Yes, you read correctly. I said, desktop RSS reader. I’m old style. I’m classic. Whatever, I still want my feeds on my desktop. For one single reason: it’s so much simpler. Click the icon in the notification area, and voila! I got my news at a click. No need to load Firefox, point to some random URL to a web-based feed reader or whatever. There’s also another reason. I like my data on my computer, not on some server on the Internet. What if tomorrow, the company that manages the web-feed-reader goes out of scene? What happens to my feeds? And if ever they decide to keep usage info on my feeds so as to create spam “targetted advertising”? No thanks. I want full control over what I keep, what I share and what I want others to access. Ok, enough side-tracking. Back to the article, which by the way, is the 100th post on GeekScribes! Click below:
I’ve spent countless minutes searching for a feed-reader, or news aggregator if you wish. I’ve tried so many freeware and open-source apps, but kept away from the paying ones. But hell, not even one could provide all the features I wanted in a single software. So what is it that I look for in a feed-reader? What are the essential features? I made up a list! I actually listed down all those before I searched for the ultimate feed client. I was that desperate!
Here’s the list, in order of priority:
- A nice, clean interface!
- Newspaper layout: I seriously like that. I want all my news from the feed I read to be displayed in small boxes, with the title and an excerpt from the news article. Maybe an image too, like a small passport photo. There should also be icons that allow me to mark the item as read, flag it in a separate folder, open it in an external browser, open it in a separate tab in the feed reader itself or simply, expand the article right in the newspaper so that I can read the text directly there.
- A newsticker: This is an essential feature for me. I want a small horizontal bar on my desktop that scrolls all news items for the day at a customizable speed. When I click on an item in the ticker, it optionally loads my browser with the news page, or loads the feed reader with the news item loaded in a new tab. All this being customizable. I also need a way to temporarily pause the ticker, scroll it in either direction, hide it to a single small bar, or close it. Pausing my cursor on the news item must give me a short excerpt of the news item, as well as the site it came from and the date/time it was written. The ability to randomly shuffle the feeds before display would be cool too.
- Information overload management: Give me a way to instantly mark all feeds that are older than X days or hours as read, and remove them from my sight. I don’t want to have to read 2000+ items.
- Read all news items from all feeds in a single, long page: I click somewhere, and a newspaper with all the news items from all the feeds are added to it. There may be “next page” buttons, I don’t mind. But I want one long page with everything in. Just the headlines would be ok for this, no need for images or stuff that would slow the reading.
- OPML support: I want to be able to export/import feeds easily from other computers.
- Online Sync: I want to be able to sync by feeds on all computers I use.
- Shortcuts that make sense: Like middle click to open the news item in a new tab. Middle clicking a tab closes it. The keyboard arrows move pages, and scroll the page up and down.
However, none of the clients I tried offered all of these in one package. The closest I came to my vision of a great RSS feed reader was with Newsgator’s FeedDemon. More on that later. for now, you get a whole list of the clients I tried, and the stuff I liked and disliked about them. These don’t come in any order, so just skip if you don’t want to read everything… By the way if I don’t mention a feature, doesn’t mean it’s not there! Also, when I don’t mention cross-platform or platform-independent, the client is Windows-only. Also, all the applications I mention below are open-source or freeware.
If you ask, “has this guy really tested all those readers?” I answer yes! I do not claim to have tested each of them thoroughly, but I’m giving you my first impressions about the clients, and what I liked/didn’t like about them.
FeedDemon: The reader I am currently using, coming from Nick Bradburry of NewsGator. It doesn’t offer a ticker yet, but I read on the homepage that it’s a planned feature. Among all the readers I have tested, FeedDemon is what I consider to be the best reader. The interface is simply marvellous, and the sheer number of options that FeedDemon offers is amazing. Firstly, the layout. On starting, you are given a start page, with all your feeds, the number of unread items per feed, but also the feeds you pay most/least attention to. Unfortunately, there is still no way to read all news items from all feeds. The developer says it will slow down browsing if this was made, but I still want it. Even if only headlines are displayed.
The Newspaper style is what I use. It displays the headlines of all the news from a particular feed, or all the feeds within a folder. This is ok enough for me. Within the newspaper, each news item has a set of icons, the most important being: mark as read, flag the article and open in a new tab. You can also auto-mark feeds as read. There is also a really interesting feature, with a small + symbol, which when clicked expands the news item right there in the newspaper, showing text etc.
Another essential feature of FeedDemon which I really like is the Panic button. Got like, 2000 feeds waiting? Just hit the panic button, choose to mark feeds as read depending on a time or date (e.g. all feeds older than 48 hours are marked as read and removed). This will significantly reduce your reading load.
You also have clean up wizards to clear up the database of clutter, the option to set the refresh period, lots of customizability and shortcuts. You can also have Newspaper styles, although I only use the Blue Vista one. There is also a news panel where all headlines are displayed, but for me, it’s hidden. The Newspaper-style-layout is enough. Basically, FeedDemon did most of what I wanted, save for the ticker and even that may come soon.
But FeedDemon has its problems too, though not that many. I still want my ticker! I still can’t read all news from all feeds in one big Newspaper page. FeedDemon may get a tad slow when updating and managing large number of feeds, but a hit on the panic button clears that out. FeedDemon is not platform-independent, but it doesn’t need .Net or stuff like that.
A side note about FeedDemon: Its forum is really active, and you can get lots of tips there. The Feature Request section seems to be considered too, unlike other forums I’ve came across in my search.
That’s it for my favorite reader, and moving on to other readers which I’ve considered.
FeedReader: Another open-source client according to the site. This one has different layouts depending on what you want. You can have RSS Owl’s 3 panel layout, you can have the Newspaper-type layout (“River of news”) and the 3 panes (vertical) layout. It also offered the ticker! I can also read all news from all feeds in a single page! You can clean the database, and hide read feeds if you wish. There’s also smartfeeds which is cool, allowing you to group feeds based on the keywords they contain, though I don’t use this feature. Whoa, wait! I got all the features! I must be happy! Nope…
There are a few troubles. The news-bar (ticker) is not as customizable as I wanted it to be. I can’t mark items as read directly from it. I can’t pause it when my cursor is on an item. Also, FeedReader tends to get a little slow when lots of feeds are there.
FeedReader is my second favorite feed-reader. It will get a lot better as it progresses in versions. For now, it’s still not my ultimate reader.
Newzie: Another of my favourites. This is where I started in my quest for RSS readers. It offered me everything: Ticker (unfortunately not dockable. It was floating on my desktop!) which was very customizable, pausable etc… A news-paper style. Information overload management through mark all as read, an innovative layout that displayed feeds in color codes, with red with the most unread, green with the least. It had loads of display modes, including the 3-panel, all while keeping the interface clean. OPML support! And it was fast! In short, it was the near-ultimate RSS feed reader. Had everything I wanted. But? It is no longer updated. Last update was in March 2007. This is really sad. I really wish that the developers make Newzie open-source. It’s a truly fantastic RSS reader that deserves more development. Please Newzie developers!
RSS Owl: RSS Owl is a fine client, written in Java making it cross-platform compatible. It’s open-source which I like. It has a nice enough interface, with panels for feeds, headlines and the actual content. Clicking on the headline loads the content. It’s pretty fast at what it does considering that only headlines get loaded first. However, it doesn’t offer me the Newspaper-type reading, nor does it offer a news ticker.
Snarfer: Another nice reader. Has the Newspaper style reading, as well as. It is fast! It also has the ability to mark items as read and remove them. No ticker unfortunately. There is another major problem (at least for me) with Snarfer. I can’t close that “News about Snarfer” tab. It’s plain annoying! Ok, I appreciate the developer’s efforts. I don’t mind if you load the tab everytime Snarfer loads. But hell, give me a way to close it! Also, while browsing their forums, it didn’t seem to me as if the developers interact with users often. Most of the threads have 0, 1 or 2 posts on average.
SharpReader: Same type of interface as RSS Owl. No ticker. No newspaper style. Two of my most important features are not there, so I didn’t use it for too long. It is a fine reader though. It’s fast, and has a clean and simple interface. The problem is that it uses .Net and requires the framework. I tend not to like apps that have dependencies like that. But it’s not a huge problem, so it shouldn’t affect its usage.
BottomFeeder: It offers the Newspaper layout as well as the 3-panel layout. No ticker unfortunately. It is cross-platform which is a plus. The download page offers “executables” for a lot of platforms. The interface seems to be a bit cluttered for a feed reader. An interesting point is that it is written in Smalltalk.
ThinFeeder: Simple interface, 3-panels. No newspaper-style. No ticker. Has ability to mark all items as read though. OPML support’s there too. It is also cross-platform, being coded in Java.
What about Firefox addons. Have I tried them? Of course! However, there is a slight problem with keeping lots of feeds in Firefox. It slows the browser and increases its already-high memory consumption. In fact, that is why I wanted a separate client for reading RSS feeds. Nevertheless, I tried those addons:
Brief: Best Firefox RSS reader in my opinion. No ticker. But it offers a really nice Newspaper-style interface. It’s also fast, and nice to use. A superbly interesting feature is that Brief can automatically mark a news item as read as soon as it is displayed to you. E.g. As you reach a point in the newspaper, all the feeds you are currently seeing are automatically marked as read. This is optional by the way. Cool! You can also optionally switch to headlines view, and mark all items as read. It also has a Status Bar icon with unread count per feed and notifications in option. Brief is my favourite RSS Addon for Firefox. Try it, if you want a Firefox-based RSS reader. It offers you a dedicated environment for reading and managing feeds. I don’t have any problems with Brief. I switched just because my Firefox was becoming fat and eating up too many resources. If ever Firefox eats less resources, Brief is what I’ll use again.
WizzRSS: I simply did not like the (cluttered) interface that requires lots of scrolling through lists, and the way it handled feeds. It acted more as a sidebar, rather than a dedicated client. Therefore, I moved on.
Sage-Too / Sage: I liked the interface on this one. It allows a great Newspaper-style. At one point, Brief was not working for me, and I used Sage-Too. It was a good experience. The interface is a bit cluttered as compared to Brief, but it’s workable. There is a small quirk I noticed, and I don’t know if it was just me. I wanted to use middle-click to open news items in a background tab, but it didn’t work. It’s a good addon for RSS feeds.
RSS Ticker: This one was a nice addon. I used it together with Brief. It adds a small bar near the Status Bar of Firefox, and it acts as a RSS ticker. It’s just the ticker, no fancy window or anything. I had both of the features I most wanted in Firefox itself. Putting my mouse on an item paused the ticker, gave me a description as well as other info about that particular news item. Clicking it loaded the item in a background tab. However, there was a few issues with it, such as marking items as Read, didn’t really do it, and they tend to recur. There was also some lag issues. It’s still kind of usable.
That was a long search, but I have found my answer. The ultimate RSS reader for desktop doesn’t exist yet, sadly. There are clients that come extremely close to my vision of ultimate, but none have reached it yet. The clients have things missing, or quirks to iron out. Or some of them just stopped updating, when they were close to reaching my ideal which is sad. Others are very far away, looking more like email clients rather than RSS readers. RSS involves information overload, and there must be ways to control that. Some clients offer them, most don’t: specially the email-client-looking ones.
Finally, the best I could find are: FeedDemon for Desktop and Brief for Firefox. None offer what I want completely, but both are very usable for me.
Now that you have read my opinions about RSS readers, let me hear yours! Do you use web-based or desktop-based or browser-based RSS readers? Which ones do you use? Anything I forgot to mention? Anything I mentioned which is incorrect? The comment section follows the article, so see you there! 🙂