Web News Wranglers

Get Your News Everywhere

If you would prefer a more portable approach to news reading, give NewsGator Online a try. The NewsGator site features a built-in news reader, and it can work in conjunction with either NewsGator's Outlook plug-in or a stand-alone client such as FeedDemon (which NewsGator acquired last fall). It has solid e-mail and bookmarking functions, as well as a clean "river of news" or folder-based look. The NewsGator site doesn't try to look like a client app, and unfortunately it's very slow to change from feed to feed. Unlike many online readers, it allows you to create folders and move items between them, and it syncs your changes to its client software.

Nonsubscribers receive one free e-mail account (premium users get five) for subscribing to or creating a public RSS feed for a mailing list. NewsGator users can translate one Web-wide keyword search into a feed (premium users get 20). The service also has a mobile client, POP3 access, and solid tools for bloggers and for users who want to sync podcasts and videocasts with a PC or mobile device.

Despite the service's rich feature set, the site's sluggish performance and lack of a search engine make it unwieldy; I'd recommend it only as an addition to NewsGator's serviceable Outlook plug-in or the outstanding FeedDemon (for more on this client, see the next section).

Serious Software

For basic RSS reading, you may not need much more than your trusty Web browser (see Browser Support: Built-In RSS-IE 7 Beta 2 vs. Firefox (With Sage) vs. Opera). For serious news reading, however, neither browsers nor online services are as fast or as configurable as downloadable clients.

Even a beta release like SharpReader is far more efficient at quickly navigating lots of feeds than the best online reader. Although it can be a memory hog, SharpReader has excellent notification windows and threaded category support, and it can show which feed items are linked to other feed items--a good indicator of a story's importance. The software also does a fine job of identifying the location of RSS feeds when you type in the URL of a site's home page.

Awasu is yet another step up. Its free version consists of a sleek but feature-rich three-pane news reader with a full-on browser in the third pane, including tabbed browsing that makes jumping back to a previous feed simple. Awasu also allows you to search your feeds quickly, and among its plethora of customization options are plug-ins that enable you to establish standing Google searches, save multimedia files to a designated directory, and subscribe to Yahoo groups. Awasu's only real drawbacks are its lack of clear keyboard commands, its tendency to consume lots of system resources, and its overly strict handling of RSS feeds, which causes it to choke on feeds that other readers handle. The paid version ($29) removes limits on the number of plug-ins and feeds, and lets users subscribe to password-protected feeds.

NewsGator's FeedDemon 2.0 costs $30, but it's worth every penny. It is remarkably fast, doesn't hog memory, and combines multiple intuitive layout options with a bevy of options to suit your reading style.

The send-to tool permits you to easily post an item to social bookmarking site Del.icio.us, copy it to the clipboard, or e-mail or blog about the item. The second pane supports multiple tabs, which can load feeds or display a selected item in a browser view. You can then add an item to your IE favorites or browse to a new site. The program's only noticeable flaws are its unchangeable alphabetical feed sort and its rigidly icon-based method of opening an item in a new tab.

But that's just nitpicking. FeedDemon's fantastic design and generous feature set, paired with NewsGator Online's ability to sync multiple computers and mobile readers, makes FeedDemon the best all-around news-reading application.

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