June 27, 2005

Microsoft to Incorporate RSS in Longhorn

Microsoft just announced that RSS will be incorporated into the forthcoming Longhorn (the next version of Windows) as a core technology. This has the potential of being really big, and I'll tell you why.

Right now, each RSS application (e.g., FeedDemon, NewsGator, etc.) has to maintain its own set of RSS feed addresses and XML data downloaded from your subscribed sites. The problems are many: Duplication of storage and data, no synchronization resulting in time-consuming import/exports of OPML files (or none at all), outdated RSS links in your lesser-used RSS readers, etc. Sure, you could use a web-based service such as Bloglines for central access, but I've never been satisfied with their watered-down features compared to FeedDemon. That's a key difference between fat and thin clients.

The OPML format makes transferring the RSS feed lists and groups easier between RSS apps and PCs, but what about the downloaded content itself? What if you like to maintain a year's worth of feeds (or more) for searching or creating watchlists within your RSS reader (Go FeedDemon!)? You likely can't merge the different data sets.

By now you have a pretty good idea of the issues with using multiple RSS readers and computing platforms (Windows, Web, etc.).

Now let's talk about the OS: Remember those fond DOS days when each application needed its own modem, printer, and display drivers installed, configured, and tweaked? Centralizing those shared services into the OS usually made it a lot easier and cost-effective on both the application developers and the end users. Developers didn't have to write additional code for all these items, so they could either focus on coding additional features, or simply getting their application to market more quickly.

Fast-forwarding to RSS as a core piece of the OS: If Microsoft succeeds, RSS feeds and data could be stored as shared resources. Updated Longhorn-aware versions of your favorite RSS readers can access the shared info. So, for example, if you love using both FeedDemon for its watchlists but also SharpReader for its blog discussion threading, you can have your cake and eat it too (assuming the app developers support Longhorn).

Let's kick it up notch: Think of all the cool things we do on our PCs -- the integration of e-mail, web browsing, and RSS feeds (NewsGator is a good example at their intersection). How about music and video playlists and streaming? Movie listings? TV listings? Driving directions? These could all very well be RSS-driven. Driven where? Right into any number of RSS-aware applications: Browsers, e-mail, office suites, multimedia players, games, you name it. The entertainment and media center applications and extensions are particularly well suited to being RSS-enabled. Microsoft's RSS team surely already knows this. Microsoft also has a good track record of waiting until a technology begins to mature and then swarms it (think browsers, e-mail, office suites, and portals -- all of which could benefit from being RSS-aware).

With this said, all of this RSS "goodness" within Microsoft's control raises valid concerns:

  • Microsoft making proprietary changes to the RSS standards:
  • Remember those IE extensions to HTML tags, which only worked in the IE browser? Discussions are already underway by Microsoft to extend RSS to handle lists (e.g., music playlists, NY Times Bestseller list, SharePoint document lists -- aha!). However, there is a mitigating factor mentioned in the PC World Techlog: "Microsoft will make these extensions available through a Creative Commons license, which means that other developers can incorporate them into their services and software products."

    Keep in mind, though, that this still gives Microsoft an edge to begin subtle RSS morphing into their own image. The CC license, while laudable, also helps MS avoid some of the backlash and speeds adoption. Very savvy. Even Dave Winer sounds optimistic with the way MS is approaching RSS extension and new format development -- quite a turnaround from his previous battle over RSS vs. Atom.

  • Effect on the market:
  • Anyone who integrates with a key piece of Microsoft code is in danger of being displaced by a watered-down Microsoft replacement or MS acquiring them outright. Remember Stacker (disk compression) and certain Quarterdeck utilities (memory management)? More recently, consider the nifty Lookout add-in for Outlook (Microsoft actually acquired Lookout, but you get the idea).

    Now consider NewsGator's tight integration with Outlook. I'd be a little nervous if I were them, as IE and Outlook are two critical intersection points for RSS feeds. I'd bet NewsGator saw the writing on the wall over the last year or two and decided to diversify by offering addition services and integrations.

I've often said that RSS is fast becoming the "glue" that helps tie the web together from a content perspective. It crosses barriers and embeds content more seamlessly. If Microsoft approaches this with the right savvy, RSS may enjoy a critical step in its evolution.

I don't view this as a panacea to some of the other issues (syncing RSS feeds and/or content between PC's, for example). However, it doesn't take much imagination to see how RSS' capabilities can be extended and exploited with a little help from the OS as a common enabling platform. Definitely worth staying tuned.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard