updated 6/24/2005 7:38:30 PM ET 2005-06-24T23:38:30

Microsoft Corp. said Friday that the next version of its Windows operating system will have built-in support for Internet data feeds, an increasingly popular way to get news and other information channeled straight to a computer.

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, hasn't broken into widespread use yet, but the world's largest software maker believes it will become a mainstay.

"We really believe that RSS is key to how people will be using the Internet in the future," said Megan Kidd, a Windows product manager. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

In the long-delayed Windows upgrade, code-named Longhorn and expected to be released late next year, an RSS icon will appear in the Internet Explorer Web browser to make it easy for people to find, much like Apple Computer Inc. has done with its Safari browser.

Longhorn will store all data downloaded to a computer via RSS in a single place. It will maintain a central list of all of a computer user's RSS subscriptions, from Web log entries to photos pulled from an online family picture gallery.

It will include a feature called simple list extensions that will let Web sites use RSS to publish lists of content that users can subscribe to, like a weekly run-down of chart-topping songs or an online gift registry.

Microsoft will make the list extensions technology available for free through a "creative commons" license, which lets the company retain some intellectual property rights while encouraging broader use of the technology.

Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said Microsoft's foray into RSS is reminiscent of its rush to capture its share of the burgeoning Web browser market in the mid-1990s.

"With the World Wide Web, we had this vast informational system that came along where Windows was not required," Wilcox said. "That posed a potentially serious threat to Microsoft's Windows franchise. They responded by making Internet Explorer part of the operating system."

Microsoft may argue that its RSS push is about improving technology for developers, content providers and consumers, Wilcox said, but "it's also, I believe, responding to a potential competitive threat."

Having RSS built into Longhorn could pose a serious threat to companies that sell RSS readers that siphon data from the Internet. But Kidd contends that Microsoft isn't out to put anyone out of business.

"This is not a replacement for readers by any means," she said. "What this does is enable more developers to create more readers."

Kidd said Microsoft has done a lot of the "heavy lifting" so software developers can focus on creating useful applications for RSS rather than the "baseline plumping" of the feeds themselves. For example, Microsoft is hoping developers will come up with handy programs like ones that will send a user's favorite band's tour schedule straight into a desktop calendar, or let a user know when a favorite movie comes out on video.

Wilcox cited research that shows about 6 percent of consumers have an RSS reader on their computers, which makes him wonder if this move is going to be worth Microsoft's while.

"On the one hand, I can see some validity to what Microsoft is envisioning," he said. "On the other hand, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that RSS has to be a platform technology."

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