Microsoft Edge gets Adobe Acrobat as PDF reader

Edge[German]Small addendum from yesterday, didn't get to it due to private appointments. Adobe and Microsoft announced Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, that Microsoft will implement Adobe Acrobat as the new default PDF reader in the Edge browser. The two companies are celebrating this as an innovation. It rather makes my head hurt as I see the Adobe PDF reader as more of a security hole and see many, many Microsoft Edge security updates and more trouble on the horizon.


Edge with Adobe's PDF engine

Adobe and Microsoft announced in a news release that they are taking the next step to "streamline the future of digital work and life" (glorious word jingling). Adobe Acrobat's PDF capabilities are to be made available for the Windows version of Microsoft Edge. They believe this will "improve the PDF experience and utility" by combining Microsoft Edge's built-in PDF reader with Adobe Acrobat's PDF engine. The approach is said to offer improved performance, high security for PDF processing (an oxymoron), improved quality for more accurate colors and graphics, and better accessibility. Added to this would be enhanced text selection and read aloud functionality, it says, and this remains free.

If additional digital document features are desired, such as the option to edit text and images, convert PDFs to other file formats, and combine files, an Acrobat subscription can be purchased. This will allow access to these features from anywhere, according to the announcement. This can be done via a browser extension but also directly in Microsoft Edge. Microsoft Edge users with an existing Adobe Acrobat subscription can use the Acrobat extension within Edge at no additional cost.

The vision of Microsoft and Adobe strategists: In the age of digital transformation, a web browser is where people collaborate, share information and get work done in the cloud. Users interact with myriad PDF files on the web, mobile devices, and the desktop. With Adobe Acrobat capabilities, Windows 10 and Windows 11 users can now use Adobe's PDF capabilities within the Microsoft Edge web browser without having to download or switch to a separate app, Microsoft says.

Phased rollout

To meet the needs of organizations with managed devices, the transition to the integrated Microsoft Edge PDF reader with the Adobe Acrobat PDF rendering engine will occur in phases. It all starts with an opt-in for managed devices in enterprise environments. The Microsoft Edge PDF solution with the legacy engine is expected to be unsupported by March 2024. Microsoft plans to announce more details in an FAQ on the Edge Business pages – currently, however, I didn't find an FAQ on a first, quick look.

According to both companies, this announcement is part of an ongoing Adobe and Microsoft initiative to transform digital work and life. The goal is to bring Adobe's PDF, e-signature and document automation tools directly to Microsoft users. In addition to PDF integration in Microsoft Edge, there are already extensive Adobe PDF and e-sign integrations in Microsoft solutions such as Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and more.


My thoughts on the topic

From Adobe's and Microsoft's point of view, this is all a logical development: Adobe gets a platform where it can sell its Adobe Acrobat stuff to Windows users. Marketing simply doesn't know any better. And Microsoft is trying to grab everything on the market that is somehow better than their own stuff, in order to use it in their own products. The Edge is already based on the Google Chromium engine, so the Adobe Acrobat Reader integration is just right. The normal user is happy "hey, I can do everything in the browser" – and marketing has a new "stick to drum" with.

10 years ago, I would have shrugged at it or even thought it was kind of good. But we've come a long way since then. For administrators and security managers, the above "marriage" is a materialized nightmare. In any case, the number of required Edge updates will not decrease.

When I look at how often I've had to report problems with Adobe Acrobat PDF output or fixed vulnerabilities here on the blog in recent years, it doesn't bode well. As an example, I refer to my German blog post Spam-Welle verbreitet neue Locky-Ransomware-Version, where a PDF document was used as an infection vector.

In addition, I would like to refer to my German article Wie sicher ist eigentlich das Adobe PDF-Format und die Anzeigesoftware? from 2021. The ability to provide active content in PDF documents not only opens up potential new vulnerabilities. Active content also provides the opportunity for tracking people who open those documents. Not a nice idea either, and in the post I raise the question of opening PDF documents (from banks, government agencies, etc.) in a privacy-compliant way. But to be fair, the combination of Edge and Adobe Reader has not even been considered yet in the light of GDPR (General Data Protection Rule).

At the end of the day, it will depend on how well Microsoft has Edge and Adobe Reader integration under control in terms of bugs, data protection and security, and how well the whole thing can be managed and restricted via group policies. I took a look at Lawrence Abrams' comments on this article. Similar thoughts are expressed there. How do you see this integration of Adobe into Microsoft Edge?

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