Thursday, October 25, 2007

Best Free RSS Reader/Aggregator

Defining a best in this category is tough as different users have very different priorities. For some users, display readability and easy subscription is everything while to others, the level of blog integration is the most important attribute.

I fall firmly in the first category. To me RSS is just another information source not a way of life.

Indeed the most important feature in a reader to me is the ability to easily click on a number of interesting items from an integrated display and have a stacked series of Windows relating to the items open in a browser for later reading. That way I can scan quickly for items of interest but read the items at my leisure.

The readers that most conveniently offer this feature are those integrated into browsers rather than stand-alone readers or those that are work with your email client.

My favorite program for doing this is the Firefox extension for Onfolio. It was a commercial product until it was recently acquired by Microsoft who now make it available for free. Naturally Microsoft no longer support the Firefox extension but Onfolio is available for Internet Explorer users as an add-in for the free Windows Live Toolbar. With the IE Onfolio add-in you'll not only get a great RSS reader you'll also get a whole bunch of other features including the ability to save and manage web snippets. On the downside you'll have to have Live Toolbar which many will see as too much of a Faustian bargain.

If you use IE7 you may not need Onfolio as the RSS reader built into IE7 follows the Onfolio model and is excellent though it lacks Onfolio's excellent snippet management features.

Firefox users are not quite so well placed.

Firefox's V2 has inbuilt RSS capabilities though it doesn't work nearly as slickly as IE7. Page feeds are automatically detected and the user is the offered the choice of the online services at Bloglines, My Yahoo! or the Google Reader. All work well enough and for those with a Google account, the Google is option is probably the pick.

Apart from these three inbuilt options Firefox allow you use other third party readers as well. You can find instructions here [6] but be aware that not all readers can be integrated.

There are several RSS reader extensions available for Firefox. My top choice used to be the excellent Pluck extension but it is soon to be discontinued. The free Sage RSS reader extension is another possibility. I've never liked it much but it might just light your fire.

My old Onfolio Firefox extension still works in Firefox 2 (with the help of the compatibility feature of the Nightly Tester Tools extension) but you need the commercial version of Onfolio to support it so it can hardly be recommended.

If you can't live with these choices you could try a stand-alone reader.

BlogBridge has a highly readable display and any items clicked will load in the background in separate Firefox tabs for later reading. Even better is the ability to setup Firefox to use BlogBridge as your default reader. That way you can subscribe to new feeds from Firefox and have the feeds handled through BlogBridge, which is quite a neat solution. You'll need version 4.2 of BlogBridge or later - it won't work with early versions.

BlogBridge has a whole raft of features including support for almost all feed formats, syncing feeds between PCs, good searching and good integration with and Flickr. Being Java based it available for most platforms however like all Java applications, there is a performance penalty to pay.

Another excellent stand-alone reader is GreatNews. Its newspaper style layout is one of the best I've seen and it's inbuilt IE based browser allows for quick and efficient viewing of items of interest. It will particularly appeal to Blogline users as it utilizes the Bloglines API to read feeds directly from Bloglines. Like BlogBridge it can be integrated into Firefox

Those wanting to integrate RSS with Microsoft Outlook email might like to try RSS Popper. Personally I think your email client is the worst location for a RSS reader but there are many who disagree.

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