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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Microsoft makes web feeds easier
By Jo Twist
BBC News technology reporter, Seattle

Woman using a laptop in a cafe
People like to get information when they want and wherever they are
Microsoft's next version of its browser, Internet Explorer 7, will make it easier for people to keep automatically aware of website updates.

IE7 will have an orange button on the toolbar which will light up when it detects a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed on a site.

Users can click on a "plus" button to subscribe to the site's feed, as they would with a bookmark.

The new browser is due to be released this summer.

It had its public debut at the Gnomedex technology conference in the US city of Seattle on Friday.

'Smarter feeds'

The open-source browser, Mozilla Firefox, already lets web users subscribe to feeds of websites they read regularly, such as weblogs and news sites.

The move is part of wider plans Microsoft has to integrate RSS formats throughout its latest version of Windows - Longhorn - which it sees as a major step forward.

"We are making sure that throughout Windows the experiences for users are easy," said Dean Hachomovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team.

When I subscribe I can say what is interesting to me, the machine can do the work, and I can enjoy the fruits of its labour
Dean Hachomovitch

"We want RSS everywhere. I want it in more than just the browser and aggregators. We want to help RSS get even bigger and better than today."

Longhorn is expected to be released in December 2006, but a preview, or beta, could be out in the summer.

The move will make RSS clearer and easier to understand for non-technical people, across all kinds of applications, not just web browsing.

If users want to subscribe to a particular feed, they will be shown a searchable preview of the page, with no confusing bits of code on display.

Microsoft also said it had created some new extensions to the RSS format, which will be available for content publishers to use under the Creative Commons licence.

These will make feeds "smarter" and more effective at displaying different kinds of information, such as constantly updating news sites, or book wish lists.

Changing habits

Weblogs and global news sites are making much more use of RSS, and net users are becoming increasingly aware of the technology as small orange icons carrying RSS/XML text appear on sites.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates' Microsoft is having to face up to browser competition

BBC News and Sport have made their content available for online news reader programs via RSS since 2003.

Using "aggregators" - programs which automatically collect and organise website feeds - web users can stay up-to-date with site changes without having to search them out manually.

There is a plethora of free aggregator or news reader programs available online.

Browsing the web in this way has been described as similar to Japanese sushi belt restaurants. People can pick and choose which items they want to consume as they go past them.

'Getting it'

The technology also makes it easier for people to find and sort through what they want to get to on the web.

Mr Hachamovitch said that Microsoft was starting to "get it" when it came to RSS.

"Feeds are everywhere," he said.

"We are not done with search. There are still a lot of people doing great innovative stuff with search.

"But there is this other thing called 'subscribe'. It is not just a feature, it is a new approach."

"When I subscribe I can say what is interesting to me, the machine can do the work, and I can enjoy the fruits of its labour."

Being able to subscribe to all kinds of content - audio, visual, as well as text - is powerful, he added.

"It affects your web consumption habits. We believe in 'subscribe' very deeply. There is a lot of power and richness there."

Microsoft's announcement comes at a time when the browser wars are hotting up once more.

Mozilla's Firefox browser has steadily been gnawing away at IE's market dominance. Many like its features and increased security.

Because it is open source, people are free to adapt the software's core code to create other innovative features, such as add-ons, RSS news feed readers, or extensions to the program.

It recently celebrated its 50 millionth download since its official launch in November.

For its part, Apple updated its Safari browser in April so that RSS feeds can be read within the browser window.

The Gnomedex conference runs from 23 June to 25 June and is a gathering for key players in new media.

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