I’ve never been a fan of the New York Times Reader for Vista since the idea of a requiring a proprietary program to read one newspaper via the Internet is ridiculous given the universality of the Web:
An uncharitable view would be that the Times staff is unacquainted with Web browsers and Web programming. On the other hand, the Times seems to have obscure notions of customer lock-in for which a proprietary newspaper reader makes a perfect match.
Microsoft liked to tout the Times reader, however, because it uses Vista’s Windows Presentation Foundation and apparently such applications are in short supply, no matter how ill-considered. It turns out however that the situation is worse than just one newspaper offering a flashy vanity application. Yesterday, Microsoft proudly announced that they are helping other newspapers to develop their own proprietary readers:
This week, three leading media companies released unique new software applications in an effort to broaden their appeal to existing and new readers. Aiming to carve out new territory in the publishing industry, the companies — Associated Newspapers Ltd., Forbes Inc. and Hearst Corp. — have developed digital reader applications that enable consumers to experience newspaper and magazine content in new and engaging ways.
The three preview reader applications, along with a fourth solution released last year by The New York Times, are at the forefront of a new wave of products. All of the applications take advantage of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), the advanced graphics technology recently unveiled by Microsoft as part of the Windows Vista operating system. In order to further assist publishers in their efforts to bring their content to the digital world, Microsoft is also developing a publisher starter kit, which will make the same product development tools and best practices easily accessible to other publishers at no cost.
The relationship with our partners was driven by their business needs, based on the confidence they felt in the technical merits of our technology as a platform for building innovative applications. We first undertook a joint development project with The New York Times, which led to the Times making TimesReader available to its subscribers as a beta release in Nov. 2006. Based on what we learned in that development effort, we began building a publisher starter kit that includes documentation and sample code for developing a more or less turnkey media reader application. The next step was to select three key international publishers — Associated Newspapers Ltd., Forbes Inc. and Hearst Corp. — to collaborate with us as alpha users of the starter kit. Our work with those companies included extensive training and support, as well as a significant amount of feedback that led to the roll out of the three additional preview applications this week. We’re now focusing on a second wave of beta testing for the starter kit, and once that’s done, we plan to make the kit available via download at no charge. The goal is to make it easy for publications and their independent software vendors (ISVs) to duplicate our efforts without Microsoft having to be directly involved.
So the idea is that to read a selection of daily newspapers or other publications online your Web browser isn’t good enough anymore – what you really you need is bag of uniquely branded WPF craplets provided by the each of the publishers aided and abetted by Microsoft. Is it April Fools Day already? While you can’t really fault Microsoft for what people do with their programming tools, they are surely to blame for encouraging these clueless folks to believe that this is a good idea.