13 January 2008


My infatuation with RSS newsreaders has ebbed and flowed over the years. At each successive stage of RSS discovery, I eagerly latched on and proclaimed how this was “the greatest thing in the world”. In the very beginning, I coded simple scripts invoked via the old Unix crontab facility, ala server side. It worked well (though not updating now, view an example of homebrew RSS reader output here, but I never made it to step where I moved the adding and removing of feed URLs from a text configuration file on the server to a simple web form. Because before I got there, I was stymied by, at that time, a lack of directory resources where such available RSS links were cataloged. So then, my little project transformed into an ill fated attempt at building an RSS directory service, the allure of which quickly faded as I drifted into programming pursuits more becoming to me. Also, coming onto the market, where some client applications that did a snappy job, and I started using one that I believe was a precursor to the current NetNewsWire incantation.

It was a Mac application and it worked decent enough. Except there were some shortcomings:

  • Default setup broke feeds down into categories — That sounds good, but in practice, I prefer to throw them all in the hopper and let me pull them out as I like. It also clutters up the application space. I realize for some, this is the way to be, but it’s not my modus operandi.

  • Unable to dynamically order — Sometimes I want to view my list of feeds in alphabetical order, sometimes by order of “last updated”.

  • Missing search — When you have hundreds, if not thousands, of feeds, ability to search for that one article you think you scanned, but now wish to study further, is essential.

  • Support for Atom — Specifically, for blogger.com posts. I believe it was a feature that was offered, but only for paying customers, not the free reader offered.

Plus, the final factor that ended my relationship with the forementioned RSS software was its inability to handle large volumes of data gracefully. Just look at my del.icio.us blog links list — there are nearly 1,300 entries in there.

Then Google Reader was born. Upon discovery, I again was enthralled. As I may work with a number of computing machines during a given day (or week), the attraction of being able to access the same repository from distinct machines lured me in. Logging my initial thoughts on my Google Reader affair, you can see that despite some drawbacks, I was highly optimistic about Google Reader. The honeymoon didn’t last long, as soon thereafter, severe issues surfaced with the Google RSS web application:

  • It choked on a early and often basis — It just didn’t work. It would constantly “hang” and a familiar screen site would be the spinning beach ball. Or it would work partially, allowing me to peruse current feed threads, but spit up violently when I tried to access via total subscription list. And this occurrence was a frequent happenstance at a total of 200.

  • Clunky UI — Delighted about keyboard access but quite puzzled why simple paging (or any little clicky) was so bloat laden. I mean, RSS is simply a text file, minus a whole lot of fat, which is what the point of RSS is really all about. Just the meat, no trimmings or desert or fancy silverware or napkins or saying grace.

  • Limited order options — Even for a web application, should be a no brainer to allow me easily sort the feeds in whatever manner I wish. Additionally, adding a new feed was not as easy as it should have been. Especially for a web application.

So I trudged along and occasionally only popped in to my Google Reader, mostly if my internet experience was iPhone originated.

Until last week, when I caught the news about NetNewsWire. Skeptical, but nevertheless, I downloaded and installed on multiple machines. Decided to give it a whirl, and here I can report that this is a software work of excellence. As I’ve wasted enough words on preliminaries, let me march right to the meat of the matter, and inform you why you should use NetNewsWire (or FeedDemon if you are an unfortunate Windows user):

  • It’s fast — downloads are quick, navigation is snappy.

  • Slick UI — righteous keyboard navigation! So great, that I am disappointed in other Mac OS X applications that don’t work the way it works in NetNewsWire. Arrow left and right to navigate between subscription and feed item lists, arrow up and down to traverse individual items in those lists, option + command S to stash to a “clippings” list and press ‘b’ to view the item in your default browser. About all you need, yet it’s efficient motoring.

  • Multiple machine sync — works like a charm, a simple one click process to create a NewsGator account right off the client and you’re off and running before the gun is even fired. And when you quit the program, it takes but a short second to sync up to your Newsgator account.

  • Order your feeds the way you like — alphabetic, by last update, by unread item count or manually (for which I prefer when in “add mode”)

  • Desktop and mobile device synced — not a client program benefit per say, but when using iPhone (or other net enabled mobile device) you can hit m.newsgator.com and keep abreast of all your current news feed goodness.

  • Reporting extras — little extras, like statistics on your feed totals, bandwidth used, cobwebby subscriptions, most active, etc.…

I will continue to put NetNewsWire through the paces, but it looks like a winner. I reckon the only drawbacks are if you have an aversion to what Newsgator is plotting to do with your RSS viewing habits (TINSTAAFL). Also, in perusing other commentary on the recent NetNewsWire splash into freedom, I read complaints over the update frequency settings — how the lowest interval is 30 minutes. Some folk clamor for shorter update intervals, like 5 minutes or 15 minutes. To which my response is that there is a big Refresh All button on the command icon tab that works just dandy.

Further NetNewsWire notes and scrawlings:


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