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So why is Microsoft doing this? "We are betting big on RSS and creating support for it throughout Longhorn. We believe that RSS is so powerful that it needs to be in places other than RSS readers and browsers," Gary Schare, director of Strategic Product Management in the Windows division, told eWeek magazine.

But how big a change of direction is this for Microsoft and Longhorn, if any? Actually, none. Despite everything you've read, Longhorn remains largely an unknown. At Jupiter Research's Microsoft Monitor, Kieran Kelly comments that "the Longhorn user interface appears to be in a state of makeover... Microsoft has chucked a bunch of Longhorn features, making it hard for some folks to discern what difference the new Windows will have from XP. RSS as a platform gives Microsoft something concrete and positive to talk about Longhorn and at the right time, because developers and content providers need to know as soon as possible about RSS capabilities."

In other words, the RSS announcement is a convenient part of the shell game while yet more of the pre-announced Longhorn goes overboard. It's also taken the opportunity to swipe at Google by ignoring Atom in favour of RSS, despite Atom's benefits (such as its use of a namespace). But Atom has technical drawbacks, most particularly its beta-ness. For Microsoft, it's much easier to go with something that's fixed. RSS 2.0 may not be an IETF standard, but it's a marketplace standard, and that's good enough.

What though about those Simple List Extensions that Microsoft has put under a Creative Commons licence? Is it part of EEE, or just Redmond being - gasp - nice? Sure, Bill and Steve could run off into the sunset, adding extensions all over the place, and totally Softing it all up.

But here's the difference from previous embracing maneouvres: RSS is just some XML. Anyone can back-hack it. So it's not like an Office file format. Also, Microsoft doesn't control the supply or the demand.

True, this same argument could have been applied to HTML back when the browser wars were kicking off, and look how that turned out. The key difference though is that Internet Explorer interpreted existing HTML and CSS in its own weird way, and because it came on every Windows machine, yet wasn't open-sourced, nobody could work out what it was doing. But there won't be a closed RSS reader in Longhorn. Apart from Internet Explorer 7, of course. Ummm..

The other question, of course, is whether Microsoft has learned the lessons of tight integration with the OS that IE turned up - those delights such as self-loading Trojans, spyware and adware.

"RSS in the operating system and IE likely means that more people will be saying 'let's start looking for vulnerabilities,'" said Joe Pescatore, the Gartner research director.

Indeed, RSS is pretty indifferent to what it carries as an 'enclosure'. MP3? Fine. Executable file? Sure, why not? (Thus "appcasts" to update your installed applications; just imagine a "pull" RSS for your spyware. Yum.) The security question might seem remote right now, but so did it before IE was incorporated into Windows. And we all know how that turned out. ®

Related stories

Black is white in Longhorn compatibility land
Now Microsoft 'decouples' Longhorn from .NET
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