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Longhorn Serious about RSS

Longhorn, Microsoft's next-generation operating system, will embrace Real Simple Syndication , with functionality deeply embedded in the platform.

"We believe RSS is the key to how people will use the Internet moving forward," said Windows Group product manager Megan Kidd. "We made a commitment to it, delivering support for RSS in Longhorn that's integrated throughout the operating system."

Microsoft said Longhorn will include both a common data store and a common synching engine to make it easier for developers to build RSS-enabled applications for the platform.

The Common RSS Data Store will provide one location where different applications can access content downloaded via the feed. The RSS Platform Sync Engine will automatically download data and enclosures for use by any application.

Kidd said developers will be able to bring RSS data into applications without having to manage synchronization or subscriptions.

A common RSS Feed List will maintain one list of the user's subscriptions across all applications. This will enable developers to easily write applications that take relevant feeds.

"We're doing the work at the platform level, so application developers can get really creative," said Kidd.

It also will be easier for end users to quickly identify whether Web sites offer RSS feeds by way of an icon on the browser toolbar, and Microsoft will be able to subscribe with a single click, Kidd said. But she denied that the IE browser would have an actual RSS reader built in. "You'll be able to view feeds while in browser mode," she said, "but it's not a reader, just the ability to actually read the feed."

Application developers can use Longhorn's RSS features to build applications that could, for example, feed information directly into the Outlook calendar.

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said Microsoft has been a bit slow with RSS.

"It would only make sense for RSS to be part of Longhorn in a big way. It creates an XML version of blogs, most obviously, but many other forms of information in a way that lets them be easily distributed, aggregated and filtered."

At the same time, Microsoft will extend the RSS 2.0 specification with what it calls "Simple List Extensions" that support time-based ordering of feeds. The existing spec keeps track of when feeds were published and delivered, but it doesn't allow for re-ordering files delivered via feed.

The extensions will let publishers embed more kinds of information in the feeds. For example, an online retailer could include information about an item for sale such as price, average customer rating or kind of merchandise. Kidd said the extensions could be used by e-commerce sites to let users sort feed information, while publishers could deliver things like the day's top ten music tracks.

The extensions will be available free under the Creative Commons license, the same license under which the RSS spec was released.

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg applauded the move. "In the old days, Microsoft would call this type of move 'embrace and extend,'" he said. "Others would call it 'engulf and devour.' It looks like Microsoft is trying very hard to make sure it doesn't alienate the RSS community and that developers feel comfortable with the decision. Microsoft is trying to add but not necessarily co-opt."

Microsoft also consulted with Dave Winer, co-inventor of RSS, he said in his blog.

Kidd confirmed the meeting." This community is growing and continuing to evolve. We want to help that process along," she said.

Kidd wouldn't comment on whether Longhorn's RSS features could benefit other Microsoft applications, although the company's press release suggested that IT workers can subscribe to sales data that notifies them via a line-of-business application when new deals have been closed.

David Wilkinson, CTO of Wilkinson Consulting in Pleasant Hill, Calif., said the advantages of RSS for SharePoint were great.

He said Windows SharePoint Services, Microsoft's server technology for collaboration, was gaining momentum in the marketplace, while Live Communication Server, Microsoft's enterprise messaging tool, will tie in with a lot of Microsoft's collaboration tools. But SharePoint alerts users to changes in documents or information by pushing out an e-mail, while there's not an easy way for users to navigate among intranet sites within it.

"In SharePoint, if you're in a corporation that has a bunch of specific sites for different departments, there's no easy way to navigate from the portal down to the different Web sites," he said. "And how do you publicize the sites?"

According to Wilkinson, if Microsoft could properly integrate RSS with the lists generated by SharePoint, users could easily customize the SharePoint information they received by subscribing to it.

"You can have an RSS reader in Outlook and in the browser," Wilkinson said. "You can be fed the information you want to know about, and you can subscribe to it."