101 Fabulous Freebies

Delivered: The News You Want

Illustration: Edwin Fotheringham
If you still take a hunter/gatherer approach to finding news--visiting one Web site after another--it's time to join the modern world. RSS news-feed readers are a far faster and easier way to stay abreast of the news you care about. An RSS reader downloads specially formatted XML files from the Web sites you're interested in and then displays all their news to you in one place--no more browsing from site to site.

With Abilon you can choose between this three-pane view and a more traditional two-pane display.
With Abilon you can choose between this three-pane view and a more traditional two-pane display.
Software-based news readers are generally the fastest, and it's hard to beat Abilon. This powerful, speedy reader offers you a choice of views: You can opt for a three-pane view with feeds on the left, headlines in the middle, and articles on the right; or you can switch to a two-column view. It has a built-in tabbed browser, too. One tool lets you quickly and easily post items to your Blogger, LiveJournal, or Movable Type blog. And finally, Abilon speedily imports and exports OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) files, which are crucial for transferring your list of subscriptions to another news reader. Caveat: As of press time, Abilon's parent site (www.abilon.org) was down; this handy piece of freeware may be an orphan.

Other fine choices in PC-based news readers include RssReader and Feedreader. While not as elegant as Abilon, both display your feeds simply and cleanly. With RssReader, you have the advantage of viewing all the stories from a feed or group of feeds in a single, tall, scrolling window; Feedreader, by contrast, displays the content from only one story at a time. However, Feedreader's keyboard shortcuts are more flexible. Both programs import large OPML files slowly.

If you use more than one PC, a Web-based feed reader may be a better selection. By far the best choice in this category is Bloglines. This site uses frames, so you see a list of your subscribed feeds on the left pane while you read the latest articles from each feed on the right. Shortcut keys help you speed through the news, article by article or feed by feed. Bloglines also supports the import and export of OPML files.

Another popular Web-based reader is NewsGator, which shows feeds in a clean, readable display. Unlike Bloglines, it doesn't use frames, so as you scroll down the list of articles, you lose the navigation controls that let you skip from feed to feed--pretty annoying. Also, NewsGator can import OPML files but it won't export them, so you can't transfer your feeds to another reader if you decide NewsGator's not your pet.

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