Why Use a Desktop RSS Reader?

Over the past few years, I've noticed a number of people asking why anyone would use a desktop RSS reader.  These comments generally focused on two points:

  1. Web-based readers are also free, and unlike desktop apps, you can access them from anywhere
  2. Desktop readers have to constantly retrieve feeds, causing unnecessary bandwidth burden on the local client as well as the sites they're downloading from

Both points are easily dismissed by the fact that FeedDemon offers synchronization.  You can read your feeds on multiple computers and have your subscriptions and read items automatically synchronized between them.

And synchronization means that our desktop readers don't retrieve feeds from their source sites.  Instead, they're downloaded through the web-based synchronization engine, which makes feed retrieval exceptionally fast.  Unlike non-synched desktop aggregators, synched readers don't have to download every single feed to see if something's new.  Instead, every few minutes they query the synchronization service to find out whether any of the user's feeds have new content, and if so, they then request the new content (and only the new content) from just those feeds.

Those points aside, there are a number of reasons why many people prefer desktop RSS readers (so much so that they were willing to pay for a desktop reader like FeedDemon despite free web-based alternatives). Long-time FeedDemon user Amit Agarwal did a nice job highlighting some of these reasons in his blog earlier this week, but here are few more:

  1. Most web-based readers can't subscribe to secure feeds.  I don't know about you, but that's a show-stopper for me – I have a number of password-protected feeds that I absolutely have to keep track of.
  2. Web-based readers can't access "behind-the-firewall" feeds.  For example, we have an internal server which runs FogBugz, and I'm subscribed to several FogBugz feeds which alert me to problem reports and inquiries regarding my software.  I can't add these critically important feeds to a web-based reader.
  3. Most web-based readers offer no offline support, and even when they do, offline reading is still far better in FeedDemon (this screencast shows why).  FeedDemon doesn't just download your articles so you can read them offline – it can also prefetch the images they contain and the pages they link to, enabling you to browse the web without an Internet connection.  Your web-based reader can't do that. This is one of those features that you don't think you'll need – until you do.
  4. Many desktop readers are full-fledged web browsers, complete with access to your favorites, tabbed browsing, etc.  In fact, FeedDemon is my web browser – I rarely use an external browser anymore.  If you haven't used a browser that's also a powerful RSS reader, you're missing out.
  5. Desktop readers have access to local resources, enabling a slew of features that aren't available in web-based readers.  For example, desktop readers can integrate with your favorite blogging client, or download podcasts and copy them to your iPod or WMP device.  NetNewsWire even integrates with iPhoto, Twitterrific, Mail, and iCal.
  6. Desktop readers give you a choice about which feeds to keep completely private.  Want your reading habits regarding a subset of your FeedDemon subscriptions kept completely on your local computer?  Just put them in a folder that's not synchronized.
  7. And of course, speed is often another benefit.  Web app performance has become a lot better over the past few years, but we're not at the point where JavaScript in the browser can compete with native performance :)

Now, I'm not knocking web-based readers – after all, we offer one of our own – but people who choose to use a desktop reader have good reasons for doing so.

PS: As I've written before, I think the so-called battle between web and desktop apps is overblown.  It's a hybrid world, not an either-or situation.

28 thoughts on “Why Use a Desktop RSS Reader?

  1. Here’s another reason for preferring a desktop reader, although it doesn’t apply to FeedDemon in synchronized mode (which is why I have one unsynchronized folder along with the synched ones): It lets you set different update timings for certain feeds. Living in Japan, I pay attention to earthquake alert sites, which need to be checked at very short intervals. On the other hand, there are some sites I don’t want to be bothered with during the daytime while I’m working, so I don’t want them updating frequently.
    On this last point, by the way, some desktop readers have a feature that lets you set a daily blackout period for certain sites. That would be a nice addition to FeedDemon in the future, no?

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  2. Nick, all your points make good sense but the one thing that persuaded me to move over to a web based feed reader was the fact that I can access my feeds from anywhere without having to install software.

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  3. I must say with the announcement of NNW being free my internet consumption changed drastically. I already read RSS via Safari but had no idea how powerful RSS is with NNW, syncing and the iPhone site (I use it with the iPod touch). It works like a charm – the mobile version is just perfect and much slimmer/faster/richer/nicer than the Google one. Thank you for making this system free!

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  4. @Davi: I guess that’s only a problem if you use a lot of different computers. My impression is that most people have one or two systems they use the majority of the time, and these are the systems on which they install FeedDemon. Then they rely on our web-based reader for other computers they use which they can’t (or don’t want to) install software on.

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  5. Good points Nick but what I would really like to be able to do is sync NNW (same suggestion for FD) with my Google Reader feeds. There are a couple things Google Reader does better than Newsgator (sharing is really easy, for one thing, as is creating a widget – something I have battled with on Newsgator) and rather than using two separate feed subscription sets for NNW and for Google Reader, I’d like to work off one set of subscriptions and use NNW as my interface.
    I’m not sure how the secure feeds thing would be resolved given that Google Reader doesn’t seem to support them but that could be a reserved benefit of using Newsgator?

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  6. Great post Nick you sum up my feelings exactly. I bought NewsGator (now Inbox) years ago, then helped guide Lektora in the RSS market (which is when we first met), and after a flirtation with Google Reader–well I settled back on FD. I like to read feeds when I’m offline on the ferry or plane and have all the power still on hand.
    One of the key, key features in FD especially are the Popular in Feeds view and the watches. Talk about being able to leverage all your feeds!
    I also use the Blackberry client, which has a handy airplane mode, so I can always check my feeds and like you say, when I get back to FD, I don’t have to re-read stuff I’ve already seen.

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  7. It is easy to say that desktop applications are betters because in fact, often they are. Generally, as a developer, you have better possibilities to create large-scale applications which includes a lot of features.
    I am currently using the Google Reader and I really enjoy it. I think if the people only know the web based frontend of NewsGator they really may get the impression that web software sucks. For me the web frontend is equally important to the native application. That’s why I am sticking on Google Reader.
    FeedDemon is great – no question. The whole idea of NewsGator is great, too. But guys, please hire some AJAX guys and let them help you with the web frontend. When Feed Demon earns a “very well”, your web alternative is just poor. It really sucks, regarding loading speed, interaction speed, interface design. Every aspect, which is relevant for a web application. Sorry for that, this should not sound harsh, but it is just my impression.

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  8. Nick, now that FeedDemon is free perhaps you could enhance it so that it can work in a mobile environment such as from a usb memory stick? Before you had the issues of the activation bits being stored in the registry but now there doesn’t appear to be anything keeping in the registry (other than registering as the default handler for some protocols).
    I would _love_ to see a version of FD that I can keep on my usb memory stick with all my feeds, watches and settings. Is this something we can look forward to in the future? If not are they any specific reasons for this?

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  9. Also what is the “FeedDemon News” bit in the bottom left hand corner about? I had a look at the change log but didn’t see anything related to this (or perhaps I just missed it?).

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  10. @Morgan: “FeedDemon News” is a simple panel which shows the latest post in our FeedDemon news blog.
    Chances are, I’ll use it primarily to let people know about new versions, and also to introduce features to new users. You can collapse it by clicking the down arrow that appears to the top right of it.

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  11. I agree with all eight points, and am glad to hear [via http://davepress.net/2008/01/12/links-for-2008-01-12/%5D that FeedDemon is now free. I will try it. I have been using Omea [http://www.jetbrains.com/omea/reader/index.html] for some time and am happier with it than with any other desktop or web-based reader I’ve seen so far. It has useful desktop features as you describe. However, it doesn’t do a few things: render in Firefox, post via clients other than w.bloggar, and its filtering tools, while impressive, are not sufficiently flexible. On top of that, development seems to have stalled. So I’m happy to try FeedDemon to see how it stacks up on those same criteria.
    My main beef with browser-based readers is that they require browser resources. With Firefox, the memory consumption is enough of an issue that I started hiving off resources wherever possible. I don’t do web email, I use Omea to read the news, podcast & video, and use IE or Opera for certain other activities. I would be happy to see a generation of tools that interface web resources on a standalone desktop basis: a YouTube browser/client, a WordPress browser/client, and so on.

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  12. With DataPortability in mind, with would be great a sync feature with Google Reader and Bloglines. After all, it’s our feeds, and we’re increasingly on the move or using different OS, so how about more integration to other web based reader’s API ?
    You know we want it.

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  13. Nick:
    Thanks for the summary.I am loving the FeedDemon desktop news reader.It helped me improve my time in reading feeds compared to bloglines.
    -Suren

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  14. Hi Nick, now that FeedDemon is free as in money, will there be a free as in freedom version? How much of an effort is it to port FeedDemon to Ubuntu?

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  15. @Chetan – Wouldn’t be possible to release much usable code since he uses 3rd party controls.
    However it does run great under Wine (at least 2.5 does – I have to rebuild my TuxBox so I haven’t been able to try 2.6 ) – about the only thing that I couldn’t get working right away is the taskbar notification icon and new feed notification pop-up window, but I never spent much time trying to figure out why.

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  16. @Sebastian, I agree with you. The ease of use on Google reader is second to none. The web reader for Feed Demon doesn’t even come close.

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  17. Hey Nick,
    I tried NNW before it was free, and I did liked it but not enough to shell out the $$, so I went back to Google Reader (the lite version didn’t have the cracking features I wanted). I still *love* Google Reader, but upon the release of the FREE NNW I have been using it as my main feed reader. Why? Because it helps me read the feeds more regurarly avoiding the “overload point” on GR where I’d have to clear 2k-3k items consuming some precious minutes (hours even).
    What I miss from GR? SHARED ITEMS!!!!! I really REALLY miss it! NNW needs to have the ability to share items through Google Reader (doubtful, I know!) or they should set that up similarly with NewsGator. Another thing NNW is missing is CUSTOM KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS, and EXTENSABILITY, allowing users to customize their shortcuts and even develop plugins that might change the way people view their feeds. I for one would love some way of having NNW mirror GR UI (not design!) in terms of shortcuts and feed reading advancement. On a quick note, I think the iPhone version of NewsGator is better than Google’s… for quick updating myself! If I want to really pay attention to my feeds, GR iPhone is better because I go from full item to full item instead of cycling through a list of them, having to click “more” everytime I want to read it more thoroughly! And please, if you do so with NewsGator’s iPhone version, please make the “next/previous” buttons on the sides of the title (unlike GR) so that I can skip an item quickly if the title/image/first paragraph throws me off.
    Just like you said, I’m a “hybrid” as I use both online/desktop apps a LOT and urge for sync methods between the two!
    Glad and thankful for NNW, and willing to help develop it to an even better product! ;)

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  18. @Levi: NNW does have shared items similar to GR, but more powerful – You can create as many clippings folders as you like, and each one can have its own RSS feed. Instead of having just one shared items feed, you can have many “themed” ones if you like… Or just one if you prefer ;)

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  19. @Jonathan
    Thank you for that tip! I’ll explore those clippings further!
    But this just brings out the other “request”: custom keyboard shortcuts! I want the j/k for next/previous and I don’t want to skip to the next feed at the end of the one I’m in!
    But the ideas for most of the things remain! ;) hehe

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  20. Anyone comparing standalone readers to Google Reader who hasn’t used it in the last few months, for a week or so to learn the fine points, should reevaluate. It keeps getting better and better. I went to it as a temporary measure when my Leopard upgrade hosed my normal reader, and I haven’t changed back. (Gmail is also progressing at an amazing rate. I directed everything to it during my Christmas travels, and haven’t gotten around to switching back to Mail.app yet, it’s so nice.)

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  21. I have said it once and will say it again, FeedDemon ROCKS and although I paid for it in the past doesn’t change anything since it is FREE. I look at it that my money went in R&D and that way makes me part of a great program.
    Keep it coming Nick!!!!!!
    Have happy long time user!
    Jim

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  22. Your product is great! Ample functionality, somewhat minimalistic and very attractive design, FREE!, account sync between my work and home PC’s! Love it! Thanks Nick!

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  23. I prefer to use web based feed reader, It is suitable because I can use my web based feed reader from anywhere, and there is no need to install anything.

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