In the world of RSS readers for OS X, two pieces of software compete for the title of king. Both Newsfire and NetNewsWire have evangelistic user-bases, and both have their pro’s and con’s. I will be looking at these programs from a usability point of view.
Developed by David Wattanabe, Newsfire is the aesthetists news-reader. Looks are the name of the game here, and features come second.
The interface of Newsfire is really what makes the program. At first glance, one could easily mistake it for a full-screen version of iChat. Brushed-metal and animated feed lists surround users in a decidedly OS X experience. Users are able to group feeds together, and navigate to the next unread entry via a single tap of the space-bar. Simplicity is key with Newsfire, and this is certainly shown in the window layout. Newsfire has NO toolbar. Personally, this bugs me. A program without a toolbar forces users to navigate through menus to find what they want, instead of simply being able to point and click. However, what Newsfire has going for it in looks, it lacks in features. I found that Newsfire only really does one thing, and that is simply read news-feeds, and nothing more.
When a program is mediocre at best, its one saving grace can be stability and great tech support. Newsfire has neither. I have constantly encountered unexplained program crashes with Newsfire, on multiple different systems. When contacting the developer about these problems, I found that although most of my questions were answered quickly, the responses were usually abrupt, and generally unhelpful. The biggest problem I had with Newsfire was a constant problem with reading of certain feeds. Often, certain feeds would show up as “invalid”, and Newsfire would no longer refresh the feeds. These feeds were by no means out of the ordinary, but popular feeds from sites such as PowerPage.org, and MacNewsNetwork. I have tested these same feeds in Safari RSS and NetNewsWire, and they work perfectly.
Developed by Ranchero Software, NetNewsWire is possibly the most feature-full news-reader available for OS X today.
The interface of NetNewsWire, while nothing like that of Newsfire, is nothing to scoff at. As with NewsFire, feeds can be grouped, and the list of subscriptions is animated. Users are presented with the option of 3 window layouts, each bringing its advantages. The Traditional layout is perfect for situations where one wants the maximum amount of information displayed, with the minimum amount of screen space taken up. Traditional view allows users to see an article, the list of subscriptions/groups, and a list of previous entries from the selected subscription/group.
Widescreen view shows everything that is shown in the Traditional view, but presents the panes side-by-side. This provides for more space for each of the frames, and thus, can show more information.
Combined view shows all of the entries from the selected subscription/group, but pre- sents them as one long, combined entry.
Favicons, those little site-specific icons that show up in your web-browser, are a seemingly simple feature of NetNewsWire which makes a lot of difference. With favi- cons, I can easily and quickly navigate my feeds without having to read their names. These favicons also come in handy when navigating the tabs in the built-in browser.
One thing I immediately noticed about NetNewsWire as compared to Newsfire is how it renders entries. NetNewsWire displays the entries as they would show up in a web-browser, while Newsfire simply displayed pictures and text. This makes a huge difference when viewing feeds/pages which have oddly formatted text.
A very welcome feature of NetNewsWire is the ability to change its look. Via a menu at the bottom of the screen, one can easily switch to one of the many included themes, or, install a third party style. Not only does this allow for a change every once in a while, it gives users the option to customize the interface to their liking. These themes do not change the over-all look of the program, but instead change the way entries are
displayed, by using different header styles, colors, and formatting.
One of my favorite features of NetNewsWire is the built-in web-browser. With Newsfire, I would often find myself with over 30 tabs open in OmniWeb, which clogged up my web-browsing speed, as well as my system as a whole. With NetNewsWire, all of the articles I want to read simply open in the background as a new tab. This not only keeps them all in one place — removing the need for me to navigate between programs –, but allows me to easily subscribe to other sites I may navigate to. NetNewsWire’s browser uses WebKit to render pages, the same engine used by Safari.
A good deal of what I blog comes from things I see in my news-reader. Previously, I would have to open the story in my browser, and then manually navigate to my blog to create an entry. With NetNewsWire, the ability to post directly to ones blog is made blatantly clear through a toolbar icon that is displayed by default. After seeing this icon, I decided to give desktop blogging a try. After downloading and configuring ecto, I am able to simply click the icon in NetNewsWire, and the text of the selected entry, as well as a link to the entry, is immediately sent to ecto, which creates a new blog entry around it. This shaves at last 2 minutes off the process of blogging a news item, and thus, makes it more likely that I will blog an item immediately, as opposed to letting a list of them pile up. Although Newsfire does have the ability to send information to a blogging program, this feature is poorly implemented, mostly due to the fact that it has no toolbar for easy access to this feature.
After using both of these programs for extended periods of time, I have no difficulty saying that NNW is a far superior newsreader to Newsfire. NNW brings tons of features in an easy to use interface, and that is what users are looking for. Newsfire, although fun to look at, is more trouble than it is worth.