Microsoft to Embed RSS in IE, Windows

Microsoft is attempting to bring RSS to the masses by making the emerging technology even simpler and closely tying it Windows and Internet Explorer.

Friday, at the Gnomedex conference in Seattle, Microsoft announced platform level support for Really Simple Syndication (RSS) in Longhorn with end user facing facilities intended to make it easier to discover RSS feeds and support for simple list extensions.

Microsoft has developed an Application Programming Interface (API) for Longhorn that will perform the baseline tasks associated with RSS for developers. Because of this, no additional programming will be required to provide the ability to subscribe to and view feeds from within applications.

In addition to APIs, Longhorn will provide a common RSS feed list across all applications, common RSS data store for applications to access downloaded content, and an RSS platform sync engine. Like Windows Update, the sync engine will utilize idle network bandwidth.

Some of the suggestions proposed by Microsoft for RSS enabled applications are: A screensaver that provides the user with ongoing picture updates, a feed populating calendaring application to keeps appointments continuously up to date, and dynamic music playlists.

Amazon, a Microsoft partner for RSS, has already begun to develop an application that will inform customers about the latest products that may be of interest to them.

Some industry observers have called into question the need to embed RSS, an XML-based technology, into the operating system.

"In the future customers might be able to get customized RSS content that can interact with content on their desktop. The question is it enough of a benefit to justify turning RSS into a development platform," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews. "I can envision benefits but I am struggling to understand why a platform is needed to get to those benefits."

Subscribing to an RSS feed from within Internet Explorer 7.0 will be similar to adding a Web site to "Favorites." An icon placed in a toolbar will illuminate when feeds have been updated with new content.

"In a way Microsoft has been down this road before with Active Desktop," said Wilcox. "The way this makes sense to me is if Microsoft believes that RSS will be the new interface for the Internet."

In an interview with BetaNews, Megan Kidd, a product manager for Microsoft, stressed that RSS is an additive, not a replacement for the Web browser. Kidd described RSS as the natural evolution of content discovery, a process that has progressed from an "ad hoc linking" from site to site, to search onto a subscription model.

Microsoft's use of RSS in Windows comes at a time when RSS has not yet obtained critical mass in the marketplace. Wilcox noted that, according to Jupiter Search surveys, only six percent of consumers have an RSS reader installed on their primary PC and they use it monthly or sometimes more frequently.

"Microsoft could legitimize RSS for the masses," noted Wilcox.

As previously reported, Microsoft will support the RSS 2.0 standard, which adds support for Simple List Extensions. Microsoft's Kidd said that Simple List Extensions order syndicated feeds in a way that allows the end users to "sort and do things with information."

Microsoft will deliver any modifications that it makes to the RSS standard to Creative Commons licensed under the Share Alike attribution agreement, the same license the RSS 2.0 specification was released under.

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