in Mac apps

NetNewsWire Alternatives

This week, I decided to seek out alternatives to NetNewsWire, the popular feed reader from NewsGator.

My disenchantment with NetNewsWire began soon after NewsGator updated the app, switching from a private syncing service to Google Reader at the end of August. I didn’t have any trouble migrating my feeds to Google Reader, as some users did. I also didn’t mind that the updated version of the NNW desktop client displayed unobtrusive ads. Hey, it’s free (A paid version is in the works to get rid of the ad; a paid, ad-free version for iPhone is already available).

My problem with NetNewsWire is all about the iPhone app. Before NNW switched to Google Reader, my iPhone app was reliable, quick, and pleasant to use. After I upgraded to the newest version of the free NNW iPhone app, syncing began to take much longer and, more importantly, ceased to function reliably. Sometimes it would sync, sometimes it would not. It drove me crazy. Often, it would appear to sync correctly, but selecting a feed would result in a blank screen or (even more annoying) a blank screen with an embedded advertisement. I put up with this spotty performance for weeks (hoping it would get better, hoping it would be upgraded) before deciding to try something else.

I’m not saying that the NetNewsWire iPhone app is terrible. Based on user comments I’ve read, many people seem to be happy with it. I will say that, in it’s present version, I can’t use it. A reliable feed reader on my iPhone is important to me. This frustration led me to consider other options. Since there are many, many front ends to Google Reader for the iPhone, why not shop around? It was an easy decision. And since I decided to try out something new for my iPhone, I also decided to try out other desktop clients. It was sort of a reverse halo effect.

After sifting through a plethora of reviews for iPhone RSS readers, I decided to go with Byline (from Phantom Fish, current sale price: $3.99). I’m pleased with my choice. The interface is clean and simple. There are many customization settings, the best of which is that I can choose to cache from 25 to 200 feeds for offline viewing (great for subway commuting). I can also set it to cache items only when I’m using Wi-Fi, which is a handy option given I’m on a slow Edge network. Another nice touch is that I can choose to cache Web pages linked to feed posts. I can also read my feeds in landscape mode. It’s worth a look. The one glaring item I’m missing is the ability to mark a folder of feed items (or all items) as ‘read.’ As far as I can tell, I can only mark individual feed items as ‘read.’ A minor annoyance. According to the developer notes in the iTunes store, a new version is due out very shortly which promises to be a ‘major update.’ I’m looking forward to it.

As for a desktop replacement for NetNewsWire, the vote is still out. I’m currently testing two options: Gruml and feedly.

Gruml, currently in late stages of Beta, looks and operates much like NetNewsWire. The main difference is that Gruml offers more features. It allows me to send an article link from my feeds direct to a variety of social media sites. Or I can send an article direct to MarsEdit, which I find very handy (more blog tool integration is forthcoming). I can also post to Instapaper, my favorite iPhone ‘read it later’ app. More, I can share items and add notes to articles (options currently unavailable with NetNewsWire). So far, I like it. It’s easy on the eyes and is a quick, efficient way to get through a lot of feeds. It’s much easier to look at than Google Reader.

Feedly, on the other hand, is something completely different. It’s a free browser-based aggregation service (available on the Mac for FireFox or Safari) that presents your articles in a pleasant, customizable magazine style. It offers strong social media integration and fancy algorithm-based filtering/recommendations that purportedly improve over time based on reading habits. It’s also highly customizable. I’ve tried these kind of news readers before and never really cared for them, but this one is pretty slick. I vastly prefer it to the iGoogle service. I’m giving it a go. We’ll see if I like it as much a month or so from now.

Meanwhile, I’ve left NetNewsWire behind. I don’t miss it. If you have a suggestion for a killer feed reader for the desktop or iPhone, I’d love to hear about it.

  1. Been similarly looking for replacements. Will go check out Gruml. I stumbled upon Event Box, aka Socialite. It’s impressively ambitios.

  2. Hi Troy

    I was reading the excellent articles you wrote on Rapid Weaver v WordPress.

    My site is created in RW and currently I have a WordPress.com blog.

    My problem is that I cannot find a way to get the WP blog listed in the sites navigation menu.

    Do you have any suggestions? (I have Googled everything I can think of to find some clues, which is how I found your articles)

    many thanks for your time in answering this,

    Leo

  3. Thanks for a great article!

    Like you I’ve been seeking out alternatives for NetNetsWire, which is generally a good application, but limited in some areas.

    I’ve settled on Byline for the iPhone and have been very happy with my choice. It strikes a great balance between an attractive design and a strong feature set.

    I’m putting Gruml through its paces based on your recommendation and am quite impressed so far. It could use a bit of polish in some areas (e.g. I find some of the toolbar icons confusing) and I miss features such as Smart Folder that are available in NNW. Though, it’s still a strong contender…and still in beta.

    I’m also keeping a close eye on EventBox, which was recently purchased by Realmac Software and is going to be re-released as Socialite. EventBox is already a capable solution and I have no doubt that the folks at Realmac Software will make it even better.

  4. Glad to hear another vote for Byline. I hadn’t heard about Eventbox/Socialite. I’m eager to see what Realmac comes up with — thanks for the tip.

    Leo: You can add an offsite page (redirect) to point to your WP blog in RW, which will then show up in your navigation.

  5. My favorite by far is the free (open-source) Vienna. I’ve left it to try other apps, (NetNewsWire included), and always come back. It doesn’t meet all of your requirements, but it’s simple, clean, and it works. Love it.

    From Vienna’s website:
    A summary of some of its features:

    * Subscribe to Atom/RSS news feeds and podcasts.
    * Simple and intuitive user interface with customisable toolbar.
    * Built-in tabbed browser.
    * Global search of all retrieved articles.
    * Automatic detection of newsfeeds on web pages.
    * Smart folders for organising related feed articles.
    * Custom article display styles.
    * Three separate reading layouts.
    * Blogging integration.
    * Support for downloading enclosures in articles
    * Filter the displayed articles.
    * Manual reordering of the subscription list.
    * Full AppleScript support.
    * Localised into several languages.

    More info here:
    http://www.vienna-rss.org/vienna_features.php

  6. hi Kelly,

    I tried out Vienna based on your comment, and I like it a lot. Think I’d use it if it offered Google Reader syncing. I need that syncing — when I read feeds on my Mac or my iPhone, I want it to show up as ‘read’ on the other device.

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