Microsoft to add broad RSS support to Longhorn

Microsoft Corp. plans to add broad support for the Web publishing standard RSS (Really Simple Syndication) in the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, the company is expected to announce Friday at the Gnomedex 5.0 conference in Seattle.

Longhorn will include the ability for users to discover, view and subscribe to RSS feeds, as well as enable developers to incorporate RSS into new applications, said Gary Schare, director of strategic product management in Microsoft’s Windows division. The new operating system is due for release in the second half of 2006.

RSS is primarily used by Web loggers and Web-based news publishers to keep subscribers informed when new Web log entries or news articles have been posted to Web sites.

As part of its RSS strategy, Microsoft also Friday will make available a set of XML (Extensible Markup Language) tags called Simple List Extensions that expands RSS to better support the publishing of ordered lists of information, Schare said.

Simple List Extensions will be freely available through a Creative Commons License, a licensing model created by digital rights lawyer and open-source advocate Lawrence Lessig. The license allows Microsoft to reserve some, but not all the rights to the technology, Schare said.

While RSS is a reliable standard for updating information in message form, it currently has no logical way to organize that information in a way that could help subscribers keep track of what is being fed to them, he said. “RSS is good for delivering what’s new, but not so good for things that are getting sorted or reordered,” Schare said.

By leveraging Simple List Extensions, users and developers can filter, sort and pivot content lists of information, he said. Also, because Microsoft is including RSS APIs (application programming interfaces) within Longhorn, developers can use the code to integrate RSS-fed lists across other applications in the OS, linking updated information to a user’s Outlook calendar to notify them of upcoming events, for example.

While Microsoft maintains its interest in providing a development platform that can integrate RSS into third-party applications is purely benevolent, some believe the vendor has ulterior motives for supporting the standard, which currently is open and freely available to anyone who browses the Web and uses an RSS reader.

It’s possible Microsoft is attempting to drive adoption of RSS according to its own implementation in Windows rather than support the open standard that, while gaining popularity, is still in its infancy, observers said. The latest numbers on RSS adoption from Jupiter Research estimate that only 6 percent of U.S. consumers have RSS readers, said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst for Jupiter.

Wilcox said there could be viable e-commerce applications to expanding RSS beyond its current usage. For instance, digital camera vendors could include RSS feeds to Web sites about photography in the software consumers install when they purchase a camera.

But enabling a wide range of applications with RSS also could be a headache for consumers who are already inundated with information they didn’t sign up for, Wilcox said.

“Will it be more confusing if RSS can come to any application?” Wilcox said. “On one hand, it looks like a great idea…but is that extending the utility of RSS or is it creating a what to the user feels like a new kind of spam?”

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