|Q&A:Adrian Ford, CTO of Global Graphics, explains the specification that Microsoft is developing with his company’s help.|
At the WinHEC keynote in April, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates previewed Metro, the company’s next-generation, XML-based, electronic-document initiative that is expected to become available at around the same time Windows Longhorn is released.
In conjunction with Microsoft’s announcement of Metro, UK-based software company Global Graphics announced that for the last two years it has been working closely with Microsoft to develop Metro’s specifications. At WinHEC, Global Graphics demonstrated ways in which the printing industry might make use of Metro once it becomes available.
Recently, PDFzone sat down with Dr. Adrian Ford, Global Graphics’ chief technology officer, to discuss Metro’s functionalities and his company’s involvement with its development.
PDFzone: Please give us an overview of Metro.
Ford: Metro is really three different things in one.
First off, it’s a new document file format, similar in many ways to PDF.
It’s also a spool format. When you print on a Windows or a Mac computer, the print system has a format that it uses to communicate the data through the print subsystem and spool it to the device.
And it’s also a page description language, similar to PCL PostScript, that can be used to transmit that information all the way down to a printer, where it turns into the data that comes out on a piece of paper.
In addition to this format, there is also a new printing subsystem. Microsoft announced they’re fixing a number of the printing bottlenecks and issues in the current Windows subsystem by implementing a new architecture for printing that includes Metro as a key foundation of that architecture.
PDFzone: Given that it is expected to become available at the same time as Longhorn, is Metro specifically being designed for Longhorn?
Ford: It’s tied to Longhorn, but it’s part of what [Microsoft is] calling WinFX. WinFX is going to be available on Longhorn, Windows XP and Windows 2003. So the time scales are the same as Longhorn, but the potential install base is much bigger than the Longhorn platform.
PDFzone: When did Microsoft approach you to work on Metro, and for what reasons do you believe the company wanted to work with you?
Ford: We’ve been working closely with [Microsoft] since early 2003. One of the reasons they came to us and asked us to help them is honestly because we have a lot of expertise and experience working with other document formats with the products that we have in the PDF space and also with other PDLs [Page Description Languages], our work with PostScript and PDF RIP [Raster Image Processor] products and technology.
We’ve also got a very wide and broad customer base. Virtually all of our products go out through OEM and ISV channels, where the technology we provide is built into other people’s products. So a lot of the industry’s problems and issues that they face, we’re very aware of what they are.
One of the things we’ve been able to do, as well as providing our expertise and feedback to that specification, is to bring a lot of industry issues that our partners experience and make sure that they’re addressed in the work that Microsoft is doing. And that consultation work is quite a valuable exercise on both sides for making sure this actually does address real-world issues for the print subsystem on Windows.
PDFzone: What sort of work are you doing on behalf of Microsoft for Metro?
Ford: We’ve been doing work to develop a prototype implementation of our Metro high-performance RIP. This is a component that takes Metro documents and converts those into the raster data needed to print them.
We’ve been doing that for a number of reasons. One of them is so that we can demonstrate with Microsoft and the industry that you can consume this format in a device. And that was part of a demonstration that we were showing at WinHEC.
We’ve also been working closely with the hardware vendors in that area. It’s given us very valuable feedback into the specification, so there’s actually a real implementation behind a lot of the feedback that we give Microsoft from the spec itself.
[In addition], we’re also taking the core technology that we’re developing and making it available as a reference implementation for the print industry. If you have a third party generating Metro documents, there’s a reference implementation that can be used to make sure that the implementation conforms with this print reference. That is quite a wide project that we’ve been working with them on, but that kind of sums it up.
PDFzone: What is Microsoft’s motivation for developing Metro?
Ford: Metro is very tightly related to this thing called WinFX. WinFX is a supplementary or replacement set of APIs that will allow people to develop applications in a way that mixes the best of the rich-client approach, the best of an application that runs on Windows today that has a rich user interface, and mix that with the best of a Web-based application, the kinds of things you get from things like Flickr or Google maps or things like that. [Microsoft] can mix those two development paradigms into one way of generating applications.
WinFX [provides] this new user interface for developers, and that user-interface model is the same as the one used in the Metro format. So there’s a very tight linkage there between the ways developers can use the API that Microsoft provides to author documents and user interfaces on the platform.
PDFzone: Is Microsoft trying to compete directly with Adobe with its development of Metro?
Ford: That’s a question that, in all honesty, has to be directed at Microsoft and Adobe.
PDFzone: How is Metro similar to PDF?
Ford: [Like PDF], you can have a Metro document that sits on disk and that you share with other people and e-mail around, and that document contains all the graphical data and resources and images and fonts and everything else, and supports compression in an efficient container, and people can view that document in a viewer that isn’t related to content creation applications. In that sense the format does have similar characteristics with PDF.
Also, if you look at the specifications for PDF and for Metro they have similar functionalities defined within them.
PDFzone: How does Metro differ from PDF?
Ford: It’s mainly the usage things that we see as being different between the two. Who’s going to use them and where they’re going to use them are big questions at the moment, where they’re going to be different.
One of the key things about Metro is the use of it within the print subsystem on Windows. There are number of issues and limitations you have to face printing on Windows. The application developers or printer-driver developers have to work extremely hard to make those things work and to bypass these limitations in the print subsystem.
Today you could have an application that understands RGB wide-gamut photo printing, but the application can’t send that data through the print subsystem to a printer because that extra information gets lost. So today you often get software that bypasses the print subsystem, and you can’t go file to print nice pictures on your Epson printer. There are a number of real issues that Metro solves on the print side that PDF doesn’t solve.
PDFzone: How would Metro fix the aforementioned problem? Please elaborate.
Ford: You can buy fairly cheaply a digital camera that supports a wide gamut, greater than 8-bit RGB color, and you can get very cheaply an ink-jet printer that has got a very wide gamut of color reproduction and [obtain] excellent photographic prints from it.
Right now, if you drop that image into Microsoft Word and hit “file-print,” you lose all that extended color information because the print path can’t handle it. With Metro that format can handle that extended information in the same way that PDF can. You’ll be at the printer in the normal way. Many users won’t even realize that Metro is being used, they won’t care what’s under the hood, but they’ll get much better quality of the stuff that they print on the Windows platform.
PDFzone: Describe another way in which Metro solves a specific problem.
Ford: Another example would be making PDFs today. Many people make PDFs in the application they are working in, and they print to Distiller or to something else, and what’s happening underneath is that the application is printing through the Windows print subsystem through a thing called the GDI [Graphic Device Interface] print subsystem. A print driver converts that to PostScript, and the PostScript gets converted to PDF.
However, there are a number of features that PDF supports that you can’t actually get into the PDF files through that route. An example of that is transparency. Applications like PowerPoint and Word in Office 2003 support transparency, but if you try to make a PDF from those, you don’t get that transparency information even though PDF can support that transparency.
Metro will enable people like Adobe or Global Graphics to make better PDFs on the Windows platform. So you can see the print subsystem is being improved by the stuff that Microsoft is doing that will enable that information to be passed down and help people make better PDFs than they can today.
An analogy of that is to say that at the moment there’s a four-lane highway, and when that [highway] hits the print subsystem, it becomes a single-track road with passing places. Everything slows down, and you don’t get as much data through that pipeline. With WinFX coming, it’s very clear that the highway is going to get much wider, but the print subsystem is still this single-track road with passing places. So one of the key things that Microsoft is doing [by developing Metro] is bringing the print subsystem up to a point where it can support the stuff that is coming with WinFX.
PDFzone: Which format do you see as being more viable, PDF or Metro?
Ford: From the Global Graphics perspective, we see segments and markets where both these formats are going to be very important and where they have specific strengths either in the format itself or in the platform that supports that format. From our business point of view, we see having to supply technology that supports both platforms across pretty much all markets. There are things that Metro will provide say a corporate user or environment, for example, and there are a number of things that the whole of the Metro initiative—not just the format, but the bits that go with it—will provide that PDF doesn’t and will solve problems that PDF doesn’t solve. And there are things that PDF provides that Metro won’t.