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September 20, 2003

Brief Lazy Web query. I’ve previously praised NetNewsWire, the remarkably well-designed RSS reader for OS X.

What I’m looking for now is a Windows product that gives me the core NetNewsWire features that I actually use. Which is to say, I want it to

  • poll a list of RSS feeds,
  • show me which ones have new content, and
  • allow me to selectively launch those in an actual web browser.
I’m not much for reading the actual content in an RSS reader, nor am I looking for the sort of RSS arrangement (Amphetadesk is a good example) that concatenates new content from multiple sites into a single generated-on-the-fly web page.

Final detail: The product I’m looking for has to be able to import a longish list of RSS feeds via OPML. Can you tell I’m trying to enable, on a couple of Windows boxes, the sort of efficient weblog browsing I enjoy on OS X? Indeed I am. [09:02 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Brief Lazy Web query.:

Elaine Normandy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 11:26 AM:

You didn't say it had to be desktop based, so how about bloglines? I've been using it for three or four weeks and have been quite pleased. It allows imports, you can put a bookmarklet to add a feed to your list, and the response time seems to be good.


It is still under development, but I haven't banged up against any rough edges.

I group my items into folders, and then click on the whole folder. This shows a pane with the rss feed items for those subscriptions in the folder. Since I use Mozilla, I then open tabs for those weblogs that I wish to read, so I still see the website.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 12:35 PM:

Thanks for the pointer. I've just now set up Bloglines, and it's definitely an improvement on Awasu and FeedDemon for my purposes, but it still takes twice as many clicks to actually open the site's proper front page in the browser, which is what I really want to do. So The Quest Continues.

Many RSS parsers seem to be designed around the idea that what we want to zero in on is the story. That makes sense, I'm sure, for lots of people. But all I want to do is (1) find out what sites have new stuff, and (2) load those sites. I don't need a lot of detail about what the new stuff consists of, and I don't want to have to click through extra steps between (1) and (2).

In a different query for my Windows-savvy readers, can anyone offer a clue about how to get externally-invoked links to spawn new tabs in either Mozilla or Mozilla Firebird, rather than simply taking over the frontmost tab of the frontmost browser window?

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 03:48 PM:

I know how to do it in Opera, for what that's worth.

John Dougan ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 04:33 PM:

I've been using NewsMonster PRO at http://www.newsmonster.org/ which uses Mozilla or Firebird as the run platform, so it will work on any platform that runs Mozilla. Obviously it's browser integration is seamless. It also has some features that make life on the road easier, such as optional cacheing and archiving. It's still a little raw, but it works for me.

Jonah ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 06:04 PM:

Patrick asked:

In a different query for my Windows-savvy readers, can anyone offer a clue about how to get externally-invoked links to spawn new tabs in either Mozilla or Mozilla Firebird, rather than simply taking over the frontmost tab of the frontmost browser window?

In Firebird:

1)Type about:config in the address bar.

2)Scroll down to advanced.system.supportDDEExec and double click on it.

3)In the box that pops up change true to false and click OK.

This will make every link open in a new window. To make links open in new tabs, you will also need to install Tabbrowser Extensions (I haven't done this). More information is here.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 06:20 PM:

I don't know if it will work in Windows (though I can't see why it wouldn't) but in Firebird

Tools -> Options -> General, check "Open Links in the Background"

Elaine Normandy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 06:38 PM:


If you click on the folder titles on the left hand side, all of the subscriptions with new content will show up on the right hand side. You can then go down through them and click on the websites.

I've asked for the ability to click directly through to the website on the left hand side because I tend to use aggregators as you do: as a notification service. I received a nice note back about my suggestion, but I don't know if they will actually implement it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 07:06 PM:

John Dougan, I tried NewsMonster, and it has the same problem as Bloglines: its basic design presumption is that you want to aggregate RSS content, not launch the sites' actual front pages. You can get from there to here, but it's awkward. (The same is true of Newszcrawler, recommended via a TrackBack to this post.)

Elaine, thanks; I'll keep playing with Bloglines. I am increasingly incredulous, though, that what I actually want is so hard to find in the Windows world...

Graydon, no, I've had that setting set as long as I've been playing with Firebird. I'll try Jonah's slightly more daunting fix next.

Charles Shopsin ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 07:46 PM:

The only rss reader for the pc I like nearly as much as NetNewsWire is SharpReader http://www.sharpreader.net/

It has all of the features you mentioned. And more. It's curerntly the only RSS reader I know about that actually tracks the threads between all of your subscribed RSS feeds as well.

Jeff Jarvis ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 09:16 PM:

If you change the preferences in Feedemon, it will do what you want; the preferences are pretty powerful. You can set it so that if you click on the "home" icon when you're looking at a site's feed, it will open that site in a separate browser (the default is to open it instead in Feedemon). I made many such changes and I'm happy with the product. I just wish it would detect feeds and allow me to add them more quickly.

Suw ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 05:19 AM:

Syndirella allows you to aggregate feeds and read each feed in Syndirella itself either as a text/picture-only entry (on or offline) or by clicking on the link for that blog entry to open the actual blog page in Syndirella's main window (works just like a browser window). No idea about the opml bit though.

It's a bit buggy at times, but it works ok for me, particularly as i often aggregate then go offline (dial-up sucks round here).


Martin Sutherland ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 12:15 PM:

Another vote for SharpReader. It's a nice, simple interface that reads your feeds, and then gets out of the way. (Note that you need to have Microsoft's .NET stuff installed for it to work, though.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 04:21 PM:

Thanks for all the suggestions. Indeed, SharpReader seems to come closest to exactly what I want, so I'm using it. It still requires two separate operations to load the web page into the browser and then mark those new posts as read, but I can live with that.

Thanks also to Jonah for pointing me in the direction of TabBrowser Extensions for Mozilla Firebird, and showing me the "about:config" trick. Despite all this, I still can't get URLs passed to Firebird by other apps (SharpReader, or my mail client, or...) to stop popping the browser into the foreground, but oh well. Tab behavior, and the spawning of new tabs, is fine. And Firebird supports draggable tabs, the first browser I've seen do that since the magnificent Linux browser Galeon!

(Why am I messing around in Windows so much? Well, it's what I have at work, for one thing, so I might get up to speed on it. It's actually been some years since I was remotely au courant with Redmond; I'm not even sure what ".NET extensions" are.)

Jim Flannery ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 05:11 PM:

Not quite the same set of functionality but extremely lightweight and cool: on that same extensions page for Firebird there's an item called "RSS Reader Panel". Basically you set up a separate folder in your Bookmarks for feeds, and point the extension to it; then you can select View/Sidebar/RSS Reader and the sidebar opens up with two panes, a feed selector and a list of titles from the selected feed ... the items open up in Firebird since, duh, you're already in Firebird.

Doesn't seem to highlight new items but it does mark the ones you've viewed already as visited links. Wish I had this for Opera.

Dave Slusher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 11:03 AM:

I don't know if this is any closer to your needs than the other server-side aggregators, but I'm using FeedOnFeeds for my aggregation. I tried and discarded several, including NetNewsWire and have decided that FoF is closest (so far) to what I want. In the "Control Panel" view, it shows the tally of how many new articles there are in each of your group. You can either follow a link to read the stories, or follow a link to the actual blog itself. You can also import OPML with it, and by adding a Javascript "bookmarklet" to your menu or toolbar, you can add a currently viewed blog to your list via a single action.

The downside of FoF is that it is still a gearhead type project. This requires you setting it up on your own webserver, and having a database available. I originally set it up on my home Linux box, and later moved it to my hosted Rackshack box. The very nice thing about this is that I can use the same aggregator (with the same things marked as read) at home, at work, in hotel rooms. That part I really like.

Not exactly the desktop Windows aggregator you asked for, but something that I use on Windows (and OS X and Linux) and like very much.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 01:00 PM:

Wow, FoF looks like exactly what I want, given how frequently I shift between machines. And I certainly have the resources for it, in that nielsenhayden.com is indeed hosted on "a server running modern versions of PHP and MySQL."

The minor hitch, of course, is that I know nothing about PHP and MySQL, so step 3 of the simple installation process ("Edit the file config.php to contain the correct DB connection information. If needed, create a MySQL DB for FEED ON FEEDS. Or, you can use an existing DB") assumes I know a lot of stuff that I probably don't know. Not that this will necessarily stop me...

Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 04:55 PM:

Patrick, are you hosting Electrolite yourself? If you're using a commercial host, odds are very good that they have MySQL available (possibly only for people buying a premium package, but it's really quite common.)

If you put everything between the dashed lines into a text file with a .php extension ("info.php" or whatever), upload it to your server, and pull it up in a browser. That'll give you all the information you need about your particular PHP installation. Search for "MySQL" and see if it's mentioned; after that, you'll need to talk to your admin about getting a database login if you don't already have one.



Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 06:57 PM:

The little script between Steve's dashed lines doesn't show up in my browser, but never fear, it was perfectly legible in the copy of his post I auto-received via email. And it worked -- thanks, that's very handy. (Indeed I am using a commercial provider, the excellent Blogomania, and indeed they have perl, MySQL, bash, tosh, dish, Fortran, Twotran, Winken, Blinken, and most importantly Nod.

In fact Dave Slusher has kindly offered to help me get FeedOnFeeds running, and I've forwarded him the results of that script, just so he can see what is in fact available.

Greg Reinacker ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 09:37 PM:

If you use Outlook, take a look at NewsGator (http://www.newsgator.com)...you can customize it to work the way you're looking for.