Microsoft continues to reveal details about the core features it plans for its Longhorn operating system, the next version of Windows that is due in late 2006 on the client side and in 2007 on the server front.
The latest Longhorn core feature to be confirmed by Microsoft Corp. is RSS, which Microsoft will integrate directly into Longhorn at the platform level.
The Redmond, Wash., company believes that technology will be key to the way people use the Internet in the future and to getting the information delivered to them that is important.
“We are betting big on RSS and creating support for it throughout Longhorn. We believe that RSS is so powerful that it needs to be in places other than RSS readers and browsers,” Gary Schare, director of Strategic Product Management in the Windows division, told eWEEK in an interview.
Microsoft will take the wraps off its updated strategy at the Gnomedex conference, which kicks off Friday in Seattle.
Microsoft was focusing on three things in Longhorn around RSS, Schare said.
First, making it easy for users to find, view and subscribe to RSS feeds; second, making it easy for developers to put RSS in their applications and enable new classes of RSS applications; and third, creating a set of extensions for RSS, known as the Simple List Extensions, that can be used to enable Web sites to publish feeds that represent ordered lists of items, such as a wish list or top 10 lists.
“Lists are very difficult to do with RSS today, as it is currently not really designed to handle that scenario. But, through these extensions, we are going to enable that to work really well, and we are also making these extensions freely available through a Creative Commons license,” Schare said.
Because lists are powerful mechanisms that can be ordered, sorted and pivoted, a lot of content publishers are trying to use RSS to publish their lists.
But RSS is built on the notion of time-based delivery, and the delivery of text did not have the metadata to allow that kind of work.
These new extensions seek to enable those scenarios and “to let anyone do it,” he said.
As such, Microsoft has realized that if it adds some new attributes to RSS, it will be able to handle lists really well.
That resulted in the creation of the Simple List Extensions that will be built into Longhorn and also made freely available through the Creative Commons license.
“That will allow anyone to build them into any application on any device or operating system. This is the most high-profile project we are licensing via the Creative Commons, which allows people to make things freely available while retaining some rights,” Schare said.
Microsoft was doing “share alike with attribution,” where the specification was intended for like scenarios, could not be changed and required some level of attribution, he said.
Asked if this would preclude free and open-source projects licensed under the GNU GPL (General Public License) from using them, as is the case with the upcoming new Open Office XML Formats in Office 12, Schare said he did not believe that was the case here, because this is an open specification where tags are specified, but he acknowledged he was unsure.
A Major Step
on the Client Software Side”>
While Microsoft has done a lot with RSS on the publishing side, this is the first major step on the client software side.
Users will now also be easily able to see that there is an RSS feed on a page, and they will be able to view it in a browser and subscribe to it as “easily as it is now to put a Web site in their Favorites list. We are going to enable that in a version of Internet Explorer in Longhorn,” he said.
As users visit Web pages, a small icon in the toolbar will light up to indicate the presence of an RSS feed.
Users can remove that icon from the toolbar if they so choose, Schare said.
Microsoft will also be publishing the specifications of what exactly it will be supporting with primary support being for RSS 2.0 and Atom in some form, he said.
But the exciting work is making RSS easier for application developers, Schare said, adding that Microsoft is removing the need for each application to understand RSS, how to subscribe to a feed or download and manage it.
That will now all be done by the operating system once a user subscribes, so developers “can focus their energies on creating new experiences.”
An example of such a new experience would be when a conference attendee subscribed to an RSS feed for the event and then the Windows platform in Longhorn would go out and fetch these feeds, which would actually have enclosures, not MP3 files as is the case today, but enclosures like a calendar file in an open format such as iCal.
“A calendar application can then be written that talks to the APIs in Windows and requests all the new calendar items. The calendar application can then do really fun things in the way it presents the options to you and lets you decide which ones you want to add to your calendar and which ones you want to discard.
“Then, when things like speaker and room changes happen, they get updated through RSS and fed down in the platform and then automatically changed in the calendar,” he said.
This new RSS technology for Longhorn had been developed by the Longhorn team and essentially worked as a common feed, common data store and common sync engine that managed all of that so that the applications did not have to worry about it, Schare said.
In line with Microsofts vision of Integrated Innovation, where features and technologies are best leveraged across several applications, RSS is expected to be integrated into Office 12, due next year.
On the security front, any new scenario that is enabled at Microsoft went through its rigorous Security Development Lifecycle process, part of the Trustworthy Computing initiative, with the aim of eliminating as many security threats as possible, Schare said, adding that this is why building it in at the platform level made sense.
Asked how Microsofts approach differs from that of Apple Computer Inc., Schare said that Apple typically focuses on getting the experience right with Apple software, while Microsoft is about “enabling things in the platform to allow millions of developers to be creative and come up with new applications.”
On the monetization potential for RSS, he said to expect applications from both Microsoft and its partners in his regard to enable a whole new generation of applications.
“There are six other divisions inside Microsoft, outside of Windows, who build applications and services that they sell, and RSS will be a very key part of what they do. Office is the prime example of that,” he said.