In 2005, when Apple introduced Tiger, many users found out about news (RSS) feeds for the first time, thanks to a built-in news reader in Safari. Unfortunately, Safari tended to choke on more than a handfull of feeds, and many serious about this technology have looked elsewhere. One option is NewsFire, a $19 program by David Watanabe.
The main purpose of an news reader is to display a summary of new content on a web site, and alert the user when a new items are posted. In many cases, the items feature pictures, links, or other content that is normally found on a web page.
NewsFire Feed List (Click to Enlarge)
Unlike some news readers, NewsFire is designed to be easy-to-use, look good, and work with other Mac programs. When you load it, the interface is very clean and simple, and you can logically find almost everything. There is no need to check out a read-me file or look a the Help menu—anyone can use it. Feeds and folders are to the left, news items are on the right, but if you load a news item, the right-hand side changes to display the entire feed.
Unlike some news readers, there aren’t many options for viewing your feeds. You can group them in folders, sort them, create “Smart Feeds” that combine items from other feeds (for keywords, grouping by date/time, etc.). You can change how they appear in the feed list (headline and feed name, feed name and headline, or just the feed name), whether to display favicons, the font size, and a few other minor options. NewsFire’s rendering engine is the same as Safari’s, so news items look clean and as they are intended. Appearance items such as fonts and styles are not available, and you’re forced to use the stylesheet that comes with the program.
NewsFire does shine in a few areas. First, browsing feeds is fast as the space bar scrolls down in that particular news item and then goes to the next one. Checking out 50+ goes rather fast when you can scan through the garbage by hitting space. Also, hitting return opens the current item’s web page in your browser of choice behind the NewsFire window.
Another area NewsFire is strong in is searching. You have a Safari-like search box that will find things as you search, and you can even save a search. NewsFire also can find news feeds on sites that report them (such as this one or any of the others that makes the “RSS” badge appear in Safari or the orange RSS icon appear in FireFox).
Finally, NewsFire offers the ability to play podcasts right in the program, allowing you to check out podcasts without throwing them into iTunes. It does integrate with iTunes, allowing you to use NewsFire to manage your podcasts. Also, NewsFire works with del.icio.us and blog editor programs, allowing you to tie your web experience together.
NewsFire is a really nice program that integrates well into the Mac OS X experience. Why Apple didn’t outright hire David Watanbe is beyond us, as it is a great step up for someone who needs more than Safari’s RSS features can handle.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
NewsFire offers some unique extra features and still won’t overwhelm users who want a simple news reader.
Pros: Clean interface, plenty of ways to sort feeds, fast, podcast tools, integration with blog editors and del.icio.us
Cons: Not entirely customizable in appearance