The Case of Outlook not downloading RSS content because of a problem connecting to the server

The Problem

I had been using Outlook to subscribe to RSS feeds for many years. Mostly because I like to have my email and news in one place with the ability to add them to my Outlook to-do list for follow-up.

Over time, however, I noticed that one feed after the other stopped updating. Even feeds from Microsoft sites such as TechNet and MSDN which I had assumed simply had to be compatible with Microsoft’s own RSS reader. Trying to remove and then re-add them gave the following error:

image

I eventually found out that all feeds that no longer updated had been switched from HTTP to HTTPS, which seems to be unsupported by Outlook.

The Cause

This support document describes the scenarios in which Outlook supports authenticated RSS feeds. Basically, support is extremely limited. Normally, HTTPS is not supported and the workaround using Internet Explorer’s Common Feed List did not work for me.

Initially, Internet Explorer would download the RSS feed and they would show up as unread items in Outlook, but after the initial download I wouldn’t get any new items in Outlook, even though they did show up in Internet Explorer.

The Solution

Searching online for a solution did not turn up anything. Either people described workarounds that did not work for me, or recommended simply abandoning Outlook in favor of some other feed reader.

So I implemented my own solution and wrote a very simple proxy server that runs a local web server via HTTP that fetches the requested feed via HTTPS from the original source. By configuring Outlook to use this proxy, I now receive updates for feeds in Outlook even when the source uses HTTPS.

This RSS-via-HTTP Proxy runs as a service in the background. Its source code and some instructions on how to configure it are available on GitHub.

Advertisements

Internet Explorer 9: looks good, but Firefox is still my favorite

I just got the latest beta version of Internet Explorer 9 from Microsoft’s promotional IE site: http://www.beautyoftheweb.com. And I must say that this release is a huge step forward for Microsoft. Here’s what I liked the most after playing around with it for a while:

  1. Of course the number one thing is speed. The improvement here is spectacular. For JavaScript-heavy sites like the WordPress dashboard, it feels noticeably faster than Firefox.
  2. I am not sure whether this might have been in IE8 already, but as I have to use IE7 at work, I just hate that I can’t re-open tabs I accidentally closed. IE9 now keeps a history of previous tabs. That’s great.
  3. The address bar has also been improved nicely over IE7. Being able to type a couple of letters to incrementally search my bookmarks is huge for me. Given the number of bookmarks I have, having to find something in IE7’s Favorites folder is a huge productivity killer.

Nonetheless, I don’t feel like I would want to switch back from Firefox just now. Here’s why:

  1. Having the tabs next to, instead of above or below the address bar gives them too little room. I tend to have a lot of tabs open at any given time, so I want the tab bar to have available the full width of my monitor. It’s small enough as it is.
  2. It’s not possible to close the last tab by middle-clicking it. I oftentimes want to close all the pages and have a clean slate. This is something I have to enable in the advanced options in Firefox, but IE makes me open a new, blank tab and then close the other tab to mimic that behavior. I just find it strange that the last tab behaves differently when it comes to middle-clicking.
  3. As I was switching between tabs, for a brief second a ghost image of a previously closed tab appeared. I guess this is just be a glitch as this is just a beta release that will be ironed out for the final version.
  4. I want my browser to always accept cookies, but throw them all away (along with the history, cache etc.) when I close the browser. This way, I know I start with a clean slate whenever I close and re-open my browser. This level of control over cookies doesn’t seem possible in IE.
  5. It’s still too much work to bookmark stuff. I love that it’s just one click in Firefox to add a bookmark for the current site under “Unsorted Bookmarks”. I often use this feature to quickly bookmark pages I want to revisit and classify later. IE always wants me to choose a folder first. Normally, I’m all about freedom of choice, but sometimes things like this just get in the way. There is a nice discussion of this in chapter 3 of Joel Spolsky’s excellent book User Interface Design for Programmers.
  6. Finally, the lack of something like AdBlock and NoScript: These are the two Firefox extensions I can no longer live (or at least surf) without. Not being able to meticulously control what sites may run scripts and add-ins in my browser is a deal-breaker for me.

So in the end I will probably stay with Firefox for the foreseeable future. I did check out Chrome once, since all the cool kids seem to be using it these days, but the thought of having my browser report to Google is just a bit too scary for me.