk as a replacement for their DWF format. As Vista and Windows 7 are increasingly used, we’ll see more documents shared in XPS. There are free PDF generators, but they’re not being widely used. Eventually, printers will be able to use XPS directly which will give an alternative to Postscript.

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