Microsoft gives RSS a big bear hug

Bump this up to milestone from the level of "me-too" on the scale of adoption.

We reckoned Microsoft at the PDC 05 here in LA this week would show off an RSS aggregating capability in IE 7. This, when the browser update emerges in about a year with the GA of Windows Vista, would make RSS feeds easily and nearly ubiquitously available to the masses the world over. It would catch up to Firefox, Opera, and Safari, not to mention all the available standalone readers. This was good.

But, man, I was not prepared for the deep, nay pervasive, use of RSS across the Microsoft palette of pending products. Indeed, Chairman and Chief Architect Bill Gates in his keynote presentation Tuesday described standardized and open subscription as the next major stop on the continuum of digital relationships. Bump this up to platform milestone from the level of "me-too" application feature on the scale of adoption.

Microsoft is using RSS 2.0 as a major conduit of myriad content -- including business-to-business applications interactions -- inside, across, and for wide area import/export of feeds throughout its software systems. Remember the digital nervous system? Well, RSS just became a new variety of spine. Very cool. This is near and dear to my heart.

According to Microsoft, in IE 7, expect powerful auto discovery of feeds, with a graphical, orderly and indexed view of the feeds available and/or in use as subscriptions. Businesses will be quickly able to use RSS to link their cross-organizational activities -- first for informational purposes, but quickly elevating, I forecast, to process-level and potentially workflow efficiencies. There will be RSS feeds in tools, in business apps, within the platform, and as an adjunct to the Windows Communications Foundation. Expect its use across media types. RSS will also pick up where OLE left off long ago when it comes to parlaying information in automated and sequential distribution among and between XML-rich Office applications.

This may not be as momentous as when Gates shocked the world in December 1995 when he lurched the good ship Microsoft toward the Internet. It may not be as surprising as when he made pigs fly with his licensing of Java not long afterward. But Microsoft's pervasive embrace of RSS as not just a technology but as a paradigm is nonetheless a significant development in the evolution of PC technology.

The capitalization on RSS as a productivity catalyst by users and business is just beginning. Microsoft is assuring that this is a fait accompli. Now is the time for creative experimentation and innovative thought leadership about how these RSS capabilities can improve knowledge flow and spur a more connected, collaborative, and communal world.

Obviously, I commend Microsoft's embrace and extension of RSS. But my cynical gene is tingling a tad, too. I find it not just a little ironic that RSS is being used by Microsoft to sidestep the use of Internet protocols to connect users, content, applications, tools, and platforms. RSS is now a pillar of Microsoft's strategy to make loosely coupled client/server the preferred architecture to Web-based thin client computing.