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:
- Web-based readers are also free, and unlike desktop apps, you can access them from anywhere
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.