NetNewsWire and its author Brent Simmons have been much in the news recently. NNW’s future is a moving target, and that matters because the app matters; it’s one of the better reasons to use a Mac.

I was an early adopter. I launched this blog in February of 2003 and had built a backlog of articles for launch day; it included two that mentioned NNW, including NetNewsWire 1.0. Since that time, it has not failed to be a part of my daily routine.

Lite 4.0 · That’s the label attached to Brent’s most recent iteration, now in the hands of Black Pixel; it’s in the Mac App Store. I’d resisted using it because it doesn’t sync with Google Reader. But then, NetNewsWire classic doesn’t really, either; the syncing was buggy and, I eventually realized, was silently dropping a few feeds I really care about.

Anyhow, I’m glad I switched. Brent has said repeatedly that he thinks “Lite 4.0” is his best code ever, and I agree. It does less than NNW classic, but for the basic routine of plowing through a lot of feeds to see what’s new, you just can’t beat it. It’s blindingly fast, the presentation is visually tasty, and the number of keystrokes to do anything is always 1.

There’s only one level of foldering; no biggie. It sorts your feeds by title and you can’t re-sort manually; a case where removing choices is a victory. Another is the loss of the fine-tuning for what fields you display in the articles-in-a-feed readout. Speed and polish and good defaults win; how many times do we have to re-learn this?

Syncing · I guess syncing with Google Reader must be hard, because I’ve never seen it done well. But I would really like it to work, because I use a variety of other devices to read feeds. In particular, I use my phone, or Galaxy Tab, in circumstances where you don’t want to unfold a computer: say, on a bus or a train or a plane waiting to take off.

As of this week, I guess apps on Apple platforms are supposed to sync with each other automagically; that’s a good thing. My portables are Androids; since Black Pixel is proudly Apple-only, I don’t suppose they’re going to building mobile clients for me. If they could manage Google Reader sync, though, anyone with a browser (i.e. everyone) could play along with NetNewsWire.

The notion of syncing all your devices, but only if they’re from Apple, is insane. By “insane” I mean “like before the Internet”. Back then you could connect all your IBM computers in a IBM network, and your DEC computers in a DEC network, and so on; let’s please not go back.

Gruber, in that same interview, has a clever feature proposal: some feeds that sync and some that don’t.

Speaking of Features · I have one big and two small feature requests. The big one is to do like Brent said: abandon the other code bases and built everything on NNW Lite 4.0. Feels like a no-brainer. Next, I want a one-finger keyboard shortcut that does what command-slash does: wherever you are, leave there and go to the next unread article. [Update: Brent, in the comments below, advises us that the ' key does what I want.] And finally (this is more of a bug-fix) make sure the left column scrolls automatically so that I can always glance over there to remind me what feed I’m reading.

The Big Question · That would be: “Do we need apps at all, or can we live entirely in the browser?” Feed reading throws this into particularly sharp relief, because Google Reader in the browser is a pretty sweet way to motor through feeds. But on my Androids the native Google Reader app is better, and on my Mac, NNW is better.

So there’s life in apps yet. I’m counting on Black Pixel to help keep it that way.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mike Hamilton (Jun 11 2011, at 13:17)

I used NNW for a long time, but also didn't like the lack of syncing between devices using Google Reader. I've recently switched to Reeder on Mac and iPhone, and love it. The syncing works VERY well. I will read an article on my phone, and if I refresh before reading on my iMac, it will show only unread items. Very smooth.

I'm not sure if Reeder has an Android app, but if you have a decent reader that syncs w/ GR, then you should be fine!!


From: James (Jun 11 2011, at 13:37)

Hi Tim,

I read your comments on NetNewsWire with interest. I had been struggling on with the truly dreadful syncing and broken flag/stars in NetNewsWire, believing it would get fixed "soon", but it wasn't, but there were no better alternatives - Gruml was too slow and other apps didnt work like I wanted.

No sync wasn't really an option - I usually read on my iphone on my commute and star things to look at in more detail later on a Mac.

When I saw NewsRack (which I use on my iPad) was on the Mac App Store, I was keen to try it, but there was no demo. The dev was very helpful, and sent me a beta link so I could try it for a few weeks. It really does make such as difference when the syncing works seamlessly, without randomly not updating or getting stuck like NNW did.

Anyway, I'm very happy - there's still a couple of niggles like the search isn't great and the UI still feels a little alien, but over all, I'd definitely stay it is worth a go - and most importantly the syncing works brilliantly, proving it can be done well!




From: Richard (Jun 11 2011, at 13:46)

I agree with Mike. I had used NetNewsWire since it's very early days and it certainly got me hooked on RSS. However, early version that synced via google reader didn't work well and so I switched to Reeder and I've not looked back. Reeder is a joy to use on Mac, iPad, and iPhone and it syncs perfectly with google reader.


From: Mike Furtak (Jun 11 2011, at 13:50)

If Google Reader sync is an important feature for you, I'd toss in another vote for Reeder. I use it on Mac and iOS and have found it to be flawless in its syncing.


From: Andrei (Jun 11 2011, at 13:52)

You've never seen google sync done well? As a long time user of Reeder (on iPhone, iPad, Mac—and in that specific order) I (and supposedly a lot of others) beg to disagree. I'm also a long time DF reader and this is the first time I feel like Gruber just had to give a helping hand a lá Godfather style. Sorry, but NNW is just inferior in so many ways to Reeder today. I wish you good luck, but please, everyone can see that the king is naked.


From: Abhi Beckert (Jun 11 2011, at 14:03)

If it can't sync feeds and read/unread status with my iPhone and iPad, then it might as well not exist.

Right now, I'm doing this with google reader. But some other service would be OK if the NNW app was the best app on *all three* of my devices (mac/iphone/ipad).

Also, I'm not going to buy it separately for all three devices unless it's very cheap. I've already purchased more than one RSS reader only to find out there's some other better one. As far as I'm concerned, this is throwing money away and I'm somewhat annoyed about it.


From: Ufuk Kayserilioglu (Jun 11 2011, at 14:14)

A part of the problem is that Google never released an offical API for Google Reader. People have reverse engineered bits and pieces of it but it still remains locked away in the hands of Google.

Of course, it would be understandable if Google never released an API but if they did, it would do the service a ton of good. For example, I managed to migrate all my important data (ie, starred, read, shared) from my old Google Account to my new Google-Apps-account-turned-Google-account using what little was discovered by people peeking into requests made by browsers. Given an official API, there would have been much more that I could have done.

You might want to peek around inside Google about where they stand on this. ;)


From: Brent Simmons (Jun 11 2011, at 14:35)

The ' key does the same as cmd-/ in NetNewsWire Lite 4.0.

PS I'm totally looking forward to Black Pixel's NetNewsWire. I have all confidence in that team.


From: Matěj Cepl (Jun 11 2011, at 14:49)

After long struggles with various newsreaders, I have settled on plain rss2email ( and it works for me better than anything else. Fortunately, sharing and working with emails is working quite well, and most email clients these days can work with HTML emails quite well.


From: Dan C. (Jun 11 2011, at 15:21)

<q>The notion of syncing all your devices, but only if they’re from Apple, is insane. By “insane” I mean “like before the Internet”.</q>

Is that as insane as having only one company offer a decent feed-syncing solution, one where they watch your every move for advertising data? Since NewsGator's syncing service shut down, Google Reader has been the only game in town.

I think you're presenting a false choice here. There will always be apps that sync better with some services compared to others. But there should also be OTHER apps that sync with the "other" services better. I would agree that choice is preferred. But you suggest that iCloud gives us a lack of choice. No one will make you use it, right? If you need to sync with non-Apple devices, then you don't use iCloud. (One would assume.)

I think, maybe, what you're worried about is if NNW dumps Google compatibility for iCloud-only syncing. I can certainly understand that as undesirable; like I said, choice is better. But has there been any indication that that's going to happen?

But right now, if you want to sync feeds, it seems like I have no choice anyway. And I don't see how that situation is necessarily better.


From: David Reese (Jun 11 2011, at 15:25)

I use Reeder and Byline, on iPad and iPhone, and it never occurred to me that synching was hard. Maybe synching Google Reader feeds on Android is hard. Somebody should get on that :)

On a broader note, I'm kind of sad you took the job with Google -- I feel like it's stifling your blog, since you always have to take the party line.


From: Peter (Jun 11 2011, at 15:29)

Vienna :


From: Curmudgeon Geographer (Jun 11 2011, at 18:42)

Safari syncs RSS feed bookmarks through MobileMe. Read it on the iOS device and it shows up as being read on the Mac. Reading RSS in Safari's MobileMe RSS reader is miserably slow.

That said, MobileMe is going away. I wonder if iCloud's storage APIs would allow RSS feeds to sync between apps on different devices reliably. Hmm.


From: Aaron (Jun 11 2011, at 20:44)

I've been using D7 Google Reader Pro on my Android phone.

It 'syncs' with google reader flawlessly.

By far the best reader for me personally on Android. Way better than Google's offering IMO. Google's reader app feels really slow to me.

I can power through feeds almost as feed as I can on the browser.

Might want to give the D7 Google Reader app a try.


From: Michael (Jun 11 2011, at 20:46)

iCloud works with PCs as well as with Apple devices. As Apple's iCloud page states, "iCloud stores your content so it's always accessible from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, or PC."

Apple and Google have very different approaches to the cloud's role in the consumer computing world. Time will tell which approach wins, but I don't think either of these very successful companies' strategies is insane.


From: Dan Frakes (Jun 11 2011, at 22:32)

As others have noted, Reeder syncs flawlessly via Google Reader. However, while I love the iPhone version, and I think the iPad version is one of the best mobile apps on any platform, the Mac version is still missing too many features—such as smart feeds and full keyboard navigation—I love in NNW for Mac. I also regularly use a good number of NNW 3.2 features that aren't present in NNW Lite 4.0. So I'm still putting up with NNW 3.2's occasional sync hiccups and waiting for Black Pixel's updates, hoping they bring NNW 4.x closer to 3.2.

That said, one area where Reeder for Mac does surpass NNW is in syncing flagged/starred articles and, more important, letting you browse flagged/starred articles *by feed*.


From: oddbjorn (Jun 12 2011, at 05:28)

+1 for Reeder, on OS X/iPad/iPhone. -1 for NNW for mapping "Mark Read and Collapse All" to the j key, of all things -- a clear violation of the principle of least astonishment.


From: James Cunningham (Jun 12 2011, at 07:37)

Reeder is getting a lot of love here, so I suppose my concurrence is unnecessary. Its syncing really is fast and really does appear flawless. Whether the desktop app—with its heavily iOS-influenced design aesthetic—is optimal I don’t know; it seems okay to a mouse-user like me.

Reeder seems like a spiritual successor to NewsFire. That was a nice piece of work, my favorite until syncing became the rage.


From: Erik Hetzner (Jun 12 2011, at 10:45)

I am on a mission to convert more people to reading RSS via email. It works better than you think.

I only wish a nice web site existed to do it for people who can't set it up themselves.


From: Bill Seitz (Jun 14 2011, at 07:41)

Alas, neither D7 nor GoogleReader are available in the Amazon AppStore or the Archos AppsLib, so I can't install them on my Archos70 tablet. (I haven't look carefully for D7 in other places, but I've definitely looked for GoogleReader.) I settle for gReader which isn't bad but is super-slow/clunky to synch. (I have a hundreds of feeds, so that could be part of it. I have folders for my feeds, so I'd be happy to only synch some folders.)

I also wish I could get the Google eReader for GoogleBooks, as I just bought one and find the browser experience unusable.


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