Sun, Jan 15, 2006, 5:44pm Free RSS News Readers on OS X — A (Very) Quick Comparison
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(Last updated: Sat, Feb 7, 2009, 7:20am)
W
anting to avoid buying an RSS reader just yet, I thought I'd take a quick look around at the free alternatives. I went alphabetically and spend between 1 and 10 minutes on each app.

(No widgets were tested, but it would be interested to read a quick gloss on them if someone wanted to write up such a thing. On the issue of viewing the links in the program or having them be re-directed to your default web browser, I don't knock an app either way on this. Ideally, the user has a choice.)

  • Another Reader (v0.5) — Two strikes against it right when launching: I got a system error, and when I pressed the big "link" button, it launched Internet Explorer, a browser that I didn't even realize I had on my system. I tossed IE in the trash and then tried to add an RSS link, but it seems this program just doesn't work.
  • Bottom Feeder (v7.2a) — A Java program, so there's one big strike against it. It works… but the interface is too ugly to continue considering.
  • DeliveryBoy (v0.1)- Menu bar RSS news. Launches very slowly, quit on me unexpectedly. A few more attempts to launch failed and I'm moving on.
  • Ensemble (v1.0b6r2) — Thick metal interface, which I don't much like. Decent basic set-up. Makes mistakes with special characters. Passes pages off to default browser. Nice things: can synchronize via .Mac or FTP, can aggregate podcasts, uses Growl notifications. It's ok, but I'll pass. Drag-n-drop feed links.
  • Feed (v0.6.5) — Clean look w/ basic functions. Links sent to default browser. Drag-n-drop feed links.
  • FMrss — FileMaker-created app, so has a quirky interface. Poking around produced weird errors and a very unintuitive interface, so forget this.
  • FireFox — There are a number of FireFox extensions that do RSS news aggregation and reading, with a great variety of features. I have not the energy to review them, as there are a bunch (Wizz, Fizzle, Habari Xenu, infoRSS, NewsFox, Sage, Pluck, etc).
  • Gush (v1.3) — Gush is interesting, but far too slow to use for an RSS reader. It seems like an interesting experiment in using CSS/Ajax to create a desktop web app.
  • MiNews (v1.0) — Decent look, can view pages in app or in external browser, has news feed groups. Not bad, but not compelling.
  • NetNewsWire Lite (v2.0.1) — Decent interface. Uses your default web browser for pages. Includes sharing your feeds. Theme-able headline reading.
  • newscrollet (v1.0) — Java app. Progress bar goes crazy when you first launch it. Couldn't get it to read anything properly.
  • NewsMac — Looks nice right off the bat. Does a nice immediate validation when adding feeds. Great nested folder structure. Rating system for blogs, Palm synchronization, keyword highlighting. No drag-n-drop of feed links. Still, nice reader. (Update: Mike, below, points out that the free version has been discontinued, but is still available for download.)
  • NewsYouCanUse (v2.7) — Sure takes a long time to load… Actually this never loaded for me. No idea if it's good. (Ironically, news I can't use.)
  • PulpFiction Lite (v1.2.2) — Pops right up, has a very nice look to it. Handles its own web page display. No drag-n-drop of links. Activity viewer, article flagging. Nice CSS theme to showing the headlines (good use of WebKit). Nested folders, can "blog this" to an item, choice of internal or external browser.
  • RSS Menu (v1.6) — Menu bar RSS reader. Auto-self updates, drag-n-drop and Growl notification support. Good appearance choices for a menu bar app. Includes Safari and iPod's RSS lists, even sends podcasts to iTunes. Some issues rendering characters in headline titles. Export/import of feeds, plus folder hierarchies.
  • RSSOwl (v1.2) — A Java app, with some interface oddness that comes with that. Nested folders. For some reason Google News rss feed gets rendered as html source code. Features seem low. Drag-n-drop support is good.
  • Safari (v2.0.3) — As Tony menitons below, Safari has its own RSS reader which can do groups of folders (via bookmarking). Decent search and sorts, and is already a browser, but not much more. Still, good default.
  • SlashDock (v2.5) — News reader in the dock, so its interface is a pop-up menu and the preference pane. Activity viewer, drag-n-drop URLs (though doesn't auto-populate name, etc). Low frills, but very clean and quick.
  • Vienna (v2.0.0.2021) — Growl notifications, decent look (metal, but not too thick). Views web pages in the app. Not many frills (though has the nice touch of filling out the RSS URL field from the clipboard if it's a URL). Drag-n-drop feed links. Smart and regular folders is a nice touch, and the abliity to mark entries (both of which I missed at first — thanks to Markus below).

Despite widely varying versions, the four most worth considering are: NetNewsWire Lite, NewsMac, PulpFiction Lite and RSS Menu. No clear winner here, so I'll have to see what I use most. The first three have paid versions waiting for when I see the light on how important a good RSS reader is to me. It should be noted in finishing this that the commercial RSS readers are significantly better than all of these.

Some recap info can be found in this table.

  • Teekay (Mon, January 16th, 2006, 12:20pm UTC)
    Nice quick writup but of course (you'll get many comments like this) you forgot my favorite RSS reader -- NewsFire. Clean simple interface and just as powerful as I need.

  • Open End Software (Mon, January 16th, 2006, 1:20pm UTC)
    SlashDock is also FREE and one of the first to feature complete access through the Dock.

  • Jeff (Mon, January 16th, 2006, 1:39pm UTC)
    Thanks for mentioning those. NewsFire used to be free, but isn't anymore. I did add SlashDock into the reviews.

  • Tony (Tue, January 17th, 2006, 4:45pm UTC)
    How about Safari?
    Pros: Great interface with collapsible content and graphic support.
    It takes your entire entire bookmarks list, find RSS feeds and displays according to choice. (Via BookMarks/Book Marks Bar/View All RSS Feeds.
    Cons: No OPML support. And no nav pane for subscriptions (ala NetNewsWire).

  • Jeff (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 12:54am UTC)
    Tony, thanks for mentioning that. I'll make some mention of it above.

  • Brent Simmons (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 12:40pm UTC)
    A small correction: NetNewsWire Lite does indeed have folder structure. (It even supports nested folders.) Choose New Group from the File menu.

  • Mike (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 12:56pm UTC)
    I was surprised to see NewsMac there, as I had thought there was only NewsMac Pro. Visiting the site by way of the link above, I see the developer says he is no longer developing it:

    "There won't be a universal binary of NewsMac 3.2 as it's a discontinued project."

    (And, indeed, it is nowhere to be seen, if you navigate to "products" from the homepage.) So I suppose there is no future in that one and, for all we know, it may not even be on the site much longer.

    I have tried Newsmac Pro in the past, and I hope that continues to sell for the developer. I thought it was quite a nice program, but found the interface a little too bright and discarded it for that reason before I had a chance to really get to know the program.

    Many programs written for Apple's Aqua tend towards what I think of as the "boiled sweets" look -

    http://www.johnmillar.co.uk/pages/prod_cfdrop.htm

    - but those icons go beyond that: they are darn near luminous. Then there is the shading and the "reflections". Even NewsMac Pro's folders are like that.

    I don't want a dull interface — I like Panic's stuff, for example. But I prefer something more restrained than Newsmac Pro.

    Besides that, I've used PulpFiction. I liked that, too, although I'm not sure I got the mail.app-style interface. But there were some nice features: The ability to easily email a story got in an RSS feed was a good touch. The program did, unfortunately, crash on me several times.

    My current choice, and a long-term favorite, is NetNewsWire. I've used several versions — both lite and full. It has never given me any problems, and it probably deserves the most used RSS reader (of any platform) on the web. (Remarkable when one thinks of the small market-share of Apple machines.)

    I'm not surprised by your three choices. I'll continue to use NetNewswire. I think the only slight problem there might be that the developer has dropped plans for supporting different methods of syncing multiple copies of the program and will be making all syncing via NewsGator's online service in the future. People using multiple machines and wanting to keep them in sync might well look for more varied and open ways of doing it and perhaps this is going to give the edge to alternatives like NewsMac Pro and PulpFiction in the future.

  • Jeff (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 1:13pm UTC)
    Brent, thanks for the correction. I took that statement out.

  • Jeff (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 1:21pm UTC)
    Mike, Very interesting about NewsMac. I missed the discontinued note, which I guess just happened. I'll add a note about that. Thanks for the info about your experiences with the other apps too.

  • Markus Ackermann (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 2:09pm UTC)
    Vienna does provide a folder structure. Nice features are also smart folders and the abilty to mark entries (can be used to keep them).

  • Note (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 2:16pm UTC)
    RSSOwl is not Carbon but a Java SWT (Eclipse) application.

  • Jeff (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 2:57pm UTC)
    Thanks for the note on RSSOwl, got the info updated.

  • Jeff (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 3:01pm UTC)
    Thanks, Markus. I had missed those features in my first gloss. I updated the entry.

  • Brent Simmons (Wed, January 18th, 2006, 3:54pm UTC)
    Mike -- thanks! I'm glad you like NetNewsWire.

    However, NetNewsWire has *not* dropped other syncing methods. The current methods are still supported (and we've even been fixing bugs).

    See the Q&A page for more info: http://www.newsgator.com/NetNewsWire.aspx

    At the same time, I believe that NewsGator syncing will be the better choice, because in this case there's a server with a smart syncing API, which beats file-based syncing (which is less efficient).

  • Jef Pearlman (Wed, February 15th, 2006, 7:24pm UTC)
    I was wondering if anyone knew of an RSS reader that has the ability to report on how many unread items there are in a subset of your subscribed feeds.

    For instance, I have one group of feeds I read the headlines for _everything_ on, and another group that I just go look at when I feel like looking at that type of content. I really only want to be notified when feeds in the first group are updated.

    Anyone know of a RSS reader that will do this? Thanks.

  • matty (Tue, April 25th, 2006, 12:42am UTC)
    you could use safari. just set up different folders in the bookmarks bar and sort the feeds into these depending on if you want to always read them or only read on occasion.

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