Wednesday, June 3, 2009

RSS-based Windows 7 desktop slideshows

I know the title of this post is rather obtuse, but this is something I'm excited to see has been included in the forthcoming Windows 7.

Windows 7 finally has native support for wallpaper "slideshows"...that is, you specify a GROUP of pictures you want to cycle smoothly between at the interval you choose, rather than having to always look at the same picture on your desktop.

What I didn't know until this blog post however, was that you can also make/choose a theme that points to an RSS picture feed for the picture sources. That means, we can make a file on our website that points to some high-res pictures of Kate, then send a small .theme file to our family. They double-click on the .theme file, and their desktop will begin showing a slideshow of some of Kate's pictures that we chose for that purpose. Later, as we publish more pictures, they will automatically be included in our family's wallpaper rotation, with no extra work on their part.

What a nice way to share pictures effortlessly! Now if only there was a screensaver with that capability...

Edit: apparently there is at least one such screensaver, but it's a visual C# sample project, not a completed screensaver you'd want to run. I tried it out, and it's iffy at best, not to mention that it's certainly only for geeks who are not of the faint of heart). I still think this is a great idea that would go over very well with grandparents, for instance ;-)

From the Engineering Windows 7 blog:

Enthusiasts can create a theme where the desktop background slide show points to an RSS photo feed. For example, my sister lives across the country and we only see each other about once a year. An easy way for me to keep her up to date on my family is to send her a Windows 7 theme which points to my RSS photo feed. When I upload new photos they will appear on her desktop automatically.

Because there are a few different ways to create an RSS photo feed, the process to include an RSS photo feed in a Windows 7 theme will only work if your RSS photo feed links to the high resolution photos using the “enclosures” method. The feed should only reference picture formats such as JPEG or PNG. Due to this limitation themes must be created manually when including an RSS photo feed.

So, to create one of these themes you can follow these steps:

Download the template from MSDN.
Open the template using Notepad.
Replace {themename} with the name you want to appear in the Personalization Control Panel themes gallery.
Replace {rssfeedurl} with the full path to your compatible RSS photo feed.
Save the changes as a file with the “.theme” extension.


After that, you e-mail your friends and family that .theme file and all THEY have to do, is double-click on it and choose to set it as their theme. All the hard stuff (the above steps) are done on your (the creator of the feed/publisher of the pictures) end. However, I personally expect that online photo services will pick up on this capability very soon and starting offering you a .theme file download for all the pictures you've uploaded to their site, taking the burden of all that hard stuff off you.

Very cool stuff.

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Update: I just tried this, and it works very well, except that it seems to be pretty picky on using only really well-formed RSS feeds: the feeds through Picasa, Photobucket and Webshots, for instance, didn't work. However, Flickr's feed did work. Even pictures which are oriented the "wrong" way (usually portrait [tall] instead of landscape [wide]) can be told by the .theme file configuration to crop and resize, so nothing gets "stretched" or "squashed" and it still fills the screen. There are other options too, naturally.

I love it! :)

BTW, here are my "test" files that worked for me. Open Kate.theme on Windows 7 to see it in action! (I'm not going to be updating these, so don't expect the pictures to be updated past the 12 pictures from March I used)
You don't need to download KateDesktopSlideshow.xml, but I provided it in case you want to see the minimum required for a working RSS file (right-click it and download it, rather than opening it in your browser, to see the codes). The pictures are pulled from the Kate pictures section of our website.

Kate.theme (Note: this theme won't work anymore; you can download it and set it as your theme, but it won't find any pictures. Since we migrated our site fully over to blogger's servers, the feed I used in this theme is no more).
KateDesktopSlideshow.xml

One more edit: I just discovered a lame side-effect of having an RSS-based desktop slideshow...it subscribes you to the slideshow's feed in IE and Outlook (and the RSS gadget, and anything else that ties into the "shared" Windows RSS feed library). So now I get notifications in IE and Outlook whenever a picture is added...nice if that's what I want, but in my case, I don't want that. I wish it were kept separate.

Note you can delete that folder from Outlook with no problem, but if you delete the feed from IE's favorite/feed list, the slideshow stops rotating and just stays on whatever the last picture was to show.

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