One of the cools things developers can do with RSS is apply a CSS or XSL skin so that users see a nice explanation and formatting of the feed rather than a bunch of XML. Feedburner’s XSL skin is probably one of the most popular ones out there. Here is the TechCrunch version. For the technically inclined, here’s a nice tutorial on dressing up RSS with XSL.
Anyway, I was playing around with Internet Explorer 7 Beta and noticed that any reference to an external XSL or CSS (for example Feedburner’s) is summarily ignored. Instead, IE7 applies its own built-in skin for viewing the feed.
Here’s the view that most browsers would see today followed by a view of the same feed in IE7.
Now, you can make a fairly compelling argument that what Microsoft is doing is a good thing. Providing a simple consistent way to educate and inform users about RSS is a positive step. However, the potential of RSS and the competitive advantage Microsoft will inevitably have with Vista and IE7, this may very well result in a hijacking of a technology that to date has flourished in large part due to its platform indendence.
RSS is capable of doing a hell of a lot more than just delivering headlines and news feeds. It is an incredibly powerful platform that Microsoft is very committed to. While my gripe may seem trivial today, as Microsoft evangelizes more specialized uses of RSS, the gravity of this important step will resonate later.
In the IE7 feed view, there is some explanatory text up top. I think the link to the word “feed” in the instructional text says a lot:
You are viewing a feed that contains frequently updated content from a website.
Despite its proliferation amongst technophiles, RSS is still unknown to the great majority of the world. They will be introduced to RSS for the very first time by Microsoft. And they will perceive RSS as a Microsoft product that is part and parcel of their browser and operating system. As to whether this is a good or bad thing is for another blog post (or two). Good or bad, few would dispute that this will be an inevitable consequence of Microsoft’s plans for RSS.