This was a keynote talk given by Dean Hachamovitch and Amar Gandhi that revealed the the RSS platform that will exist in Longhorn, the level of RSS support in Internet Explorer 7 as well as showed some RSS extensions that Microsoft is proposing.

Dean started by talking about Microsoft's history with syndication. In 1997, there was Active Desktop and channels in IE 4.0 & IE 5.0 which wasn't really successful. We retreated from the world of syndication for a while after that. Then In 2002, Don Box starts blogging on GotDotNet. In 2003, we hired Robert Scoble. In 2004, Channel 9 was launched. Today we have RSS feeds coming out of lots of places from Microsoft. This includes the various feeds on the 14 15 million blogs on MSN Spaces, the 1500 employee blogs on and, 100s of feeds on the Microsoft website and even MSN Search which provides RSS feeds for search results.

Using XML syndication is an evolution in the way people interact with content on the web. The first phase was browsing the Web for content using a web browser. Then came searching the Web for content using search engines. And now we have subscribing content using aggregators. Each step hasn't replaced the latter but instead has enhanced user experience while using the Web.  In Longhorn, Microsoft is betting big on RSS both for end users and for developers in three key ways

  1. Throughout Windows various experiences will be RSS-enabled and will be easy for end users to consume
  2. An RSS platform will be provided that makes it easy for developers to RSS-enable various scenarios and applications
  3. Increasing the number of scenarios that RSS handles by proposing extensions

Amar then demoed the RSS integration in Internet Explorer 7. Whenever Internet Explorer encounters an RSS feed, a button in the browser chrome lights up which indicates that a feed is available. Clicking on the button shows a user friendly version of the feed that provides rich search, filtering and sorting capabilities. The user can then hit a '+' button and subscribe to the feed. Amar then navigated to and searched for "Gnomedex 5.0". Once he got to the search results, the RSS button lit up and he subscribed to the search results. This shows how one possible workflow for keeping abreast of news of interest using the RSS capabilities of Internet Explorer 7 and MSN Search.

At this point Amar segued to talk about the Common RSS Feed List. This is a central list of feeds that a user is subscribed to that is accessible to all applications not just Internet Explorer 7. Amar then showed a demo of an altered version of RSS Bandit which used the Common RSS Feed List and could pick up both feeds he'd subscribed to during the previous demo in Internet Explorer 7. I got a shout out from Amar at this point and some applause from the audience for helping with the demo. :)

Dean then started to talk about the power of the enclosure element in RSS 2.0. What is great about it is that it enables one to syndicate all sorts of digital content. One can syndicate  video, music, calendar events, contacts, photos and so on using RSS due to the flexibility of enclosures.

Amar then showed a demo using Outlook 2003 and an RSS feed of the Gnomedex schedule he had created. The RSS feed had an item for each event on the schedule and each item had an iCalendar file as an enclosure. Amar had written a 200 line C# program that subscribed to this feed then inserted the events into his Outlook calendar so he could overlay his personal schedule with the Gnomedex schedule. The point of this demo was to show that RSS isn't just for aggregators subscribing to blogs and news sites.

Finally, Dean talked about syndicating lists of content. Today lots of people syndicate Top 10 lists, ToDo lists, music playlists and so on. However RSS is limited in how it can describe the semantics of a rotating list. Specifically the user experience when the list changes such as when a song in a top 10 list leaves the list or moves to another position is pretty bad. I discussed this very issue in a blog post from a few months ago entitled The Netflix Problem: Syndicating Ordered Lists in RSS.

Microsoft has proposed some extensions to RSS 2.0 that allows RSS readers deal with ordered lists better. A demo was shown that used data from the Amazon Web Services to create an RSS feed of an Amazon wish list (the data was converted to RSS feeds with the help of Jeff Barr). The RSS extensions provided information that enabled the demo application to know which fields to use for sorting and/or grouping the items in the wish list feed.

The Microsoft Simple List Extensions Specification is available on MSDN. In the spirit of the RSS 2.0 specification, the specification is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (version 2.5)

A video was then shown of Lawrence Lessig where he commended Microsoft for using a Creative Commons license.

The following is a paraphrasing of the question & answer session after their talk

Q: What syndication formats are supported?
A: The primary flavors of RSS such as RSS 0.91, RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 as well as the most recent version of Atom.

Q: How granular is the common feed list?
A: The Longhorn RSS object model models all the data within the RSS specification including some additional metadata. However it is fairly simple with 3 primary classes.

Q: Will Internet Explorer 7 support podcasting?
A: The RSS platform in Longhorn will support downloading enclosures.

Q: What is the community process for working on the specifications?
A: An email address for providing feedback will be posted on the IE Blog. Robert Scoble also plans to create a wiki page on Channel 9.  

Q: What parts of the presentation are in IE 7 (and thus will show up in Windows XP) and what parts are in Longhorn?
A: The RSS features of Internet Explorer 7 such as autodiscovery and the Common RSS Feed List will work in Windows XP. It is unclear whether other pieces such as the RSS Platform Sync Engine will make it to Windows XP.

Q: What are other Microsoft products such as Windows Media Player doing to take advantage of the RSS platform?
A: The RSS platform team is having conversation with other teams at Microsoft to see how they can take advantage of the platform.