The Best Mac RSS reader Gets Better: NetNewsWire 3.0

If you’re a fellow feed-addict and you’re running Mac OS X, we don’t have to tell you what’s right about NetNewsWire. It was already considered “best in class” long before developer Brent Simmons joined forces with NewsGator. The Mac feed reader just got better with today’s introduction of the release version of NewsGator NetNewsWire 3.0.

NetNewsWire has never been just an alternate version of its Windows desktop cousin, FeedDemon. As much as we love web-based readers, they’re confined to the browser walls and therefore take little advantage of what the operating system has to offer. Fully utilizing many Mac OS X goodies, NetNewsWire 3.0 integrates into nearly every corner of the Mac user experience, perhaps justifying its $29.95 price tag. Because after all, it’s not only about reading the content…it’s about what you do with the content to help your productivity.

If you’re familiar with previous versions of NetNewsWire, you already know how elegant and “Mac-like” it is. The updated version revamps the interface with new icons and includes a combined view for a “river of news” that feels a lot like Google Reader. You can sort the content in any way that feels comfortable to you and navigate through them with the keyboard or mouse.

Interface-wise, the best new feature is the right-hand thumbnail sidebar. As you open sites in NetNewsWire’s built-in browser (which uses the same rendering engine as Safari), a sidebar shows open tabs in small preview windows. You have multiple options for maximizing the viewing space and hiding those parts of the window you’re not actively using, which is helpful for small monitors. A very flexible search window at the top and the ability to synchronize clippings to the NewsGator server makes this one of the easiest desktop aggregators to move around.

Other new Mac OS X-happy features include microformat support (if you can find a site that supports it) for adding events to applications like iCal or Address Book. More here-and-now…you can control/right click on an image and add it directly to iPhoto and there’s Growl notification support. You can post directly to Twitterific, a wonderful Mac OS X Twitter client (although it would be nice if automatically shortened the URL or recognized when it was pointing to the feed instead of the original item). Introduced in a previous version is an inline “dinosaur” report that also turns a feed label brown if it hasn’t been updated lately. Handy. For podcasts or articles with media, NetNewsWire still works tightly with iTunes with options for automatically adding content to the media player.

You would think that all these new and expanded features would make NetNewsWire feel bloated, but in fact the opposite is true. The application is optimized to be much faster than previous versions and the preferences are flexible enough that you can turn off what you don’t want. The only bottleneck is felt in connecting to the NewsGator server, especially when the application first launches.

That said, there’s always room for improvement. There are areas of the interface that are still a little quirky, such as menu items that are only meant to be used in one view but are still visible in another. So for example if you select “Show Summaries In-Line” from the View -> Layout… menu while in Combined view absolutely nothing happens because that change is only apparent in Traditional or Widescreen views. You can only post to desktop blog clients, missing the opportunity to add/edit a blog entry in a browser window as many folks do. In news view, posting to posts the link from the feed, not the original item. In order to post the original item, you need to load the page in the built-in browser first. Simmons updates his applications frequently (and he makes development versions open for public feedback), so there’s no doubt that any oddities will quickly be addressed. I only wish NewsGator Online was as strong a browser-based reader as NetNewsWire is as a desktop client, for those times that you’re not at your Mac.

Overall, the Mac feed-reading “gold standard” is better than ever. If you’ve forgotten what’s so cool about running Mac OS X, let NetNewsWire remind you. It’s not features for features sake. It’s seamless integration between the feeds you read and how you use them outside of the feed reader.

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