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In a direct challenge to Adobe, Microsoft Corp. said on Friday that three major news publishers -- Associated Newspapers Ltd., Forbes Inc. and Hearst Corp. -- are planning to develop their own digital reader applications using Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) display technology.
Hearst Corp. already has a beta version of its news reader for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the "P-I Reader," ready and available for download.
"At Hearst, we are constantly looking for new ways to reach our readers," said George B. Irish, president of Hearst Newspapers, in a statement. "It is clear that digital delivery and consumption are critical to the future success of the newspaper industry. We are very excited to be collaborating with Microsoft on this new application. We are delighted to begin the development of this technology in Seattle and intend to expand to our other major newspaper markets in the near future."
The P-I Reader has been designed for use online or offline, and can store up to six days of archived news content. The reader formats text and images according to screen size and lets users navigate pages using a keyboard. It works with any Windows Vista or Windows XP computer and Microsoft say it plans to broaden support to other devices, including those running Apple's Mac OS in the future.
A fourth newspaper, The New York Times, introduced a proprietary reader based on Microsoft's technology last November.
Microsoft's WPF technology competes with Adobe's forthcoming Apollo development platform and its Flash and PDF software. The two companies, says Melissa Webster, program director of content and digital media technologies at IDC, "are doing it to provide the same thing, a universal client for Internet apps."
The issue is that Internet applications don't function well in the absence of a network connection. Both Microsoft and Adobe aim to solve that problem.
The news reading applications being tested by Microsoft's publishing partners may find a potential shortcoming -- lack of video support. That's an area where Adobe, with its ubiquitous Flash technology, may have an edge. Microsoft says that while the ability to deal with video content in the reader applications is feasible, it hasn't yet been implemented.
The battle is just getting underway. "I think it's too early to call," says Webster. "Microsoft owns the hearts and minds of the developers. Adobe owns the hearts and minds of the designers."