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XPS Files: What You Should Know About Microsoft’s Fixed File Format

Key Points in This Article:

  • An alternative to PDF files, XPS files are a fixed file format that individuals can use to share, view, and print documents
  • You can create XPS files using Microsoft XPS Document Writer and view them using either XPS Viewer or Microsoft Reader.
  • Although XPS files are not well-known or widely used on the Microsoft platform.

Are you familiar with XPS files?

If you’ve stumbled across XPS while scrolling through the “Save As” or “Download” dropdown menus in Word, you’re not alone if you have no idea what this file format refers to. Or maybe you’ve seen “Microsoft XPS Document Writer” in your list of applications but have ignored it, figuring you’ll Google it when someone sends you something marked XPS.

Well, no need to wait. If you’re unfamiliar with the file format, application, or both, here’s what you need to know about them.

Microsoft XPS Document Writer

What Is an XPS File?

Also known as OpenXPS or OXPS, XPS stands for XML Paper Specification (or Open XML Paper Specification). This file format denotes a document consisting of pages in a fixed layout. No matter where you view an XML file, its format will remain the same.

If that sounds familiar, it should. XPS achieves the same function as Portable Document Files, commonly known as PDFs. In fact, XPS files are Microsoft’s effort to compete with Adobe Acrobat’s popular file format. You can easily view XPS files using one of two programs installed on the Microsoft operating system: XPS Viewer and Microsoft Reader. Despite the popularity of the Microsoft platform, the PDF file format is the industry standard, not XPS.

What Is Microsoft XPS Document Writer?

Microsoft XPS Document Writer (MXDW) is an application that allows you to create XPS files. First introduced in the Microsoft XP Service Pack, it has been included in each subsequent version of the Microsoft operating system, including Windows 11. It’s fairly straightforward to use. When you have a document open you’d like to use and have MXDW installed, simply select Print. You should find Microsoft XPS Document Writer as an option in the print queue. When you select it, you must type a name for the new XPS file you’re creating. Click Ok, and you’ll find your new XPS file saved in C:UsersusernameDocuments.

However, if MXDW does not appear in the print queue by default, you must add it. Navigate to the Control Panel, then to Devices and Printers. Choose Add a printer, then select The printer I want isn’t listed. On the subsequent screen, you’ll find an option to Add a local printer or network printer with manual settings. Select this option and click Next.

You’ll be taken to a page with multiple printer driver options. In the Manufacturer column, select Microsoft, and choose Microsoft XPS Document Writer in the Printers column. Then, click Next, which should initiate the installation process.

What Are the Differences Between XPS and PDF?

Functionally, there’s not much difference between PDF and XPS files. Both allow you to save files in a fixed format, helping you to avoid pesky formatting issues when you share files between multiple users and applications. Both are written in different programming languages. PDFs are written in PostScript, while XPS files are written in XML.

But as competing applications, both offer the same essential features. Not only can you convert various file formats into PDFs and XPSs. But you can also easily view, annotate, and print these documents. They can also be digitally signed, which can be helpful if you’re creating contracts.

One key difference between the two is the ease of editing. You can edit PDF documents using Adobe Acrobat Pro, an application Adobe offers expressly for this use. However, Microsoft does not offer a similar editing function in XPS Viewer or Microsoft Reader. Instead, if you need to edit an XPS document, you’ll need to go back to your original file, make changes and re-save it as an XPS file.

There are also multiple third-party applications designed to edit XPS files. If you look for one, work with your IT department or Managed Service Provider to identify a legitimate one. Some of these companies may prompt you to download a legitimate-seeming application full of malware.

Another key difference is that XPS has minimal support outside the Microsoft platform. And it may not be easy to view them on devices that aren’t running the Windows operating system.

Should You Use XPS or PDF?

Both file formats are designed to protect the integrity of the source file. However, when teams work with multiple files in a fast-paced environment, mistakes are often made. Editing PDF files may be necessary to ensure the accuracy of their content. And as many graphic designers will tell you, it’s usually much easier to make small text edits on a PDF document than to reopen an Illustrator or InDesign to do so.

However, if you are working on the Microsoft platform, primarily need a fixed file format to share and print with, and have little need to edit them, you can certainly use either the PDF or XPS file format. However, PDFs are far more widely used than XPS files. Both are designed to simplify document sharing, but many people are unfamiliar with the XPS file format. If you have to explain to your colleagues what XPS is and walk them through initializing XPS Viewer or Microsoft Reader, that makes things more complicated, not simpler.

In fact, that unfamiliarity may have other workflow-related consequences. A colleague who is vigilant about cybersecurity and receives an XPS file from you could flag your email as possible malware. Employees are, of course, encouraged to report any emails that appear suspicious. And if your colleagues aren’t acquainted with XPS, they could easily believe your account might have been hacked.

You’ll also find that most commercial services firms you work with use PDF files. If you’re on deadline, you certainly don’t want to face a delay because a freelancer or design or printing firm has difficulties with the XPS file format. Again, functionally, you can certainly use XPS files in the same way you’d use PDFs. But the widespread unfamiliarity with XPS files may cause headaches in practice.

PDFs are likely to remain the industry standard for the foreseeable future. But it’s good to know what XPS files are in case you ever need to use them.