Embrace and Extend, Embrace and Extend... Hmmmm... Why Does This Phrase Sound So Familiar?

by M. David Peterson

Oh I remember... That's something you SHOULD do such that we don't continually reinvent the wheel, building from that in which has come before us, embracing the good stuff, and extending into better...

Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life - Adobe Comments on PDF in Office Brouhaha and Microsoft Responds

Microsoft has demonstrated a practice of using its monopoly power to undermine cross platform technologies and constrain innovation that threatens its monopolies. Microsoft's approach has been to "embrace and extend" standards that do not come from Microsoft. Adobe's concern is that Microsoft will fragment and possibly degrade existing and established standards, including PDF, while using its monopoly power to introduce Microsoft-controlled alternatives - such as XPS. The long-term impact of this kind of behavior is that consumers are ultimately left with fewer choices.

Huh??? How does one

"constrain innovation"


"embrace[ing] and extend[ing]" standards"

??? [Maybe its just me, but I always considered "embrace and extend" and "innovation" in the same general sense of "you can't innovate, unless you build from what already exists... otherwise it wouldn't be all that innovative, ESPECIALLY if you simply create something that already exists... Then again... me and the other kids? We've never been much alike... ;)]

Well, maybe I should rephrase my above opening point to instead read,


2006-06-19 21:59:43
Maybe I misunderstood your sarcasm. Are you saying that Microsoft's form of embracing and extending standards should obviously be a good thing? If so, I would like to politely disagree. I think Adobe is referring to HTML and Java as instances where Microsoft embraced and extended standards with the specific intent to kill off competition. I don't think I'm ranting when I say that.

They created their own html tags fairly quickly after starting IE and tried to get people to use them so that people would be locked in to the IE browser. It has happened and Firefox and Opera and other browsers have a hard time in part because many companies have designed intranet applications not to standards, but to IE only. Of course is it their right to do so. Their specific motives can be debated but the DOJ and EU court proceedings of past transgressions are fairly clear.

I was a developer of Java when Microsoft was embracing and extending the Java language. Granted they made some progress with the Java language as it involved the Windows platform, such as native DLL calls through Microsoft JVM calls. I wonder now though. They could have just been trying to make something better with their system. If they were, why didn't they implement it through JNI or have separate libraries that you can use like Apache does or some such thing? Again, it can be debated as to their intentions in this case, but I think independently it was not in their best interest for Java to succeed if they wanted to maintain their desktop monopoly. In fact embracing and extending Java were topics of court cases - the DOJ anti-trust trial and the Sun vs Microsoft Java licensee trial. Microsoft lost both of them. So it would seem that Microsoft again had good engineers working on stuff that was not intended for innovation, but just intended to kill competition and preserve their monopoly.

I understand that all these things can be debated, however, I think a case can be made for Adobe's actions as well as Microsoft's propensity to use something they call innovation to kill off anyone else who wants to innovate in their territory.

2006-06-19 22:11:25
Given that though, I will conceed that from how little I've messed with PDF, I welcome simplicity. I just have had cause to distrust anything relating to standards from Microsoft, that's all. Personal thing.
2006-06-20 00:45:56
Myriad. Myriad. Myriad. Never "a myriad of". Never "a myriad of". Never "a myriad of". Repeat as necessary... as necessary... as...
M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 01:31:12
Hi Jeremy,

Dang! Totally thought I could slip this one through the cracks by using ODF as the example rather than Office Open XML.

Should have known better. ;) :D

That said, I must admit I have always had a hard time swallowing the "it's better to not add additional functionality/capability" pill as that has always just felt backwards.

You obviously have a pretty solid and fair outlook on the overall situation, but I have seen others who will make "Microsoft doesn't innovate, they duplicate" to then shame them when they add innovative extensions to a technology.

[Update: It occured to me that a good example of a technology or two that MS "extended" to the web browser mix only to discover that few people found much use for it at the time, to then see the competition come in and DupliVate(sic) right back in their direction...


Of course, it seems MS is catching back up, but (see "poem" below :)]

I do understand and recognize that by adding these features, it can be difficult for others competing in any given space to do just that...


However, let us not forget...

... that just as the Phat(sic) One approached center stage,

Along came a Fox and chased her away,

And now a new Opera has all but emerged,

It seems now the Phat One will never be heard!

The moral?

Never let a punk a$$ hacker with an attitude write poetry at 2:30 in the morning... (or at 2:30 in the afternoon for that matter :D)

M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 01:44:46

Thanks! Please see my fix w/ commentary above :)

Rick Jelliffe
2006-06-20 02:38:10
All the vendors have extended HTML. The most notorious is Netscape's old <blink> tag, which supposedly could set of epileptic fits. At the current time all the vendors except Microsoft are adding <canvas>. One of W3C's failures has been the inability to get the vendors together in the last decade to cooperate on new tags (a failure probably not of W3C's doing, I hasten to add.) I, for one, welcome our tag-innovating overlords; noxious change is cancer; beneficial change is evolution (Cue Len-ism...).

I think don't think it is necessary to give up suspicions of the intentional and unintentional market-preventing capabilities of market-dominators like MS and Adobe. But in this particular case, given that MS was not providing a PDF reader but just a PDF writer, I don't see what on earth Adobe's comments can possibly mean. If you generate bad PDF, nothing will read it, after all!

Andrew Thornton
2006-06-20 02:38:38
I think the problem with Microsoft's "Embrace and Extend" is that they tend to do less of the "Embrace" than "Strangle" and less "Extend" than "Proprietise".

There's not so much a problem with extensions so long as a) people realise that they are using extensions, b) the extensions don't prevent standard behaviour and c) the extensions are well-specified so that others may implement them if they become useful. It is simply unfortunate that because of Microsoft's user base when they extend a standard their technology becomes the de facto standard and all other providers then must struggle to reimplement. Too often such extensions have been designed to be impossible to reimplement elsewhere or simply subvert the intention of the standard.

M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 03:51:29

I don't think I could agree more... This is all COMPLETELY spot on!

As with everything, there's always two perspectives,

* What's best for consumers.
* What's best for the competitors.

Ultimately, its the fight between competitors that benefits the consumers. So understandbly folks are going to look at MS as anti-competitive whenever they make a decision as to their next move in any given space. There just so flippin' HUGE that ANY move is generally going to define the direction of any particular industry.

But as you made mention recently in a follow-up comment, in many ways Microsoft has become it's own competitor on several fronts... so in a weird sorta' skewed outlook, where theres lack of competition externally, instead, its now moved internally.

The result seems to be the same, as anybody who has played with Office 2007, Vista, and the entire underlying WinFX, now .NET 3.0 foundation, can attest that there is simply nothing even close on MOST fronts, even from those who own a considerable market share in their respective business domain... Such as Adobe.

In fact, it is this exact point that forces me into a state of wonder if its NOTHING to do with the PDF format in general, and more about finding ANY way to combat the next phase of software releases that place MS and Adobe as head-to-head competitors on several fronts.

If I were to guess (and this is ABSOLUTELY a guess) I would almost suggest that the Adobe sees an opportunity to stall the ultimate release of the various competitive products, and in doing so, buy themselves more time to enhance their own product line to be more of a competitive threat.

In someways, I can kind of see this a a good thing overall, as the consumers will ultimately benefit from the competition. But political stalling tactics have ALWAYS rubbed me the wrong way, and given the fact that MS, regardless of the lack of external competition, is about to unleash some of the most innovative products to hit the market it in a VERY long time, suggests that its just as possible that stalling the release isn't going to help ANYBODY, as theres simply nothing even close (that I know of) coming from any other direction other than Redmond.

Then again... as mentioned... this is ALL pure speculation...

M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 04:03:32

You've brought out some good points...

The one piece of this that I think is different than in years past is that the last seven or so years, and more specifically, since the original monopoly decision came down from the US.gov, changes simply had to be made. When your the size of MS, change is not always easy, but I would venture to state that as of the last 8 months or so (in regards to change) things have really started to take on a somewhat rapid pace. Office Open XML is obviously a HUGE win, and not enough credit can be given to the folks behind ODF for pushing for open xml formats, as with the momentum they built, the result is now two open formats that have STRONG support from several key industry players from both sides...

I also tend to be of the belief that MS also became somewhat a victim of their own success, becoming a bit lethargic as they became more and more wide spread, and more and more MS employees were becoming millionaires as a result.

It's easy to tell your boss to take a hike, when you know you have 5 or 6 cool million sitting and waiting for you at the end of your five year "Golden Handcuff Detainment."

But, as with my comments to Rick, this is all just pure speculation, of course :D ;)

Bruce D'Arcus
2006-06-20 07:03:27
The problem with the "extend" bit has always been that it defeats the purpose of a standard, which is to enable interoperability, and with that create the grounds for innovation. Second, you mistakenly suggest that playing by standards rules means standing still. Wrong. WRT to ODF, for example, it's an evolving spec. Just yesterday, in fact, we approved a slew of minor enhancements for accessibility (one of which, BTW, solves a problem that OXML also has, which is that there's no association between images and their captions).

Finally, neither of these companies has a glowing open standards history, so I don't see the point in jumping into the conflict, particularly wihtout more information.

M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 07:55:02

> you mistakenly suggest that playing by standards rules means standing still. <

I did? Where did I state playing by standards means standing still? If that was the impression I left, then my apologies... not my intention.

What I do feel is that the same people who suggest Microsoft duplicates instead of innovates, seem to be the same ones who condemn them for building innovative extensions.

Which, in fact , is near exact terms to what I said above...

>> Finally, neither of these companies has a glowing open standards history, so I don't see the point in jumping into the conflict, particularly wihtout more information. <<

They both made public statements... hows that jumping to the middle of it without more information? I haven't blogged anything (insert: I may have made some subtle comments here and there come to think of it.,, but nothing that I would consider anything subtantial enough to suggest anything more than a passing comment...) and have made only a few comments in some forums until now... When folks make official public statements, isn't that when your supposed to be able to have a pretty good feel for how and where folks stand on an issue... after they have stated their stance in public?

What should have I waited for? A personal, hand written letter, inviting me to make comments?

Sorry Bruce, but you just jumped all over me, making false claims in regards to what I said, and suggested that public statements were not enough to go ahead and make public comments about.


M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 08:02:44
BTW... I will be "offline" for most of the day here in a bit... so if you follow-up and I don't respond until tonight or tommorow, thats why.
Bruce D'Arcus
2006-06-20 08:31:21
David -- sorry, my comments were partly targeted more broadly than you. E.g. there's a lot of comment on this issue, but it's really not clear to me what is going on behind-the-scenes.

Re: my point that you're equating playing by the standards rules means standing still, I'm referring to the middle section of the post where you equate "extend" with "innovate" and -- admittedly more between the lines than anything -- then seem to suggest that people get annoyed at MS simply because it is MS. It's a false dichotomy in principle; one can innovate through standards. And the issue with innovation of standards is whether that innovation happens in an open fashion (whether it's document, subject to peer review, etc.). So perhaps we ought to be talking about what kind of innovation is best?

FWIW, based on the public comments, I think Adobe looks like bad here, so I'll agree with you on that. But still, we really don't know if Adobe is holding something back (because of possible litigation?), which is itself a problem.

M. David Peterson
2006-06-20 11:44:32
Ahhh... okay... this now makes more sense.

Out of simple respect for you, I will cut my own comments out on this topic. Obviously you're of the sense that there's a lot of mud being thrown around, and it's certainly not helping matters by joining in.

The funny thing is that I am an Adobe fan AND customer... They make FANTASTIC products, and I will be the first to admit that it will be difficult, AT BEST, to ever even consider breaking away from using Photoshop and ImageReady... The one draw that MS has that I have not seen from Adobe is a solid vector graphics + application wiring tool (beyond Illustrator, which in all honesty, I've never much liked, and yet even still, is not an applications vector graphics tool, and instead an (obviously) Illustrators++ tool.

I do know they have several tools that touch in this area, but they're much more 100% web focused than desktop app focus, and a nice marriage between the two is obviously something of value in the next 3-5 years...

SVG anyone? :D

Anyway, it seems it's best to let this one (the topic of this post) figure itself out. So, for what its worth... until such time as it seems obvious things have mellowed out, thats the last you'll hear about the topic here.

I must say, the first comment didn't seem or sound like you AT ALL, so after thinking about it, I realized there must have been something that was REALLY eating at you that went beyond just this post ... Until now, I just wasn't sure what.

Thanks for the follow-up!

Kurt Cagle
2006-06-20 12:14:40
The best way to extend a standard in general is to define within that standard an escape mechanism for allowing being able to go beyond the rules in a consistent manner. One of the reasons I so like XSLT 2.0 over XSLT 1.0 is that the extension mechanisms are clearly defined, making it far easier to decouple code for portability. This in turn involves being involved with the development of the standard in the first place if your goal is to ensure that such an escape hatch exists.

Competitive extension of standards, especially when it involves breaking the standard, is generally not innovative, however - especially when your goal is not the furtherance of the adoption of the standard but the creation of explicitly distinct dialects. Neither Adobe nor Microsoft have an exactly stirling reputation in the standards arena, though I think in this case I'd be more inclined to suspect that the fear that Adobe has is that if Microsoft does in fact produce and/or consume existing PDF, it will make it much more difficult for Adobe to create a next generation PDF, something which has been on their radar for quite some time. However, Adobe cannot have it both ways - if they want PDF to be considered an open standard, they have to play by open standards rules. Additionally Microsoft consuming/producing PDF makes it far harder for them to insure that Adobe's PDF viewer ends up on desktops in OEM arrangements, which hurts both their primary licensing and secondary upgrade revenue streams.

M. David Peterson
2006-06-21 15:48:17
Hey Kurt,

Thanks for this! It makes a TON of sense.

2006-07-12 04:10:08
Actually, "Myriad of" is perfectly correct usage. The dropping of the "of" was originally poetic, and was used in a very specific way.

It is so important Mr GN (which I presume stands for 'grammar nazi'?) if you set yourself up as a grammar guru, that you get your facts right. Otherwise you tend to make yourself appear foolish.

So Mr GN... repeat after me "I am not as clever as I think I am..."

M. David Peterson
2006-07-12 12:59:57
Oooh, ouch... This fight ought to be a good one :) Glad I bought those front row tickets when they were still reasonably cheap :D