Is XPS still relevant?

Sep 10

A few weeks ago, I was visiting another software developer’s web site and was surprised to see: “New: Support for the XPS format.” I was quite surprised: XPS? Is anyone interested in XPS anymore?

Five years ago, the Amyuni team got very excited about XPS. I did some research myself and posted articles comparing XPS to PDF. Microsoft was heavily backing up XPS which was going to replace other document formats such as EMF or even PDF. XPS was going into printers, was going to become the universal Office document format, was going to revolutionize the document industry. A number of our partners were also very excited about XPS and everybody wanted that.

So 5 years ago, we developed an extensive library to generate and process XPS files along with our PDF library. We wanted to jump on the wagon before everybody else did. We even ported our library into Java to make it a multi-platform library and open up XPS to non-Windows developers.

Needless to say that XPS quickly became a commercial failure. After having drained much of our resources, XPS went into oblivion (Java also went into oblivion, but this is a different story.) Printer manufacturers never ported their RIP engines to support XPS. Microsoft scaled back its push on marketing XPS and never updated it (the specifications are still at version 0.9.) At one point, we even thought that XPS would not make it into Windows 7. Although our libraries still support XPS, we never brought any real enhancements.

A few months ago, we started seeing XPS picking up steam among developers. We had a few customers actually implementing XPS not only for testing but in real-life applications. And now we even see competitors wasting their energies on XPS. So what’s up with that format?

One thing that is helping XPS is the fact that the XPS printer is now installed on all Windows PCs. Even Windows XP service packs add the XPS printer to the system. This makes it very easy for application developers to create an XPS and convert it into other formats or do their usual document processing with it (archiving, printing, emailing, …) Another fact that is helping is that PDF lost its initial purpose of being a universal document representation format. With all the interactivity, dynamic features and numerous changes that were made to the PDF specifications, it is difficult to pretend today that PDF can be used for accurate document representation. XPS also has much better support for any document that involves transparencies, gradients, translucencies or semi-transparent colors (alpha channels.) Saving your great Powerpoint presentation to XPS is sure to give you a better representation than saving it to Postscript or PDF.

So let’s wait and see. A minor upgrade to our XPS library is coming in a few weeks. Maybe all the efforts that went into XPS will bear their fruits one day.

Dany Amiouny is the CTO for Amyuni Technologies