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Microsoft Helps N.Y. Times Update its Online Look

Microsoft demonstrated a new method for newspaper content delivery via its Windows Vista technologies that promises a truer representation of the dead tree version.

Bill Gates demonstrated a prototype viewer called Times Reader, developed in conjunction with the New York Times and built on the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) library. It allows for presenting newspaper stories outside the bounds of traditional HTML, which is very limited in how it presents content.

Gates made the demo Friday at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Seattle, and said the Times Reader would be available for download in the coming months. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. called the Reader "a great next step in melding the readability and portability of the newspaper with the interactivity and immediacy of the Web.”

The Times Reader uses the same font styles as the printed newspaper, allowing the online version to retain the same look and feel as the print edition. Text in Times Reader is displayed in columns and formats to fit the size and layout of any size computer screen, so the on-screen content is rendered according to the screen instead of the old "This page looks best in 1024x768" nonsense. Content can be customized according to personal preferences such as font size and content relevance.

But the Times Reader goes beyond being a text displayer, offering hyperlinks, continuous updates to stories and multimedia. Portable computer users will be able to download the latest edition of the times and read it while traveling. All data is transmitted via RSS feeds, according to Tim O'Brien, group manager for the platform strategy group at Microsoft.

O'Brien expects there will be other similar readers as newspapers see their readership transition to online viewing and want to give them a similar experience as print. "If you are going to move content online, you need to do it in a way that makes it much more sticky and more engaging," he says.

"Right now putting it online is a commodity process. Everyone does it. But you need to make ads more persistent in this client-based model." Advertising, which has become increasingly elusive for newspapers, still needs to be worked out, he says.

Windows Presentation Foundation will eventually be made available on Windows XP, so XP users will be able to use the Times Reader and any other WPF-based applications.