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Master!!! The Monster LIVES!!! or… the Return of Active Desktop

Yesterday, the blogosphere was all a-twitter as Niall Kennedy announced that he has joined Microsoft and will be helping to turn Live.com  into a platform for feeds.  Live.com will be the default homepage for Windows Vista as well.  Cool, and congratulations Niall!

Richard McManus over at ZDNet posted his interpretation:

  1. It’s going to be a huge boost for RSS, because everyone will be using it and aggregating it.
  2. It will mean pushing Windows Live search at the expense of MSN ad revenue. 
  3. It will mean the world of gadgets (aka widgets or modules) and web services will go mainstream.

Richard’s right — an RSS platform in the OS will be huge — just like Microsoft’s inclusion of TCP/IP in the OS was huge for the internet in the Windows 95 time frame. 

Does it really matter if MSN ad revenue is impacted? By moving search into Windows Vista directly, Microsoft is ensuring that the first search the customer encounters will be Microsoft. Live.com search still has advertising in it.  Revenues are likely to be larger when generated directly from Vista as opposed to MSN. Monetizing the desktop with ad revenue was the dream that Brad Chase had in 1998 when the Channel Bar was conceived.  It looks as if it might finally become a reality. 

And on a cautionary note, does anyone remember Active Desktop, the technology that the Channel Bar was based upon?  Rom Impas, Joe Belfiore, myself and some others dreamt this dog up in the days just after the Windows 95 launch.  It allowed you to embed HTML content and ActiveX controls on the Windows desktop.  Turned the whole thing into a page full of live feeds and widgets.  We thought it was cool, but after using it for a bit everyone turned it off because it wasn’t really that compelling and it was a resource pig.  Active Desktop or gadgets… hmmm… the gadgets are cool, but after a while I just turned them off… more feeds are more compelling to me than a widget that lets me calculate foreign exchange.  The moral of the story? The potential of the RSS platform is huge, but it’s not in recreating yesterday’s failed push platforms like Active Desktop, and PointCast.

"Live.com.  Bride of Active Desktop.  Come see the movie! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry!" 

… and hopefully the villagers won’t feel they have to kill the monster at the end.

{ 24 comments… add one }

  • Mathew Ingram April 12, 2006, 12:09 pm

    I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who thought Active Desktop was cool, but then turned it off because it was a resource hog. Cool idea though :-)

  • Dave Siegel April 12, 2006, 1:49 pm

    I thought active desktop was cool too, but I turned it off because it was unstable! Remember that message? (there has been some sort of failure, try disabling active desktop). I would have left it on otherwise…

  • Alec April 12, 2006, 5:37 pm

    Some things just aren't meant to be… like peanut butter and mayonnaise… We thought people would like to have active things on the desktop, but it turns out that they'd rather just use the desktop as temporary storage.

  • Erich July 8, 2006, 3:32 pm

    I have over 8000 hits every day from people that are using my Active Desktop feeds.
    It's a major step backward for Windows Vista to disable this feature.

    I will be wasting time recoding the pages to flash, or something to be show movies, images and sound content on the desktop.

    Apple Leopard is going to implement webpages as desktops, from the rumours I hear.

    The stupid "Active Desktop gallery" that Microsoft provided didn't help to push the platform.
    The active desktop scheduler was buggy, and could bring a whole system to a standstill.

    I use javascript for the scheduling function, which is 100% reliable.

    Erich http://opefs.com

  • Dale October 13, 2006, 5:06 am

    I'm going to miss Active Desktop. I use the feature at work to provide a custom web page that provides the machine name, a Frequently Called Numbers list, and announcements that aren't time sensitive. If the feature isn't included in Vista, I guess it's back to searching for alternatives. I haven't tried it yet but a gadget on the desktop just might do the trick. What do you think?

  • bummed December 3, 2006, 2:30 am

    I love active desktop, use it for a wide variety of things. In fact I will not upgrade to Vista, unless they bring it back.

  • Hello? December 3, 2006, 2:34 am

    You know what is going to happen – Apple is going to make HTML as background cool, and Windows will look foolish for abandoning it.

    HTML as desktop background was an interesting technology, and I don't see what Windows gains by getting rid of it. Gadgets are boxy, businessy and lame.

  • chris February 5, 2007, 4:30 am

    I monitor my business uptime via active desktop. it's the single-most frequently used feature of XP I have.

    Vista's majorly moronic for removing this…


    Mind you – now I think about this – building a ".hta" file with some javascript to switch off all the borders, titles, and buttons etc – it would not be so hard to simulate an active desktop that way…

  • chris February 5, 2007, 4:50 am

    Ha! yep. I was right. The following snipped, when saved in a file ending with ".hta" (HTml Application), simulates the old active desktop!!!

    Vista Active Desktop

    'On Error Resume Next
    window.resizeTo 410, 360
    window.moveTo 123, 345


  • chris February 5, 2007, 4:51 am

    Ha! yep. I was right. The following snipped, when saved in a file ending with ".hta" (HTml Application), simulates the old active desktop!!! (remover to replace all ] with "greater than" symbol > and all [ with less-than symbol

  • chris February 5, 2007, 4:52 am

    Ha! yep. I was right. The following snipped, when saved in a file ending with ".hta" (HTml Application), simulates the old active desktop!!! (remover to replace all ] with "greater than" symbol > and all [ with less-than symbol < (this blog doesn't allow HTML postings…)

    [html][head][title]Vista Active Desktop[/title]
    [HTA:APPLICATION ID="Vista Active Desktop"
    APPLICATIONNAME="Vista Active Desktop" SCROLL="no"
    COPYRIGHT="Free as per GPL v3. This comment must not be removed. http://www.ChrisDrake.com&quot;
    NAVIGABLE="no" CONTEXTMENU="no" SINGLEINSTANCE="yes" ICON="C:WindowsSystem32acwizard.ico"]
    [script language="VBScript"]
    'On Error Resume Next
    window.resizeTo 410, 360
    window.moveTo 123, 345
    BGCOLOR="ECE9D8" xonLoad="document.body.innerHtml=obj.fn('parm')"]
    [iframe src="http://www.lego.com/&quot; style="width:410; height:360"][/iframe]


  • MJQ April 1, 2007, 7:33 pm

    Sorry to comment so late, but I just found Chris's solution. It works pretty good, but it has two shortcomings. 1) If I see the .hta window behind other windows and click on it, it comes to the front like a regular window (instead of not coming to the front, like the desktop). 2) If I click on "Show Desktop" in the Quick Launch, the .hta window minimizes like the other windows.

  • Adam April 1, 2007, 10:47 pm

    Cool, Can you set the .HTA as your background though

  • emile May 24, 2007, 6:08 am

    How do you set this HTA file as your background.. because I can't do it in Right click dekstop –> graphic properties??

    anyone ? can you explain it to me ?

  • texruss June 10, 2007, 1:10 pm

    Yes…active desktop did have useful features, but if you ever had to fight off Smitfraud or the other desktop hijackers you can understand the loss of Active Desktop wasn't mourned too greatly by anti-spyware fighters. Tens of millions of PCs have been infected by the scoundrels over the past several years.

  • sid9102 September 16, 2007, 8:12 pm

    Check out avedesktop sites. (http://mpj.tomaatnet.nl/vista/) its a program that adds activedesktop functionality to vista. sadly, you cannot interact with the website on your desktop. slightly better than chris' code cause it doesn't behave like an app… doesn't minimise.

  • Leon Howell June 27, 2008, 8:39 pm

    I still use windows 98, and see no reason to "upgrade." If I want the new look, I'll install the revolutions pack – and still have my active desktop!

    I relly want some of those active desktop gadgets. Where can I get them now? Where is the active desktop gallery?

  • whatever August 14, 2008, 4:21 pm

    Active Desktop is not back, it does not live…what a useless badly written article

  • jimmy changa September 8, 2008, 9:02 am

    > whatever
    look petunia, flaming in the comments about the usefulness of a 2 yr old article doesn't say much for your ability to perform something as basic as surfing. what a useless and poor excuse for determining relevance.

  • David S October 15, 2008, 10:56 am

    I think Active Desktop was good if put to good use. If all you expected was gadgets and toys then that is all you probably saw. But I used to make a clickable calander using html when most other colander software seemed to land short of what I wanted. I could then either house the website on my computer or rent space on the web. I could use the entire desktop as my Calander. I know Windows comes with a Calander but it just wasn't exactly what I wanted. But yes, Active Desktop used up the cpu usage if you didn't have one fast enough or strong enough to handle it. I wish that VISTA didn't take away that option. VISTA assumes you only want to use the cheapo calander on the right side of your screen. I know I could buy software for doing apointments and such, but I liked the control of making my own. I just heard that Windows is giving up on Vista even though the Majovah thing was tried out. I hear that they are releasing 'Windows 09' coming of course in 2009. I haven't actually looked this up but a lot of my Geek friends are saying that Windows 09 will be backwards compatable and have many of the features XP & VISTA had. Also will be far more friendlier when it comes to opening documents. Apperntly if you are not careful saving a doc on Vista will not open on a computer running XP unless you save it right. Which isnt' obvious right away, not until a paper is late…. thanks VISTA. Also 09 should recognize your scanner, fax, printer, cam, and other gedges / periferals that VISTA was so bulligerant in recogntizing.

  • David S October 15, 2008, 11:04 am

    PS Sorry for the typos in my last post. I was too busy to check for spelling and am very busy. However I felt the urge to take this time to mention that I am aware of the mistakes. That said I'll now stop procrastinating : )

  • webwolf October 22, 2008, 6:38 am

    Agreed, I use Active desktop on my desk PC at work.

    Basically, I designed a simple web applet control panel, So I can click tabs on my desktop to bring up useful info, and just have to click on various links to copy certain info to the clipboard ( I have to copy and paste a lot at work… )

    So all in all, it makes me slightly more productive and saves me from having to have a ton of spreadhseets open on my desktop…

    A few other people use it too. Could just load the web page on start up, wouldnt be a massive big deal opening a web page instead of clicking minimise all.

    Would be nice to keep it though…..

  • Earl Vergara January 1, 2009, 10:11 pm

    I think active desktop should be available on vista because it really is useful depending on how it is used.

    I created a small Flash application that allowed me to manage notes and display it on the desktop. It was very useful every note was neatly displayed and it allowed me to see everything at once without the need of clicking on buttons to find what i needed. And the best part is that it was optimized for performance so not much memory was being used.

    With the active desktop gone, it had really been a strain on productivity since i had to go open other stuff like contact lists, documents, etc before i can find what i want.

    Hope active desktop (displaying fullscreen html pages) on the desktop would return to vista.

  • Dr. Jones January 21, 2009, 3:27 am

    The lack of Active Desktop is actually the only reason why I have not yet switched to Vista on two of my three PC's… I simply don't understand why MS would leave out this feature!

    I use the AD for severeal things: On my work-PC, I have developed small apps for to-do lists, time management registration, bookmarks etc. And on my kitchen PC I have developed a "Jukebox" system for playing my music collection in the kitchen/living room. It's great that the player is permanently glued to the desktop, so guests don't accidently close or minimize it…

    OK, I know that AD-users are few. But on the other hand: Why deny us the possibility? I bet that MS could implement the feature in days, if they wanted to… I would even be happy with a "full desktop" gadget feature…

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