For the past few weeks, I've promised to talk about the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) format. On the surface, RSS might not seem to have much to do with Exchange Server, but by using RSS, you can get more and better information--including information about Exchange and related technologies--faster than you can by using many other methods. And the potential for using RSS with Exchange and various Microsoft Office System 2003 components is nothing short of breathtaking.

RSS is an XML-based format for describing a Web site's published content. You can find several variants of the RSS specification (as well as a competing specification called Atom), but all these variants work in basically the same way: You use an RSS index of a site's content to automatically sort and retrieve that content. You choose which type of content to retrieve and when. For example, the Web site kbAlertz.com ( http://www.kbalertz.com ) offers RSS feeds that deliver notification of new Microsoft Knowledge Base articles relating to various technologies. You choose which topics you're interested in, and if Microsoft publishes new articles about the topic, you'll receive an RSS feed that lists those articles. To make RSS content legible to humans, you need to use a program called an "aggregator." Examples include the popular NewsGator (which puts RSS items into Outlook folders so that you can use Outlook tools such as Search Folders and Flags to find and categorize information you care about); Scopeware NewsWatcher; the free, Web-based Bloglines service; the free-for-personal-use intraVnews (which also uses Outlook to aggregate RSS content); and the free RSS Bandit. A good aggregator translates RSS feeds into headlines that clearly indicate the content you're getting.

Which kinds of content are available with RSS, you ask? There's an amazing variety of stuff, much of which is pertinent to Exchange. For example, Windows & .NET Magazine produces RSS feeds that deliver indices of articles about Exchange, security, and several other topics (see http://www.winnetmag.com/rss for a full list). The BBC, "The New York Times," "USA Today," and Yahoo! all offer extensive news-related RSS feeds. Even more exciting feeds are those that index individual weblogs (aka blogs). For example, several members of the Microsoft Exchange team maintain a group blog called "You Had Me at EHLO" ( http://blogs.msdn.com/exchange ) about various aspects of Exchange. A group called TechEd Bloggers has a site dedicated to aggregating posts that relate to the upcoming Microsoft TechEd 2004 conference in San Diego ( http://techedbloggers.com ). I maintain a blog about Exchange topics ( http://e2ksecurity.com ), as do several Exchange Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) who work as a team to post the "MS Exchange Blog" ( http://hellomate.typepad.com/exchange ). Microsoft already maintains RSS feeds of popular downloads and security patches, and I expect that over time, the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet sites will offer more feeds as RSS catches on within Microsoft.

Several aggregators already work with Outlook, and both Outlook and Microsoft Office OneNote have great potential as blogging tools. Imagine being able to take your OneNote notes from a meeting and, with a single click, transform them into a set of headlines (with attached content) that you can post internally through Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server. (Speaking of SharePoint Portal Server, Sig Weber's Web site, http://playground.doesntexist.org, offers SharePoint code that you can use to generate RSS feeds from SharePoint sites and to display RSS in a web part.)

In case you can't tell, I'm excited about RSS's potential and I expect we'll soon see more RSS support from Microsoft. If you aren't already using RSS, I encourage you to check out the technology. Let me know what you think.