Microsoft Draws Cheers, Jeers over RSS in Longhorn

While some syndication enthusiasts welcome Microsoft's move to make feeds more central to the OS, others fear an attempt to dictate the technology's direction.

SEATTLE—Microsofts vision for tying RSS directly into the next release of Windows drew cheers and jeers among the syndication-feed enthusiasts gathered here Friday.

It drew accolades for its potential to smooth some of the user kinks in discovering and managing feed subscriptions, while it awakened fears that the Redmond, Wash., software maker is attempting to embrace the still-emerging market for syndication feeds in order to dictate its direction.

One reaction appeared constant among attendees at Lockergnome.coms Gnomedex 5.0 conference being held through Saturday: By promising to make RSS more accessible across Windows applications, Microsoft is shifting the syndication-feed landscape away from just reading blogs and news.

"Its another step toward putting RSS in the mainstream," said Marc Strohlein, a vice president and lead analyst at Outsell Inc. "It definitely cements RSS as a content transport mechanism."

Microsoft Corp. has had good reason to announce its major RSS push at Gnomedex. Talk about RSS and related technologies such as Weblogs and Podcasts is as common here as chatter about flight delays at the airport.

The core of Microsofts RSS plans is to bring feeds into Windows applications, both its own and those from developers.

Longhorn will provide a common feed list of subscriptions and a common feed store of data in Longhorn, which will be available to applications through Windows APIs, said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsofts general manager of Longhorn browsing and RSS technologies.

Microsoft also plans to let users automatically discover and then subscribe to feeds in Internet Explorer 7, a capability already in competing browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple Computer Inc.s Safari browser.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about Apples RSS embrace.

"The browser here is incidental," Hachamovitch said. "Its not about the browser. Its about the platform."

In one demonstration, Longhorns RSS APIs were used to grab an RSS feed of a conference schedule on the Web in order to display it within Microsoft Outlook alongside another calendar.

RSS will be available in both IE 7 for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and for Longhorn, Hachamovitch said. A beta of IE 7 and Longhorn are due later this summer. Microsoft plans to release the Longhorn RSS APIs during the Professional Developers Conference in September.

Another part of Microsofts RSS plans seemed to draw the most criticism. Microsoft also released a specification for an extension to one format of syndication feeds, RSS 2.0, for handling ordered lists. Microsoft is offering the list specification under a Creative Commons license.

During a demonstration, Microsoft showed how lists such as Inc.s wish lists could be brought into a Windows application through the RSS extensions.

The idea of extending RSS to other applications may be attractive to some, but Microsofts approach drew criticism from Bob Wyman, co-founder and chief technology officer of PubSub Concepts Inc., a startup service that aggregates RSS feeds.

He criticized Microsoft for focusing on a specific format, RSS 2.0, and for not bringing the extension before an open standards body such as the Internet Engineering Task Force. An alternative syndication format, Atom, is weaving its way through the IETF standards process.

"Theyre ignoring the IETF Atom standard and locking down to the legacy RSS 2.0 standard," Wyman said. "To try to use Creative Commons as an indication that youre somehow open is a tremendous amount of spin."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about Atoms effort to become an IETF standard.

For retrieving feeds from the Web, Microsoft is including support for Atom and other major syndication-feed formats other than RSS 2.0, officials said.

Others see little difference between how Microsoft is extending RSS and how the RSS 2.0 specification emerged. Strolhein likened Microsofts RSS extension to the role Dave Winer played as the major developer behind RSS 2.0.

"Theres a de facto standard and a de jure standard," Strohlein said. "RSS is a standard because its useful."

Microsofts RSS APIs in Longhorn will perform many of the functions of the desktop RSS aggregators that have emerged for Windows. These include retrieving feeds and storing their contents.

Given Microsofts plans, some questioned whether stand-alone aggregators will be able to compete on Windows.

"You heard the declaration that this business is now closed," Wyman said of Windows aggregators.

One Windows aggregator developer, though, said he is optimistic that the RSS support in Longhorn will benefit existing aggregators. Nick Bradbury, who created the FeedDemon newsreader that is now a part of NewsGator Technologies Inc., said he expects to integrate with the Longhorn APIs and lists extensions.

"If its just at the API level, then its good for people like me because I wont have to spend so much time on retrieving and storing [feeds] but can spend more time on presentation," Bradbury said.

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