Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

Revisiting RSS reader choices

I’ve been using RSS Bandit as my RSS reader since February, and have been quite happy with it. However, I started getting read errors that I reported on the RSS Bandit forums, and after 6 messages back and forth, the errors remain unresolved. I’m quite a bit behind on my reading, so I like to keep a long history of RSS feeds, and unexplained interruptions are annoying. After a week of not getting resolution, I started shopping around for another Windows-based RSS reader again.

One feature that makes moving from one reader to another relatively simple is OPML. Export the list of subscriptions from one package, and import them into another. There’s a few complications that make moving from one package to another less than completely straightforward, that I’ll describe further below. Here’s a trace of my reasoning for selection, based on a process of elimination.

RSS Bandit v. GreatNews 1.0 Beta (Build 370) RSSOwl 1.2.1 Feedreader 3.05 Abilon 2.5.3 build 196p
OPML Export and import Export and import Export and import Export and import Export and import
Tolerates Blogspot Atom 0.3 errors with Microsoft tags No Yes No Yes Yes

OPML: In theory, the ability to import and export OPML means that it should be easy to move from one RSS reader to another, if something doesn’t work out. In practice, this turns out to not quite be true. I had 2 levels of folders in RSS Bandit, and trying to import that into other packages didn’t work that well. One level of folders seems to be okay, so thinking flat has merit.

Tolerates Blogspot Atom 0.3 errors with Microsoft tags: Now that Blogger does RSS 2.0, it’s a bit moot about whether an author chooses to use Microsoft Word as an editor or not, resulting in Atom 0.3 non-compliant feeds. However, this symptom speaks to a greater issue about whether a developer is responsive to practices-in-use, or prefers to stick with standards as written. In the world of browsers, web page writers are always checking that content works on IE, Firefox (and even Safari), so it’s annoying, but the alternative of telling web users what packages they should use is not very helpful. Thus, from my list, I eliminated RSS Bandit (which I actually liked a lot) and RSSOwl.

GreatNews 1.0 Beta (Build 370) Feedreader 3.05 Abilon 2.5.3 build 196p
Ongoing development and support Active Active Dead

Ongoing support and development: RSSOwl has a pretty active open source community, so it’s too bad that I eliminated it on the above grounds. RSS Bandit has had a history of active development, but the key resources seem to have been busy for quite a while, so updates have been recently been slow. Abilon was written up by PC World, and is downloadable from their site, but the original site of abilon.org is no more. The developers have moved on. If Abilon was really a killer package with features way beyond the others, then I might consider it. Abilon would do the job, but the lack of any future support worries me, so I eliminated it from the final choices. Although GreatNews and FeedReader don’t appear to have large developer communities, they are signs of continuing development..

GreatNews 1.0 Beta (Build 370) Feedreader 3.05
Notifications and alerts Refreshes can be set feed-by-feed Refreshes can be set feed-by-feed
Look-and-feel Buttons readily at hand Cleaner interface, options hidden

Notifications and alerts: It doesn’t take long to refresh even a long list of feeds, but sometimes I just don’t think about my RSS reader, so it’s good to prompt me on certain feeds that I consider more important. In RSS Bandit, it was possible to set the refresh rates at the folder level, and all of the contained feeds would inherit those periods. In both GreatNews and Feedreader, they’re set feed-by-feed, which is rather annoying, but not enough to stop me from using them.

Look-and-feel: This part is most subjective. I had gotten used to RSS Bandit’s layout flexibility — the ability to move the reading pane to the top, and button bars onto the right side. Feedreader hides most of its options behind the menus, whereas GreatNews surfaces the options, and there’s more options available. As one example, the size of the panes in Feedreader can be adjusted by dragging the borders. GreatNews has the additional feature that clicking on the centre border instantly maximizes the reading pane. GreatNews just feels like a package with an interface that a frequent user would build … not that Feedreader couldn’t get there some day.

For now, the winner … by a nose … is GreatNews. It’s possible that this could change over time, and using an OPML export and import makes moving from one to the other somewhat easier. Going through a long list and resetting refresh rates one by one is enough to deter me from making the switch back-and-forth with any frequency.

Now that I’ve used GreatNews for some time, there’s two features that I miss from RSS Bandit.

  • After reading a number of entries in RSS Bandit, I could select and then shift-select a number of headlines and simply delete them. GreatNews does allow deletion of each headline separately, but select and shift-select isn’t a key combination that seems to work. This does work in Feedreader. GreatNews has been reminding me of an option to do a cleanup — the default was initially set up to 31 days — but that’s not the way I use an RSS reader. I let things accumulate at different rates, and then would like to do mass deletions manually. I turn on and turn off certain folders of subscriptions to my local newspaper, depending on whether I’m travelling or at home (where I read the hard copy).
  • GreatNews reminds me of feeds that have not been updated for some time, and asks whether I want to retain that feed on the list or not. This choice then gets hidden, so I don’t remember which ones are active and which ones aren’t. In RSS Bandit, the logs of failed feeds was retained, so that it was easy to look to see if I should or shouldn’t be concerned.

These may or may not be features on someone else’s priority lists, but for now, I’m pretty happy.

Update on 2007/01/01: Readers will probably be interested to read an addendum on RSS Readers: both for full content and excerpts-only.

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