Microsoft announced today that it plans to support Really Simple Syndication (RSS) technology in Longhorn, the upcoming next-generation Windows OS, and in Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0, the standalone browser upgrade that will ship later this year. RSS lets users subscribe to the Web-based content that they enjoy, freeing them from having to manually browse the same sites again and again.
"Like searching, RSS subscriptions are an evolution of Web browsing, not a replacement," Gary Schare, director of strategic product management in the Windows Division, told me earlier this week. "We're making a major RSS investment in Longhorn and will integrate the technology throughout the OS."
Longhorn will feature RSS technologies in three key areas. First, the IE 7.0 Web browser in Longhorn will make it easy to discover RSS feeds (i.e., Web sites that offer syndicated, or subscription-based, versions of their content), then view and subscribe to those feeds. Second, Microsoft will add pervasive APIs directly to Longhorn so that developers can take advantage of RSS in their own applications. Third, the company will create a new set of RSS extensions, called Simple List Extensions, that will make it easier for Web sites to publish as RSS feeds lists such as music playlists or top 10 lists.
IE 7.0's RSS features seem to be similar to the RSS support that Apple Computer built into its Safari Web browser in Mac OS X Tiger, which Apple released in April. When you navigate to a Web site that includes an RSS feed, you'll see an illuminated icon in the toolbar. Click that icon, and the RSS feed will be displayed in the browser using "pretty views," Schare told me. You can then subscribe to the feed, which will add the subscription to a Common Feed List that's similar to but separate from IE's Favorites list.
Longhorn will also support programming APIs that make RSS content available to any application. Today, Microsoft will demonstrate a simple application that connects Microsoft Office Outlook to RSS feeds, providing continuously updated calendar items. Although Schare was careful not to confirm this prediction, it seems likely that the next version of Outlook, which will ship next year as part of Office 12, will support this functionality natively.
Microsoft's set of RSS extensions will be released freely through the Creative Commons License, the same specification under which the RSS standard was released. The extensions are necessary, Microsoft says, because RSS is natively designed to support only time-based data. The Simple List Extensions let RSS be used in other scenarios, such as ordered information that might appear in a list.
"We salute Microsoft's decision to license its Simple List Extensions via Creative Commons, which offers creators a way to both protect their work and to encourage broad uses of them," said Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford Law School and the founder of Creative Commons. "Microsoft's flexibility with its intellectual property will positively impact a wide range of content publishers and the RSS community as a whole."
Schare told me that the version of IE 7.0 that ships this year for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP users will support the RSS discover/view/subscribe functionality but not the APIs that let developers interact with RSS-based data. IE 7.0 Beta 1 is still on track for "this summer," Schare said, although the initial public release will be "pretty basic," featuring only the fundamental plumbing that the browser needs. Designed for developers, IE 7.0 Beta 1 won't feature much end user "sex appeal," Schare said. Instead, the beta 2 release, expected later in 2005, will be more interesting to a broad range of consumers.