Rich RSS Integration in Longhorn

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June 24, 2005

Rich RSS Integration in Longhorn

So, Dean Hachamovitch, GPM of Microsoft IE unit, announced at GnomeDex the integration of RSS in both Internet Explorer and Windows. He stated the Web was moving to a third phase of navigation--browsing, searching, and now subscribing. By the way, I knew Dean, when he was my teaching assistant in a computer science course at Harvard College, and later when he worked as a Word program manager in the same building.

Support for RSS was widely expected to be embraced in IE. It was previously mentioned in the IE blog and also necessary as a competitive response to RSS integration in both Firefox and Apple’s Safari. Riding on the popularity of weblogs (and also enabling), RSS support is found in nearly every news site. Most of the big players are already involved. Google purchased blogger and pushes the Atom format, Yahoo offers RSS content panes in its “My Yahoo” personalized portal, and even an experimental version of MSN search is incorporating RSS feeds into its home page.

What was not expected was the level of extension and integration Microsoft would offer. Actually, I was not that surprised as RSS support in Longhorn was mentioned frequently. It was mentioned back in 2003 as a sidebar feature, and, more recently in WinHEC, as a capability exposed by Longhorn’s search folders. Microsoft of recent seems to be keen on identifying new emerging technology, and then attempting to influence its direction by embracing it and tailoring it to Microsoft’s technology in order leverage the network effects.

As Dean notes, the IE team has been rechristened the “browsing and RSS” team.  The RSS half is working on building a “Windows RSS platform” of which IE is based. They seem to be building a unified RSS strategy across Microsoft beyond just IE. Platform support for RSS also makes sense as part of Microsoft's overall Web Services vision. The platform handles all the plumbing (syndication formats, caching and so on) and currently consists of a:

  • Common feed list. This is essentially a separate Favorites for RSS feeds, which all applications can access.
  • Common data store. The platforms eliminates the waste of multiple caches and stores all data (feeds, music, documents, images and so on). It’s not clear if this is the same as the IE cache.
  • Synchronization engine. Subscriptions and enclosures are automatically scheduled, downloaded during idle time using BITS technology, and scanned for viruses.

Also introduced were Simple List Extensions, which enable ordered lists, enclosures for any kind of content (calendar events, documents, music, photos, weather data, etc), and additional fields for sorting and filtering. These extensions use the Creative Commons “share-alike with attribution” license.

This new platform gives Windows a new and versatile notification mechanism, already being used widely on the Internet, but now also open to interapplication communication on a local machine. In the latter case, the operating system or an application might be able to create feeds through the new RSS APIs that can be read by other applications. With the APIs, the data may actually be transmitted natively (or dynamically constructed) with no RSS generated in between except when communicating with a remote computer.

Anyway, Channel 9 demonstrates Outlook subscribing to an events feed and a photoblog being displayed as a slideshow. More details are available in the IE Blog, “RSS Support in Longhorn,” Microsoft Monitor has more information on this. Here, here and here.

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