Redmond RSS: Death knell to Atom? Birth of an 'open' era for Microsoft?

Redmond RSS: Death knell to Atom? Birth of an 'open' era for Microsoft?

Summary: If you ask me, there could be a bit more to Microsoft's announcement that it will be supporting RSS in the next version of Windows (code-named Longhorn) than meets the eye.  For starters, to hear all about it, you should give a listen to my 12 minute interview with Microsoft's Windows Group Product Manager Megan Kidd.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Download this PodcastIf you ask me, there could be a bit more to Microsoft's announcement that it will be supporting RSS in the next version of Windows (code-named Longhorn) than meets the eye.  For starters, to hear all about it, you should give a listen to my 12 minute interview with Microsoft's Windows Group Product Manager Megan Kidd.  The interview is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.

There are three primary components to Microsoft's forthcoming support of RSS.  The first is robust support for it in Microsoft's Web browser, the second is support for it at a developer and platform level (within the OS) and the third has to do with an RSS extension that Microsoft came up with to make it possible to keep track of ordered lists with RSS.  Normally, RSS feeds are just streams of events where the order of what the end user sees matches the order in which items were received through an RSS subscription.  Some RSS clients provide rudimentary sorting capabilties but none allow the publisher of the feed to maintain an ordered list in a way that someone subscribing to that list (via RSS) will always see the publisher's most current order. 

Going back to how Internet Explorer's support for RSS might be different  from the way FireFox supports RSS, there were scant details.  My sense is that there won't be much difference.  Without plug-ins, a browser's support for RSS can only go so far, I think (Talkback below if you think otherwise).

At the platform level, Microsoft is going to turn on an RSS application programming interface for developers so that their software can natively publish RSS feeds without having to know anything about how to do that.  The example given by Kidd of how this might manifest itself in the user experience is that a developer of some sort of photo editing and archival application can easily attach RSS feeds to photo albums in such a way that those feeds can drive the Windows' RSS-enabled screen saver. 

Going back to the aforementioned ordered-list capability, developers of list oriented applications (including Microsoft) should be able to merge the platform level support and the ordered list capability in some interesting ways.  For example, you should be able to subscribe to Outlook's To-Do list and see that list in the same order that you'd see it in Outlook.  One blogger who saw the demo noted how the feature will level the playing field for the different types of multimedia content that might get delivered through an RSS feed. For example, instead of having a dedicated podcatching client at the head-end of your RSS feeds for receiving podcasts, you'd just have a regular RSS reader that lists the different types of multimedia content that are available to you (audio, video, still images, etc.) via the various feeds you subscribe to.  All this said, said, when asked if Microsoft would be taking advantage of the platform-level support for RSS in its own applications (eg: Microsoft Office), Kidd said that it's a good question but that she had no news to offer on that front.

I asked Kidd if that platform-level of support was going to be available in current version of Windows XP and the answer was that it would not.   However, the browser-based RSS functionality will turn up in one of the forthcoming updates to Internet Explorer that can be used with XP (presumably the one that will get other Firefox features like tabbed browsing -- a feature that I have turned off because you can't use Windows standard keystroke  for switching between windows [ALT-TAB] for switching between FireFox tabs).

In the bigger picture, I can't help but wonder if there's more than meets the eye to Microsoft's support of RSS, as well as the extension of RSS to support ordered lists.   First, to have Microsoft come out and support RSS and not support the other syndication technology (Atom -- yes, I asked Editors Note: This has changed, see the update below) doesn't bode well for Atom.  Furthermore, members of the Atom community have discussed how Atom is designed to address subscription scenarios that RSS isn't well equipped to address.  Well, before today's announcement, RSS was not very well equipped to subscribe to ordered lists (although you could technically fudge it like I do with something like del.icio.us and FireFox's Live Bookmarks).   Now, by virtue of an extension, it is.  Perhaps any extrapolations -- like the one where I'm thinking that RSS can probably be similarly extended to support the scenarios that only Atom could handle before -- would be overly simplistic.  I'm sure that by the end of the day or sometime next week, some part of the blogosphere will have this issue vetted, dissected, and thoroughly hashed out.  

Many who are reading this news for the first time will begin to think that history is repeating itself.  I'm talking about the history where Microsoft embraces some standard and extends it.  Microsoft has announced that it will, according to Kidd, "make the Simple List extension specification freely available under the Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution Deed" (the commercial version, not the non-commercial version).  As such, this represents yet another type of license that Microsoft is applying to its technologies. This extends the range of specific licenses -- from proprietary to full-blown open source -- that it already attaches to its existing technologies.  Did Microsoft just catapult itself from open source laggard to cutting edge licensor?  Whatever it did, this is definitely not the Microsoft the world is used to seeing (granted, if thousands or millions of publishers make use of the specification, it could drive demand for the Microsoft operating systems and applications that support it).

At Gnomedex, where Microsoft made the announcement,  Creative Commons chairman Lawrence Lessig apparently praised Microsoft for the move.  One obvious synergy is that the RSS 2.0 specification is also licensed under the same Creative Commons deed.  But, I can't help but wonder if we may soon see more specifications, and eventually software (there is a difference), being released under a Creative Commons deed vs. an open source license.  Earlier this year in his interview with me, while lamenting the proliferation of open source licenses, Open Source Initiative acting president Michael Tieman talked about how he'd like to see the open source industry move towards the Creative Commons model since open source licensing and Creative Commons deeds both address the same primary issue: copyrights.  

[Update 6/24/05: Since first publishing this blog and doing the interview with Microsoft, a company spokesperson has retracted an earlier statement that Atom would not be supported.  That said, my feeling is that the announcements are laced with enough enthusiasm for RSS that they are to Atom's long term detriment.  Also, I'll stick to my conclusions about how RSS can be extended to deal with scenarios that it's not currently supporting as evidence that RSS has plenty of undiscovered potential left in it.]

Topic: Microsoft

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  • There is a standard key stroke! Ctrl+TAB

    Alt+tab is standard in windows for switching between windows, while Ctrl+Tab is standard in windows for switching between child windows within a window, such as tabs within firefox! How can you publish something in an aricle saying there is no standard way of doing something when there is!! What kind of news reporter are you?? How can you be willing to say something so publicially without doing any research what so ever?!!!! MORON!
    flipman6199
    • Read it again please

      I didn't say there wasn't a standard keystroke for cycling between child windows within a window. I said that the standard keystroke (ALT-TAB) for switching between windows (and I meant regular windows) doesn't cycle through Firefox's child windows. That's a fact. I never said it should either. For me, it's a matter of personal preference. I want one set of keystrokes for cycling through my windows (on Mac and Windows). So, by disabling tabs, I can stick with ALT-TAB. When I have so many tabs going, sometimes multiple parent Windows for Firefox, I lose track of what I need to do in order to get back to the browser window I need to get back to. I end up having to study all the Windows to find the tab I need. For me, it is much easier to use ALT-TAB to do this because I can cycle through ever window (click, click, click,..) until I find what I'm looking for. No studying necessary. Also, in the tray, when multiple tabs are in use, Firefox only displays the name of the tab that focus is currently set to. I'd rather have multiple entries on the tray each showing the name of what it's displaying.
      dberlind
      • If I understand you correctly...

        ... you're saying that FireFox should work like IE.

        As you know, if 12 different IE pages are open they form a single entry on the taskbar.
        If you left click you can see a list of titles for each page. If you right click, by the way, you can tile the pages.

        Curious to know if this is what you're looking for.

        Quoting:
        When I have so many tabs going, sometimes multiple parent Windows for Firefox, I lose track of what I need to do in order to get back to the browser window I need to get back to. I end up having to study all the Windows to find the tab I need. For me, it is much easier to use ALT-TAB to do this because I can cycle through ever window (click, click, click,..) until I find what I'm looking for. No studying necessary. Also, in the tray, when multiple tabs are in use, Firefox only displays the name of the tab that focus is currently set to. I'd rather have multiple entries on the tray each showing the name of what it's displaying.
        Anton Philidor
        • re: If I understand you correctly...

          Anton,

          I spend as little time with my fingers on the mouse (or other pointing device as possible). So, what's in the tray isn't of too much concern to me (although, if you resize the tray, you may end up with 12 buttons for your IE example). The tray is mostly for mouse users. I know it's a matter of preference, but I prefer to cycle through the windows using ALT-TAB to find the Window I'm looking for. That may be unproductive for some, but for me, I that's the way I do it. As much as my brain is programmed to seek out Windows in this way, my fingers use ALT-TAB as though using the keys were a reflex. To get myself to that reflex level with CTRL-TAB is probably possible. But I've found it to be much easier to just turn tabs off. This is the way I prefer Firefox. Then, I don't have to think about what keystrokes to use when. Instead, I just always use the same keystrokes (ALT-TAB) no matter what. I understand that some people may look at this and think I'm a moron. But, I know plenty of other people who prefer separate windows instead of a tabbed interface. When I first saw tabs in Safari and Firefox and heard about how IE needs tabs too, I was like "ok." But now, I'm like, "What's the big deal?"
          dberlind
          • Fine, but that's not what the article said

            It said "you can't use Windows standard keystroke for switching between windows [ALT-TAB] for switching between FireFox tabs" which definitely implied that it should. Of course if it did you would like it even less because it would trap you in a Firefox window. It behaves absolutely as it should.
            The problem (as you now say) is only that tabbed browsers don't work for you as you don't want to change your way of working (which is fine). However the article definitely makes it sound as though Firefox were breaking Microsofts UI rules/conventions which it isn't.
            Bill Timmins
          • Subject to Interpretation

            That's not how I read it - he was just stating the (true) fact - ALT-TAB doesn't cycle thru the tabs in Firefox, as it shouldn't.

            --woody
            CWButler
  • Re: Redmond RSS: Death knell to Atom? Birth of an 'open' era for Microsoft?

    [i]Microsoft has announced that it will, according to Kidd, "make the Simple List extension specification freely available under the Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution Deed"[/i]

    What good news! MS is doing something right for a change! This article, and the recent article about SPF (If I got it right, the author seemed to use Sender ID and SPF interchangeably) in two consecutive days!

    I know ... wait for the other shoe to drop. If it does I'll be very annoyed and unwilling to give the company any benefit of doubt. But let's wait and see.


    On a petty note:

    [i]...Firefox features like tabbed browsing ? a feature that I have turned off because you can't use Windows standard keystroke for switching between windows [ALT-TAB] for switching between FireFox tabs).[/i]

    You gotta be kidding me, right? Just use CTRL-TAB! ALT-TAB is for ... switching between *windows*.



    .
    none none
  • Zdnet trying too hard!

    Stupid story, stories, fables, lies, fud, ..........
    An_Axe_to_Grind
  • Again ZDNET! ?

    We thought that the readers have expressed their discontent with ZDNET reporting vapor ware.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaporware

    Longhorn is not scheduled to be released anytime soon, not even a year from now. And if it finally does, the majority of Enterprise are not going to need it. Most are still on Windows 2000 not even XP yet!
    It's pathetic that this site's reports is influenced by Microsoft because they [Microsoft] have paid ZDNET. Conflict of interest ring a bell?
    IT-sys
    • Yeah, almost as bad as stories of Linux on the desktop.

      Everyone knows that will never happen...
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Poor vendor loyalist

        It so happens that "non-ms" Desktop systems (Unix and Linux specifically) are gaining market share _on_the_desktop_, and ms is ___not__ (obviously if the other ones are gaining ;-).

        So your continued hatred of anything that's not your 'favorite' just derides your credibility on a daily basis, as this trend just continues on and on.

        Spend your energy in a way that might benefit you in life, instead of wasting time bad mouthing thatngs you obviously have little experience with. Otherwsie after you reach the age of 30 (or maybe 20) you'll look back and regret time poorly spent - I _promise_.
        kensys
    • a little over the top, wouldn't you say...

      not only was I specific about the technologies turning up in Longhorn, I was very specific in what Microsoft is saying would never make it into XP and how that could play to Microsoft's advantage. If you're suggesting that none of this should have been reported at all because the products aren't shipping yet, well, what do you think a news site is about? Talking about nothing but the past?
      dberlind
  • Reminds me of "Channels" in IE 4

    Yeah Microsoft really killed that idea but good. You can almost foresee what they'll do to RSS. Kill it and then not really support it. Microsoft needs to stick with what they seem to be sucessful at, that's being a monopoly with an operating system. Every time they branch out it justs kills another market segment for everyone including Microsoft.
    sokushi jonez
  • He would know that if he were using FF

    But sounds to me like he's not, and just saying (implying) that he his to appear nuetral, and a favoritst to "another" browser.
    kensys
  • just what we need, another hook into the OS for exploitation! it seems that

    M$ will never learn. they continue to take other's work and integrate it into the OS, thus flushing any possible comercial apps coming out. and the anti-monopoly panel just sits there. then they continue to build API hooks into the OS for web apps to exploit and take over the user experience. this point of allowing and rss feed to behave like a screen saver is just asking for trouble. we know how virus writers love to make their swill look like screen savers. now they'll have a feeding frenzy over this.

    if this is a view of things to come from M$, i don't want to have anything to do with it.

    yo.
    wessonjoe
  • Tone of debate

    Berlind didn't bring us stone tablets and claim he spoke for God. Take this for what it is - news and opinion. Take it with a grain of salt if you think Microsoft is the evil empire. Whether you agree or disagree, think it through; put aside the software theology and use what you can and ignore what seems to be useless. Either way, treat each other with some civility. Personal attacks detract from a healthy debate about facts and implications and make the discussions less valuable for the majority of readers.
    rob.meyer9
  • But no mention of OPML?

    Great Microsoft finally get RSS. Firefox live bookmarks will finally come to IE. The killer browser app is still not here yet. I want a bookmark manager to subscribe to news, audio, video podcasts, add my own notes. Onfolio got close but not close enough with 2.0 But this all reminds me of Push Technology, Microsoft Channels, Netscape Netcaster, Marimba and Screensavers. Like many old internet ideas there time has come again now that some of the bandwidth problems have been fixed?
    ssethi_z
  • But no mention of OPML?

    Great Microsoft finally get RSS. Firefox live bookmarks will finally come to IE. The killer browser app is still not here yet. I want a bookmark manager to subscribe to news, audio, video podcasts, add my own notes. Onfolio got close but not close enough with 2.0 But this all reminds me of Push Technology, Microsoft Channels, Netscape Netcaster, Marimba and Screensavers. Like many old internet ideas there time has come again now that some of the bandwidth problems have been fixed?

    But OPML is a great way to share lists and Dave winer is working on some change alerts to OPML lists and a recomendation feature i.e people who liked this type of RSS feed also subscribed to these other ones. Finally where does the meta "Cloud" tag fit into this Microsoft world. Technorati, Flickr, Del.ici.ous?
    ssethi_z