You already know that Really Simple Syndication brings the Web to you rather than making you open your browser to go and get it. With RSS, instead of browsing frequently to your favorite news sites or blogs to find new articles or posts, you use the RSS reader on your computer to check for new items automatically--all you have to do is browse the reader's list of constantly updated headlines whenever you have a few free moments to spare.
The reality of RSS is a little less glorious, however. Though free RSS news feeds and tools abound, getting them to work is rarely as easy as clicking a link. It's nice that Microsoft has integrated RSS support into the upcoming version 7 of its Internet Explorer browser. Unfortunately, people who are using current versions of IE will have to rely on an RSS reader such as one of those described in "The News Stands Alone" below.
Using Firefox, you can subscribe with one click to XML news feeds from the BBC, the New York Times, and Slashdot, and to others that use the Atom syndication specification. Whenever you visit a site offering an Atom feed (which Firefox calls a 'Live Bookmark'), an orange icon appears at the lower right of the browser window; click the icon, and Firefox will save the feed to your bookmarks menu or to one of its subfolders, such as the handy Personal Toolbar. Unfortunately, though Atom is an up-and-coming alternative to RSS for Web news delivery, not every site (PCWorld.com included) supports it.
On the other hand, Firefox doesn't make subscribing to standard RSS feeds simple: Right-click the feed's RSS or XML button, choose Copy Link Location, select Bookmarks, Manage Bookmarks, File, New Live Bookmark, type an appropriate title for the selected feed in the Name field, press Tab, and then press Ctrl-V to paste the address into the Feed Location field (see Figure 1
If you use the Opera 8 browser, you can subscribe to both RSS and Atom feeds with a single click. When you visit a Web page bearing an RSS link, a small blue icon labeled 'rss' appears at the right side of Opera's address field. Click the icon, and Opera will pop up a dialog box asking whether you'd like to add the news feed to your Feeds menu. To look at your news feeds, just choose Feeds, Read feeds.
The News Stands Alone
For industrial-strength news-feed reading, use a program designed to aggregate and manage RSS and Atom feeds (see "RSS Toolbox" for download information). The free, open-source Feedreader program is sleek and easy to use. Nick Bradbury's $30 FeedDemon adds a few bells and whistles, including RSS feed search channels and the ability to synchronize podcasts with your iPod or other media player.
Microsoft Outlook users who prefer to funnel their feeds into their personal folders can use the free Consumer Standard version of the NewsGator RSS reader; the program lets you display RSS feeds in any Web browser. The Gold and Platinum versions of NewsGator add other features for a fee of a few dollars a month. Versions of the reader for business users allow you to view your feeds in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.