One of my favorite things about IT conferences such as Exchange Connections is going to the exhibit floor to talk to vendors and see their products. Sometimes large vendors such as HP and Symantec have interesting things to say (such as Symantec's announcement of a new version and pricing strategy of its Exchange Server security products), but the real goodies are usually found in the booths of smaller vendors. These vendors tend to be more enthusiastic about their products and more engaging when discussing them. One of the interesting things I came across while chatting with vendors at Exchange Connections was Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
You might wonder what RSS has to do with Exchange. Over the past year, I've mentioned RSS a few times, but it has always been as a client-side technology that enables individual users to find the information sources they want and display them in a Web browser or a rich client such as Outlook. However, client-side RSS usage has some problems:
- You need to install an RSS client on each desktop. This is a barrier for organizations that are trying to reduce the number of desktop touches. It also encourages end users to install and manage their own software, a practice that many firms are trying to discourage.
- Users make duplicate requests. If you have 500 users, and 200 of them are making hourly requests for the latest content for a particular RSS feed, you're using excess bandwidth to repeatedly pull the same data. (The owners of the servers providing the RSS feed might take issue with getting a large number of requests from your organization, which is why high-traffic sites often include a throttling feature that will block requests from IP addresses that are making requests too often.)
- Users are left on their own to find the information sources they need. This is an advantage insofar as it lets users make their own choices, but it makes it difficult to effectively share and consolidate useful information.
NewsGator Technologies has been making client-side aggregators for several years, and its NewsGator for Outlook plug-in is my primary aggregator. I run it in a virtual machine (VM) to let it collect RSS data that is then published to a tree of folders in my Exchange mailbox. As a result, I can access it through Outlook Web Access (OWA), Outlook, Microsoft Entourage, or even an IMAP client. This product addresses the first two problems I mention above, but it doesn't do anything about the third, and it doesn't scale well.
A new product that NewsGator is showing on the expo floor is NewsGator Enterprise Server (NGES). This product effectively addresses all three problems by collecting and consolidating feed data in a centralized Microsoft SQL Server database, then publishing it to users' mailboxes through WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV). Doing so eliminates the need to license or install individual client plug-ins, and it makes the collected RSS data available to any client that can access an Exchange mailbox through IMAP, WebDAV, or Messaging API (MAPI).
This functionality in itself is useful, but NewsGator architect Lane Mohler showed me two other features that surprised me. First, NGES lets you specify default feed sets for individual mailboxes or for sets of mailboxes that Active Directory (AD) groups or organizational units (OUs) define. For example, you can define a default set of feeds for users in your sales organization, and those feeds automatically appear in those users' mailboxes. New employees can automatically access whatever content you've identified as most valuable for someone in their position. This eliminates the problem of helping new users find the right set of resources when starting a new task or position.
Second, the new clippings feature addresses the problem of sharing relevant information by allowing any user to select an individual article and add it to their clipping set, to which other users can subscribe. I think of this like a librarian-in-a-box. Say you have someone in your company whose job is to find articles about the company or its competitors and share those articles with appropriate groups. This person probably does this by mailing URLs or articles to people, but the same task is more easily accomplished by using clippings; as the librarian finds relevant articles, he or she can add them as clippings that are then automatically published to the appropriate users and groups.
What really gets me excited about NGES's potential is that it works with any kind of RSS feed, not just blogs. You can produce RSS feeds from Microsoft SharePoint data or other back-end systems, making it easy to slip notification or status data automatically into users' mailboxes--a potential that I expect other vendors to exploit.
Next week, I'll write about some of the other cool things I saw at Exchange Connections. In the meantime, just a reminder: Sony Music is installing Windows rootkits under the guise of music players for its copy-protected CDs. Mark Russinovich breaks down all the details at http://list.windowsitpro.com/t?ctl=1869A:10344. If you don't want a rootkit surreptitiously installed on your machines, don't buy Sony Music products.