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New York Times in the news

War is often the mother of invention. Out of conflict comes inspiration and an appetite to succeed. An even battle often results in an long, drawn out conflict of attrition. But this is the software industry, and the fruits of such conflicts are lower costs, innovation and options to be explored.

Right now, Adobe and Microsoft are in such a war. The prize is considerable and the cost of defeat are immeasurable.

For some background into this conflict, I’ve got a five parter entitled: “Adobe and Microsoft having creative differences?” [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] for you to read, but be sure to have some time and a warm drink at hand.

During mid September, Microsoft released the fruits of their hard toil in the form of what looks to be a very promising, dare I say it, slick reader application for the New York Times website:

“Times Reader is built on WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), which is Microsoft’s advanced UI technology for applications.”

There are some very nice features in there that make the Times Reader a very useful tool, and serve to raise the bar for Adobe, but there will be more on Adobe’s response in a later issue of this serialization of the Adobe versus Microsoft conflict.

Some of the features of the Times Reader include:

  • Resize the window or change the font size – WPF automatically reflows the content and adjusts the number of columns.
  • Browse around the content itself – notice that the ads are themselves WPF (i.e. reflowable).
  • If you’re running on Windows Vista RC1, try a search from the Windows search bar – you’ll see NY Times news articles appear as files in the search.
  • Try the search link (just under the back / forward arrows). The articles are arranged in a heat map tile panel view, with the size denoting the importance of the article. This seems to be a work in progress, as some searches don’t have many results at this point (e.g. a search for “microsoft”).
  • Click the Topic Explorer (right-click > Topics, select a topic, then click the “Topic Explorer” radio button in the search results) and see an interconnected web of related articles.

I’d hazard a guess and say that the technology behind the Times Reader is most probably a template for similar content providers, with a breadth of features and branding options to allow the provider to differentiate themselves from their competitors, should they too adopt the same strategy.

No open doors to a closed Windows

It’s clear to me that Microsoft have gone all out to make this sing, and with a high profile debutante in the form of the New York Times, much attention will be paid to this release.

“Note that [the Times Reader] requires a Windows XP machine and the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0.”

I know that Microsoft has to go down this route because central to their overall strategy is the platform. Thing is, they’re not the platform anymore, nor are they going to be the software atop which the platform sits.

The web is the platform and Microsoft know this. But despite this, they absolutely have to plough their furrow, no matter how empty a harvest that furrow will yield in coming years.

Even more galling for their customers – those that run versions of Windows that don’t support .NET Framework 3.0, which is any version of Windows that’s pre XP – is that this is just one more tool that’s simply not available to them.

Rather than something like the Times Reader forming a cute carrot to dangle as a means to tempt people to upgrade – among other such temptations – the people that I speak to tell me that all of these cumulative incompatibilities dressed up as new marketing ploys to encourage people to move to Windows XP, are just annoying and simply serve as just another reason to move away from Windows.

What would have impressed me more is if the Times Reader ran from some XML, Ajax rich web application which worked from anywhere on the Net without the need of .Net…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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