Although much has been said about the death of RSS I, for one, still get most of my news via RSS feeds every day. I find Twitter to be filled with too much extraneous junk, and services like Friendfeed and Facebook still don’t offer the feature set I want from my daily news aggregator. My RSS service of choice is Google Reader, which should come as no surprise as it is by far the most popular RSS Reader out there.
Getting your Google Reader fix is as simple as navigating to the website, but what I really want is a desktop solution that offers all of Google Reader’s features while giving me a Mac-like experience and offline access to downloaded articles. A year ago the choices in this space were almost nil, but thankfully we’ve seen several applications jump into the fray recently. Let’s take a look at each of the contenders.
Many Mac users will be familiar with NetNewsWire, which has long been one of the best RSS readers for the platform. I was thus thrilled to hear that the next version of NetNewsWire will be bringing Google Reader support.
The current beta of NetNewsWire does support synchronization, starring and folders, but features such as sharing and liking items are still not available. Thankfully the developer has indicated that those features will be implemented. Unfortunately, there’s no word about future support for notes and tagging.
NetNewsWire offers excellent keyboard support, a built-in web browser as well as integration with Delicious and Instapaper. Lacking is Twitter or Facebook support. You can send articles directly to a blogging client on your computer, which is a nice feature. I also like the three pane interface that is offered as an alternative to the more traditional interface with articles on top and the preview below.
Once the latest version of NetNewsWire gets out of beta, the combination of excellent user interface with reasonable Google Reader support will likely be compelling for many. It will still be missing some important features however, like notes, tagging or posting directly to Twitter and Facebook. This will likely keep me from using the software.
Unlike other solutions on this list, EventBox is not singularly focused on RSS feeds. Instead it seeks to be the center of your online social life, with support for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Digg and other services in addition to Google Reader support.
The user interface offers access to your folders and feeds, but given the multi-use nature of the software I have to say that it feels a bit like Google Reader has been shoehorned into a generic interface. There are no keyboard shortcuts for sharing and starring, for example, and no support for tagging or liking.
Given EventBox’s support for a wide variety of social networks, you might expect sharing items from Google Reader to those various networks would be easy. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. You can send an item to Twitter or Instapaper, but not directly to any of the other social networks that EventBox supports.
EventBox is still undergoing active development and the developer says they are specifically working on improving integration between services. Still, improving the Google Reader implementation doesn’t seem to be high on the priority list. Hopefully this changes in the future, but as of now it’s not a good choice for most Google Reader users.
I have used both NetNewsWire and EventBox extensively in the past, but I have to admit that Gruml is new to me. To be fair, it’s new to many of us as the application just opened to a public beta a few weeks ago.
At first glance Gruml is a Google Reader power user’s dream. It has by far the most complete implementation of features amongst the three applications I looked at, including support for starring, sharing, liking, notes and tags. There’s also support for posting an article directly to Twitter.
The user interface is similar to NetNewsWire’s, with the option of a standard mail-like interface or a three-column view. Like NetNewsWire, there is also a built-in web browser for viewing articles and solid keyboard navigation support. Unique to Gruml is a menu bar icon that shows you how many unread items you have and pops up a list of the most recent articles when you click on it.
Gruml also offers the most complete access to Google Reader interface features, for example you can view your starred, shared, liked and noted items. You may also view a list of all your feeds, see them organized by folder or view articles by tag.
Unfortunately not all is well with Gruml, as you might expect from an application that is still in Beta. The biggest problem is laggy performance. While using the application I experienced constant slowdowns. Even moving to a new article would sometimes summon a beach ball, as did attempting to mark all articles in a folder as read.
If the developers of Gruml can address these performance issues, however, it currently offers the greatest hope for a complete Google Reader experience on the Mac desktop.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Mac desktop clients for Google Reader are a new phenomenon. This can be seen clearly by the fact that all three pieces of software I looked at are still in Beta. As it stands today, I don’t find any of them offer the mix of features and performance I’m looking for, so I still use a Fluid SSB with Google Gears for offline support to access Google Reader. All three applications offer hope for the future, however, and I can easily see myself using one of these in a year.