NetNewsWire Lite

NetNewsWire{.dither}

NetNewsWire Lite is an almost perfect app. It does one thing, and one thing well, deliver RSS. Released on March 3rd of this year, NetNewsWire Lite has become my favorite news reader not because of the features it includes but because of the features it leaves behind. Rewritten by its creator Brent Simmons from the ground up to be fast, NewNewsWire Lite is the lite version of NetNewsWire for Macintosh. It doesn't have features like Google Reader sync, browser tabs, or the combined view found in its full featured big brother. Instead NetNewsWire Lite concentrates on reliable delivery, and pristine presentation. It is available for free in the Mac App Store.

System Requirements

One of the first facts I discovered about NetNewsWire Lite was its peculiar system requirements. NetNewsWire Lite requires a Mac with an Intel 64-bit processor. This is not because RSS delivery is a CPU intensive task, but because of Adobe Flash.

When Flash crashes on 32-bit machines, it takes down the app with it. When Flash crashes on a 64-bit machine, it’s just Flash that crashes.

This behavior is not Adobe's fault, but a benefit of the way Mac OS X Snow Leopard sandboxes 32-bit processes running inside a 64-bit application. Flash or not, NetNewsWire will not run on PowerPC Macs, or the earliest Core Duo Intel processors.

NetNewsWire Lite is lite by design, but it will surprise people what that really means. Instead of eliminating the power features that only Pro users want, Brent has removed many of the features unnecessary to feed reading that normal only think they need.

Syncing

The most controversial feature removed from NetNewsWire Lite is Google Reader syncing. Brent calls this the non-synced feed advantage. NetNewsWire Lite gets the news faster than a application that relies on Google Reader. This is because NetNewsWire Lite gets its news directly from the source while other feed readers must wait for Google Reader to get it beforehand. NetNewsWire Lite supports an automatic fast refresh rate of 10 minutes. A impossible feat for feed readers that rely on Google as the middleman. The “Non-Synced Advantage” provides more than just speed. Because NetNewsWire Lite does not sync with Google Reader it can support features like authenticated feeds that Google Reader does not.

Removing syncing from my feed reading experience has given me more time to concentrate on RSS. Instead of recklessly plowing through my subscriptions at irregular intervals throughout the day, I take the time each morning to sit down and read the news that is important to me. RSS on mobile devices is a distraction that should only be endured if you are away from your desk for days at a time. Try reading your subscriptions at one place[1] during a set time each day. You will soon see how much more enjoyable feed reading can be.

Stars

Stars are another feature removed from NetNewsWire Lite that I never miss. There are just too many ways to flag, star, heart, rate, like, +1, or approve items on the Net these days. Instead of starring my favorite articles in NetNewsWire Lite I send them to Instapaper where I read them later, and share them with friends. NetNewsWire Lite supports sending any article or link to Instapaper, my mail client, my browser, Twitter, or blogging software like MarsEdit. All you have to do is right-click.

Scripting

AppleScript is a feature pro users want, but normal people could care less about. If you are using NetNewsWire Lite in an automated workflow to do something other than reading your feeds you are not doing it right. Enjoy NetNewsWire Lite for what it is, a feed reader, and leave scripting to the other apps.

Search

These days information is everywhere and search is how we make sense of it all. The lack of search in NetNewsWire Lite took me by surprise. How will I find a particular article I read last week if I can not search for it in NetNewsWire Lite? It turns out losing search is not a big deal. If I am looking for something I read last week I can usually remember who wrote it and either manually skim their previous articles or search their website. NetNewsWire Lite does not archive your news feeds. It only remembers what is currently being published by the sites you visit. This makes search less important, and not a required feature for regular feed reading.

Subscriptions

Subscription management is a feature many feed readers leave out out that NetNewsWire has always done well. NetNewsWire Lite is no exception. It handles the inport and export of OPML files flawlessly while allowing you to create static folders to manage your feeds. Because there is no search, NetNewsWire Lite does not include customizable smart folders to intelligently categorize your feeds. This could be a problem if I was using NetNewsWire Lite to archive my subscriptions, but I am not. I am only using NetNewsWire Lite to read the news, and the default “All Unread” and “Today” filters are the only smart folders I need.

Presentation

If there is one thing I have always loved about NetNewsWire it is design of the app, and the polish it gives my feeds. NetNewsWire Lite continues in this fine tradition while removing many of the buttons, options, and extras not required for feed reading. On your left you have a column listing the name of each subscription and its favicon[2]. In the middle your have a column that contains the feeds for an individual subscription. The last column contains the news complete with multimedia and Flash videos. The presentation of articles is controlled by user selectable stylesheets. You can create your own using the examples in ~/Library/Application Support/NetNewsWire Lite/StyleSheets. You can easily navigate NetNewsWire Lite's interface using the the arrows keys. Selecting an article with the right arrow or a double-click expands the last column into the second, and displays a browser view of the item. I have never found a feed reader that loads a page faster than NetNewsWire Lite. The left arrow, or command + W brings you back to the three column view. I have always appreciated NetNewsWire's three column design for its simplicity. I you have ever used Apple's Mail.app will you immediately feel at home in NetNewsWire Lite.

Future

On Jue 3rd, 2011 Black Pixel acquired NetNewsWire, and since then I have heard very little news about the fate of my favorite feed reader. I am sure NetNewsWire Lite is in good hands. Brent Simmons say so. I am just eager to see some progress.

NetNewsWire Lite is still on the same version 4.0 from when it was released seven months ago. Bugs like the scrollbar disappearing from the subscription list and commands in the browser going unanswered still exist. Requests for full screen mode in Lion go unanswered. NetNewsWire Lite may be the give-away version of the NetNewsWire product line, but any update to any of the NetNewsWire products would be encouraging. I am willing to wait. I am not going anywhere. Despite a few nuances, and missing features NetNewsWire Lite is an almost perfect app that puts feed reading first.


  1. If you are determined to read your feeds on multiple Macs using NetNewsWire Lite check out my article on Syncing NetNewsWire with Dropbox.  ↩

  2. If there is one thing I don't like about NetNewsWire Lite's design it is the default subscription favicon. That is why I have created my own from the bookmark icon in Mac OS X. Simply download my replacement favicon, unzip it, and deposit the new DefaultFavicon.png inside the Resources folder of the NetNewsWire Lite app. You will be asked to authenticate. Then relaunch NetNewsWire Lite and the little black default subscription favicons will be gone. replaced by blue 16x16 pixel globes.  ↩