Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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6/26/2005
03:00 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
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RSS Feeds Beef Up Longhorn

It's a great idea. RSS processing may actually be something that belongs in the operating system. (As opposed to Web browsers and media players, which I'm still mad at Microsoft about.) If you use an RSS reader to you know how handy it can be to effortlessly collect information from blogs and Web sites. Microsoft says it's going to build an RSS reader into Longhorn, and add a special database and API

It's a great idea. RSS processing may actually be something that belongs in the operating system. (As opposed to Web browsers and media players, which I'm still mad at Microsoft about.) If you use an RSS reader to you know how handy it can be to effortlessly collect information from blogs and Web sites.

Microsoft says it's going to build an RSS reader into Longhorn, and add a special database and API to make RSS feeds available to desktop apps.

It is a really cool idea. By putting content in a known location in a known format, Microsoft is turning what you thought was only a blog-flogger into a sort of Everyman's Service-Oriented Architecture. Dave Winer, take a bow, because this one belongs to you -- although (*sigh*) I'm sure Bill Gates will get credit for it in the history books.

Web services uses XML to let one computer ask another computer for information and then understand the answer. The requests can be very specific, and the answers can any length, from a stock quote to an entire database. RSS uses the Web to move information from "publishers" (not just it's-all-about-me blog writers, but increasingly Web sites that distribute serious amounts of information) to "consumers" (all the blog readers, of course, as well as writers like me who use RSS feeds to extend their reach into the world).

Put them together and what do you get? You get machine-readable information that can be autonomically updated.

"Machine-readable" is obviously important. The advantage of Web services isn't that you can push an "Update" button and see updated prices for a list of stocks you own. You can do that on a Web site. The real advantage is that the app that calculates your net worth can recalculate with fresh data it pulls from somewhere else.

"Autonomic" means you don't have to think about it, it's self-regulating -- it just happens, like breathing. If there's new information, the app gets it. If there's not, it doesn't.

There is a little thorn in this rosy futurism, of course. All this RSS really requires a peer-to-peer network, and P2P-aware applications. If you want to participate in a merged calendar, for example, you have to publish your data, as well as consume data from others. Longhorn may make this possible, but you'll still need the application to manage it. And a server -- either your own or one you're renting space on -- to serve the data to consumers.

This is going to change the perception of P2P technology (for the better), and the business model for broadband Web access, which is currently built around you being either a publisher or a consumer, but not both. Cable and DSL broadband services don't typically assign you a unique, fixed IP address and their service agreement may even officially prohibit you from running a Web server on your broadband connection.

There's a couple of ways around this. One is already commonplace: upload your data to a shared server. Blog-hosting services, for example, let you use browser-based tools to post to their servers. (Apple works a variation on this with iDisk's public folder.) The other solution is less common, but is to use a service that provides dynamic DNS, like ZoneEdit or TZO.

There are still more than a few unknowns about all this. Microsoft says you'll need Internet Explorer 7 to use the new RSS features, but it hasn't said why, for example. Likewise there are major questions about security. Would this use of RSS be able to pass executable code, for instance? It might be very cool, but it might be very dangerous. Oh, and memo to companies that thought they might make money selling RSS reader software: You've been Microsoftened. Please shut the door on your way out of business.

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