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Strategic insights
New York Times Reader for Vista

Written by on April 29, 2006

Update: Download NY Times Reader for Vista.

Microsoft and New York Times have revealed a new "PC based software application for news distribution" - or in short a desktop application for reading the newspaper. They call it the "Times Reader", and it is so far limited to Windows Vista.

Exciting, in a very limited way

One hand this is exciting. It illustrates yet another way to use the "internet as a pipeline", where information is provided without a browser. But, then again, this seems like nothing more than a specialized browser itself.

I am always excited when people and companies try to use the internet in a different way. To me, the number one problem with internet is the limitations there exist in the browser. It is dreadfully slow, and does not provide any form of effective interaction. We have to reinvent everything just to do ordinary stuff (take sorting a to-do list).

An internet application, as opposed to a web application, is much more interesting.

Note: An internet application is basically a application running on normal developer languages with internet data sources (like desktop RSS readers, iTunes, Skype, Google Earth etc.), whereas a web application is a program run entirely from a browser (Windows Live, Bloglines, Basecamp etc.)

But, Times Reader isn't nearly as great as many of the other internet applications. It does have a number of interesting features like automatically adjusting the content to the screen. But, the main problems are:

  1. It is just a specialized browser (or news reader)
    Imagine if you had to use a specialized RSS reader for every single blog you read. This would very quickly kill RSS entirely. The reason RSS feeds works is that you can collect information from a lot of different sources and handle them in a single location. Having a specialized program for every newspaper is not a good idea.
  2. The web is not a print media
    Trying to make the web behave like print is never a good idea. As an example the Times Reader will show the articles in the same font as the printed newspaper. This is great for graphic designers and branding experts, but only very few specialized fonts are actually readable on screen (so reading will become harder, on an already hard-to-read screen).
  3. Columns are good if they fit the screen
    Reading an article in columns can actually help readability, but only if the columns fit the visible screen window. If you have to scroll or in any other way change pages, using columns is worse than bad.

BTW: I will do a more detailed examination when Microsoft releases the product (rumored to be when the next vista build is released sometime in May).

Times Reader is interesting because it is an internet application, but it is also an example of how little the newspapers understand the internet.

For Microsoft this is another great of example of the powers of Windows Presentation Foundation. It shows off the new vector based UI controls and interface scaling technologies.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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