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Microsoft confirms RSS plans

Company will build support for Really Simple Syndication into the next version of Internet Explorer, as well as into Longhorn.

Microsoft plans to make Really Simple Syndication a whole lot simpler. Really.

The software maker said on Friday that it will build support for RSS into the next version of Internet Explorer, as well as into Longhorn, the Windows update scheduled to arrive next year.

"We really think that RSS is going to be key to how people use the Internet in the future," said Gary Schare, a director of strategic product management for Microsoft's Windows unit. "Because of that we are betting really big on RSS in Longhorn by integrating RSS throughout the operating system."

"We can't think of all the great ways that applications can take advantage of RSS, but our millions of application developers can."
--Gary Schare
Microsoft's Windows unit

Most typically, RSS is used by news publishers and bloggers to notify subscribers when new information has been posted. It is also used by podcasters to alert listeners to new available audio.

For starters, Microsoft plans to make sure that subscribing to RSS feeds is as simple as choosing a favorite in Internet Explorer. Firefox already includes some RSS features, while Apple Computer added RSS support in the version of Safari included with its Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger release.

Support for RSS will take place in both the Longhorn and Windows XP versions of Internet Explorer 7.0, Schare said. Test versions of IE7 for Windows XP and Longhorn are slated for later this summer.

As previously reported, Microsoft is also proposing extensions to the RSS specification that will add support for ordered lists. That would enable, for example, e-commerce sites to more easily publish things such as a constantly updated feed of best-selling products.

Beyond that, Microsoft is adding support throughout Longhorn for RSS, meaning that programs in Longhorn will be able to benefit from RSS without specifically being rewritten to accommodate the standard. For example, a calendar program might be able to get, via RSS, a list of appointments that are sent in a format it understands.

Microsoft is planning a common feed list and a common data store that will be accessible not only by Internet Explorer, but also by other browsers, as well as any other Windows program.

"We can't think of all the great ways that applications can take advantage of RSS, but our millions of application developers can," Schare said.

What is not clear is how much Longhorn will take advantage of RSS out of the box beyond the browser-based support. Schare talked about possibilities such as using an RSS feed of photos as part of a screensaver, but said it was not yet clear if Microsoft will include that capability in the operating system itself. Microsoft has also not decided whether to bundle a separate RSS reader as part of Longhorn, Schare said.

Applications will also be able to use RSS to carry other kinds of content, such as audio and video. One possibility would be for Windows Media Player to automatically handle video and audio podcasts, although Schare said he could not comment.

There is one implementation of RSS that had been part of Microsoft's Longhorn plans that has fallen by the wayside. When Microsoft first demonstrated Longhorn at the Fall 2003 Professional Developers Conference, there was a "sidebar" feature, which had all sorts of information permanently displayed in a corner of the screen. One of the main planned sources for that information was RSS. However, Schare confirmed that the sidebar is not part of Microsoft's current Longhorn plans.

Microsoft plans to roll out the RSS features over the coming months.

The company plans to release on Friday a technical overview of the new programming interfaces in Longhorn that will support RSS, but not the code itself. The software maker will also release its plans for the list extensions, which it said will be made available under the same Creative Commons terms as the RSS specification itself.

Only a part of the enhanced RSS capability--specifically, the browser-based RSS support--will be evident in this summer's beta version of Longhorn. Other capabilities will show up in software code given out around the time of Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference, which takes place in Los Angeles in mid-September.