Saturday, March 11, 2006

Microsoft and RSS - together at last

I've just been reading the Microsoft RSS Team Blog, and it contains some very interesting insight into how Microsoft are using RSS and what they are developing that uses it. A quick list here:

From early on, RSS has been heavily integrated into IE7. Following in Firefox's footsteps, Microsoft have added feed discovery to the list of features, making adding a feed as easy as clicking a button. They have also started to render Atom and RSS feeds. In other words, if you click on a feed URL in IE7 instead of seeing code you see a neatly presented rendering of the content, with titles etc. There is a feed sidebar acting as a news aggregator, in which you can place feeds, and read them easily from one place. Just the other day, Microsoft purchased Onfolio, a company providing a news aggregator with other features such as research collation added. Onfolio used to produce a firefox extension, but now the product is surprisingly only available as an addon to the Windows Live Toolbar for IE7. Onfolio is a very polished product, and seems to work very well. It is a good reason to download the toolbar.

Windows Live Mail Desktop
Basically, this is the new Outlook Express, to be released with Vista. Among its many promised enhancements are its RSS capabilities. It will work as an RSS feed aggregator so that you can read your news alongside your email. Whilst this is by no means a new feature for email clients (Thunderbird has been doing it for ages), it is a step forward and I'm sure that it will be very nicely implemented.

Good as these implementations are, there is one killer feature that Microsoft has been working on that really shows just how committed to RSS they are:

Windows RSS Platform
This shipped with IE7 Beta 2 Preview, and is the key technology that draws all the others together and enables new uses of feeds. Basically, its a program that sits between all the programs that use RSS feeds (IE7, Mail Desktop etc) and the internet. When the program wants an RSS feed, it asks the RSS Platform for the feed, rather than going directly to the internet. The advantage of this approach is massive. It allows a unified RSS system across the whole of Windows. A practical example of this is that if you read some items in your RSS feed in IE7, and then go to Live Mail Desktop, the items you have already read will be marked as read. Perhaps more importantly, an API is available allowing the development of all sorts of programs using this technology. For example, a screensaver has been developed that displays photos enclosed in an RSS feed.

The screensaver is just eyecandy to demonstrate what the platform can do; there are a loads of other possibilities for implementation that are far more useful.

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