Scott Hanselman

Outlook 2007 Beta introduces its own Feed URL Protocol. Ew.

October 29, 2006 Comment on this post [19] Posted in Reviews | Tools | XML
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(This discussion refers to Outlook 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh)

I'm really not sure how I feel about this.

There was a big discussion about if the feed:// protocol was needed. Personally I've always said I think it IS needed while the RSS Team at Microsoft disagrees.

However, I just noticed that not only does Outlook store it's RSS in the PST (and syncs with the Common Feed Store, which we already knew), but it also registers two new "Protocol Handlers" explicitly for handling RSS feeds - they are OUTLOOKFEED:// and OUTLOOKFEEDS:// with the latter including an "S" for secure feeds.

This doesn't seem exactly fair or consistent. I understand that an enterprise, especially one using SharePoint would want to have folks subscribe to a feed directly into Outlook. However, not only is Outlook creating these new pseudo-protocols that are Outlook-specific, it's also taking over FEED:// as well. We'll see if there's changes in the next RC. 

That doesn't seem fair. What if RssBandit started using RSSBANDITFEED://? Of course, any of these aggregators can try to take over OUTLOOKFEED://, although Outlook will likely bork. However, it's the very existence of this custom psuedoprotocol that I find offensive, it doesn't matter it can probably be disabled.

ASIDE: For some reason FeedDemon always warns me that it isn't the default feed reader (i.e. it's not associated with the feed:// protocol, and even though I want it to be the default aggregator, it keeps prompting. This might be a Vista-specific administrative thing, but I suspect Outlook is taking over feed:// also.

You can test these various protocols on your machine by trying each of the following links:

Also, right now, if you click an RSS Feed while running FeedDemon (just using FeedDemon as an example application that eats RSS but also hosts IE7) then IE7 tries to subscribe using the RSS Platform and the Common Feed Store, when really FeedDemon should be getting the subscription request. I know that Nick @ FeedDemon will eventually fix this with some cleverness, but should he really have to? 

I'm just unclear on the usefulness thus far of the Common Feed Store. I like the API (inside msfeeds.dll and a few other places that you'll get quietly when you get IE7), even though it's COM-based, and I like that it handles the retrieval and the parsing/canonicalization of the various feed formats. However, it's unclear how I am to administer it effectively. IE7's interface is a little week if you have 400 feeds. There's no shift-select-delete support in either IE or in Outlook 2007 so I can't remove the hundreds of duplicate feeds that have appeared in the last few weeks. I've found the sync'ing solution from NewsGator to be a decent start - as an idea - but the implementation is NOT working well as it's incredibly slow and 10% of my feeds just don't sync.

Rather than blaming NewsGator or Microsoft, I'm forced to ask, is it really this hard to keep my Feeds and Read Status sync'ed between a few computers and a few applications? Apparently it's wicked hard...this leads me to wonder if ONLINE feed reading is where its at.

Apparently my readership thinks so. At least half of you are using online aggregators (or NewsGator sync'ed aggregators which includes NewsGator proper as well as FeedDemon when you're sync'ing feeds).

What do you think? Do you read your feeds online?

Do you like the one-click convenience of FEED://, or do you prefer either using FireFox's clever Feed Reader Chooser, or are you a Right Click|Copy URL|Alt-Tab|Subscribe|Paste|OK type?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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October 29, 2006 4:13
Personally I've never used the offline RSS readers. I got my start reading RSS feeds using Newsgator Online and I've never gone back. Gives me everything I need plus the convenience of being able to "catch up" from any computer (work, home, relatives houses, etc).
October 29, 2006 4:44
Hi, Scott.
I'm having same troubles feed syncs troubles as you. When I first start intensively to read feeds my app was SharpReader. But soon turns out that it is not optimized for a high number of feeds. Then I tried FeedDeamon and Omea Reader and switched to the second, because it is free. However when IE7 beta 1 came out see the benefits of the Windows Rss Platform and start using it on my home PC. The reading experience is not great. Their vision is that it must be as close as normal web page (so all users will be happy with this geeky term RSS). Also the management of the feeds is poor, very poor. So why I’m using the Windows Rss Platform? Because I’m sure some day there will be cool WPF (maybe Max) app that will be integrated with the platform. But there is still one problem present. How to sync the data between PC? This is still a problem for me and my vision is that the best will be some service/tray app that will sync the common feed list with on-line aggregator – Bloglines or Google reader. I’d prefer Google reader UI, but their API is still not officially announced. The best will be if MS release some online reader (MSReadr or Live Reader or someothername). So as a conclusion we need 2 apps (or 1 that got both functionalities) one with cool UI for reading and managing the common feed list and one for syncing with on-line reader store.
What do you think? Should we start DasReader? :)
October 29, 2006 4:57
First, I wish MS would get its act together with a unified strategy on RSS. The different tunes from different groups is not surprising at all, and is kind of tiring to hear it over and over.

I started using the google reader ( I didn't like it at first, but now it is what I primarily use. I hop between several computers all day (and one is linux), so its pretty much my only choice. I like the keyboard shortcuts they have built in.
October 29, 2006 5:02
I read online (Bloglines) only. The hassle of keeping one newsgroup synched between multiple computers is enough -- no way could I manage 164 feeds with multiple computers and offline readers.

Bloglines has been ideal for me, except for a one-month period when it became unable to see any feeds from a huge group of very active blogs. That was not a fun time...I tried every other online reader I could find, but wasn't happy with them. Glad they fixed that!
October 29, 2006 6:55
I'm torn between the online/offline reader experience. I've also been struggling with a good reader and still haven't made the decision there yet. FeedDaemon is good, but I balk at paying for something to read free information. Still, it's a good product and does a good job. I'm currently using Omea Reader as I think the JetBrains guys know how to write software. Omea has some nice features like support for newsgroups and notifications. Plus it's not too much of a memory or resource hog, which RSS Bandit was and I think the guys who wrote it are on a slipperly slope with the UI (using a donated copy of a commercial UI library for an open source project). Anyways, this isn't about readers but I thought I would rant while I had the byte-space.

For a long time I was the offline guy, using Newsgator. Worked great because it knew what articles I had read so if I was at work where I don't have network connectivity on my laptop, I could use the corporate desktop and read my feeds. With FeedDaemon syncing with Newsgator I guess that's the best of both worlds.

The problem I have with online readers is that I'm a packrat. I have tons of feeds snipped and stored away for that rainy day. Whether it's a snippet of code from you, or a best practice from ScottGu, it's there in my reader just a search away. That to me is key as my brain only holds so much information and while the storage space goes up on my computer, me noggins space continues to dwindle with age. With an online system, I'm bound to what storage they have. The other issue is that sometimes (like at an airport) I don't have network access so I'm stuck working on the laptop with no feeds (and we all know we really can't get much done at an airport or on the plane).

So as I work through this, maybe I've already found the sweet spot for me. Hunker down and buy FeedDaemon and have the best of both worlds, local storage for feeds with the client and online sync with Newsgator (if that's how the system works, I can't remember now). I do find that Newsgator/FD doesn't always sync correctly so I sometimes miss stuff but nobody is perfect. As for lack of connectivity, I have to live with it. I'm not traveling as much as you so can't justify a wifi-cell based device.

Getting back to this post though, I don't think it's fair or even sane to have YAFP[1] out there. I think there should be one feed: protocol and the user decides what tool will launch when it's clicked. After all, we don't have an ie:http and firefox:http, so why should we have one for Outlook? Why can't we all get along and just use a standard.
October 29, 2006 7:33
I use FireFox's "live bookmarks" feature to get my feeds mostly. I've tried just about every standalone reader, and a few online ones, but I always come back to FireFox (though I guess I do use Google Homepage as a secondary reader). Not sure I can articulate why, except that I just like having it all in one app.
October 29, 2006 9:50
At this point, my biggest issues seems to be keeping feeds OUT of the common feed store. Not that it really makes a difference, I suppose, but I hate clutter. With Newsgator/Feed Demon, I either add feeds from within Feed Demon or right click in IE and add to Newsgator Online (I think this is some kind of addin, I forget). For reading, I've found Newsgator to be terribly slow compared to Feed Demon, as I'm up to some 450+ feeds. Synching is fairly fast though (although quite a bit slower in the new Feed Demon beta - go figure). I'm not on the go much, but for the times I do need to get at feeds from afar, it's very nice to have that functionality.

I am using IE7, have been for a while, and I've honestly tried to use it for feeds, but the features just aren't there. I like the "semi-rich" look and feel from Feed Demon, afraid I can't go back to reading from within Outlook (or IE, or Windows Live Mail Desktop).

I also see no reason for proprietary protocol extensions. It seems pretty easy to me; one feed store (in the cloud, hopefully), accessed by any and all programs that want to use it, synced upon request to any of them. I thought this was supposed to be Really Simple?

ps your MVP logo is hopelessly outdated ;)
October 29, 2006 22:33
I resisted bloglines and online readers for a long time. I've never like web mail very much, and it felt like I was doing the same thing. But as the number of computers I use has increased (as well as platforms), I've realized the beauty of it all. So I'm bloglines all the way. It doesn't completely fit my style of reading but it's still pretty useable. It's still better than the others I have tried.
October 30, 2006 1:45
I switched to on-line (Google Reader) reader just the previous week. The reason was reading RSS feeds on different computers (3 in my case).

October 30, 2006 7:32
The thing I like about the google reader is how I have it setup. I have only unread items and feeds shown. I can leave a firefox tab on the reader and do other stuff. When feeds are updated, the tab title changes from Google Reader to Google Reader (X), which shows how many unread items ther are. I can then hit 'g' then 'a', which shows all the items (all unread in this case) and I can hit 'j' and 'k' to page through the items. I can hit 's' to 'star' (mark) things to go back and read later or save for reference.

Its like Coderush for RSS :)
October 30, 2006 13:50
Well I know how I feel about it. I think it's a *really* bad idea to have OUTLOOKFEED:// and OUTLOOKFEEDS:// This kind of behavior worked in the days when the desktop was all that mattered. But it they don't start figuring out that the web requires interoperability more than probably anything else this kind of behavior is going to be their eventual downfall. And you know from my prior twelve plus (12+) years of selling components and tools to Microsoft-centric developers that I'm no Microsoft bashing Linux zealot.
October 30, 2006 13:58
Oh, and another unrelated thing; are you aware that your blog won't print correctly? Not on Firefox 2.0 or IE6 (haven't installed IE7 yet, but I doubt it would be different.) It truncates some number of characters on the right side of the page.

Can I get you to consider updating your stylesheet and adding a print style? Not only would it be helpful if you could use a fluid layout for the printer so it will wrap correctly, it would be nice if you could get it to print only the content and omit printing your sidebar menus.

Lots of the WordPress blogs are doing that these days and they print beautifully.
October 30, 2006 17:11
Yes, online readers are the way to go ... especially if you want the freedom of reading news whenever you're in front of a PC, regardless of where or whose PC is it.

October 31, 2006 2:47
I suppose a small percentage of people only ever read feeds on one computer, but I certainly don't.... I tried an offline reader for a short time and quickly grew frustrated that I was locked into reading only on that machine. Syncing sucks, and is not always practical.... I started using Bloglines and hated the interface, then I discovered NewGator online and I've never looked back.... Good interface, available everywhere....

October 31, 2006 4:12
Scott, is the OUTLOOKFEED psuedoprotocol something you think Microsoft will use on external sites? It strikes me as something an Outlook developer came up with for use solely within Outlook (although your Sharepoint example also makes sense). If this is the case, then it doesn't strike me as a big deal.
October 31, 2006 13:03
I'm using the Common Feed Store thought I hate the IE7 reader. I coded my own replacement; it was quick and fun to do. Links:

RSS in IE7: not too good
Reading the IE7 common feed list

October 31, 2006 22:03
I have been using an online reader for about 6 months now, and it's netvibes. I started out with FF live bookmarks, when the number of feeds I read outgrew it I moved to RSS Bandit. I really love the Bandit, but syncing with multiple computers was teh suck, so I moved online.

Netvibes keeps adding new features all the time, has a community and widgets (I use a few). I might move to Google Reader now that they have gotten their sh!t together because I want to be able to search through stuff I've read. I miss that from RSS Bandit.

I agree with you Scott on the protocol thing. Microsoft clearly does not have a focused path for RSS. This is evident in that both Windows Media Player 11 and the Zune software do not support subcribing to podcasts, something you should obviously care about.

November 01, 2006 20:38
Hi Scott. Would the term "URL Scheme" be more precise than protocol/pseudoprotocol? Then I think your concerns fit well within existing frameworks.
For example, the IETF's BCP 35/rfc2717 describes registration proceedures for URL schemes. Microsoft participated in the creation of this RFC. Do its provisions deal with your concerns well?
November 04, 2006 5:25
I stick with Newsgator Inbox (Outlook). I tried and abhor reading posts online and much prefer reading it in Outlook. It allows my desktop searching to include what I've read. I keep separate subscriptions for home/work so synchronizing hasn't been an issue. I attempted it with NG Online but it botched my subscription setup so bad I turned it off - absolutely horrible experience which almost made me abandon NG altogether.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.