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Sun to develop RSS technology

Sun Microsystems is beginning to forge a relationship with Really Simple Syndication or RDF Site Summary (RSS).

The company said it will develop RSS for internal communications within its company , as well as delivering external information among developers, customers and partners. It will also integrate a set of tools for its Java Desktop System and integrate the client experience.

RSS is an XML-based format, often called a feed, that describes content generated from a website generally in the form of news, headline syndication or any type of published content and links to the actual content are made available to other websites. After the publishing site creates an RSS file of its content, other websites may use the headline feed and the content can be read with a standard web browser or any specialised RSS viewer.

“There is a whole class of communications in particular that people use e-mail for that is more applicable to RSS…and a whole range of news or support items that are much better aggregated and delivered to the people who want to have access to them,” said John Fowler, software chief technology officer at Sun.

“We believe that when you think things are going to be good they are both sufficiently simple and sufficiently versatile to be used for different types of things,” said Tim Bray, technical director of Sun’s software group.

“We didn’t know all the things Java would be useful for and RSS will go through some of these evolutions as well. We are perfectly willing to do some exploration to see if we could really make this useful for people.”

Bray said he would like to have an RSS feed to his bank account, credit card and his stock market portfolio.

As the rise in blogging started to take off in recent years, it became inconvenient for people to surf through those messages in a traditional browser. So, RSS is an interesting alternative for users to aggregate the activities of blogs and read them at their own pleasure, Fowler added.

Developed in the late 1990s, RSS was used by Netscape to compete with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer channels, which could push data to users’ Windows 98 desktops.

Michael Gartenberg, vice-president and research director for the Personal Technology and Access and Custom Research groups at Jupiter Research, said the maturation of the RSS process is obvious, to the point that suppliers such as Sun and Microsoft are interested and recognise the significance of the file format. In this case, however, it is not those companies that are driving the standard.

“The fact that the major vendors are starting to get on board is really interesting, but this has really been a grassroots technology that has picked up a life of its own,” he said.

Fowler said Sun’s first few steps would be to develop a highly integrated set of tools for JDS and also get involved in driving open standards for RSS, something that Gartenberg said must happen.

“This technology is mature, what you’re having right now is a number of branches of the RSS community that are somewhat fragmenting,” Gartenberg said. “It’s important that all these groups get together and focus on one specification that works, because if they don’t, one of the larger vendors will come into the fray and set the standard.”

Right now there are several flavours of RSS such as Atom, Google’s blogger service, various versions of the original RSS standard, including a possible variant by Microsoft that might be compatible with Longhorn, Gartenberg said.

Recently Dave Winer, a co-author of the original RSS format, who said RSS is the newest thing that has been around for five years, proposed a merger with Atom. He is also urging developers to come up with a backwards-compatible format.

Sun’s Bray said the whole idea of syndication is what RSS and Atom are all about. “It’s time for us to stop being a cottage industry and start becoming a boring bureaucratic standard,” Bray added.

Allison Taylor writes for ITWorldCanada

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