The search for the elusive desktop RSS reader

 If you are searching for the perfect Desktop application for your PC, so you can read all of your blogs in one place, search no more. Literally. Stop looking. It does not exist!

I started the search for the perfect PC desktop news reader so I could scan all of the blogs that I like to read, in one place. Should have been easy. There were, after all, about a 100 blog reader applications to choose from. After several wasted hours - nothing!

  The Desktop RSS readers are vanishing - and with good reason. They leave a lot to be desired.

Here’s a round up of the desktop blog readers that we tried. Some of these (Snarfer, RSS Bandit) had received high ratings from sites such as CNET’s They work in similar fashion. You download the program and click on the web feeds that you want to read from a pre-selected menu of blog choices in several categories such as business and tech. You have the option of adding feeds for other sites that you like to visit.

Feed reader Price Issues
Snarfer Free Failed to install.Abandoned after two attempts.
RSS Bandit Free Installed ok, but never connected or displayed any posts
Microsoft MAX Free This reader is no longer available!
Google webclips Free Not a full featured reader but shows clips from sites that you visit. The reader “forgets” feeds that you have not read for a little while.


The biggest surprise was Microsoft Max desktop blog reader. They released in beta about a year ago. If you visit the Max page on the Microsoft site it says simply “Thank you for participating in the beta of Microsoft Codename Max. At this time, the Max services are no longer running“. It seems that Microsoft has abandoned the standalone Max for now, and moved on to bulking up the Microsoft Windows Live platform which has several new products including the Windows Live Writer for generating web content (which is a fabulous product, by the way), but no RSS readers as yet.

Google Webclips is not a blog reader per se - but pretty clever otherwise. It incorporates into Google desktop, and will show a feed of clips from websites that you visited recently, in the sidebar (if you have it turned on). The only problem is that it can pick up feeds from sites that you might have inadvertently landed upon but do not want to see clips from. You then have remove the feed. Also feeds that you explicitly add to the clips can vanish if you do not visit the web page for a while.

There are a few paid desktop news readers like NewsGator (19.95/yr), Attensa (20/yr) and Feeddemon ($29.95/yr) which we might check out in the future.

For now, if you are looking for a simple, “push” way of reading blogs, email is the best option (for example, if you enter your email in the box in the side bar of this blog you will get a daily digest of posts). As far as web based readers, there are several options that work well including Bloglines and the Google Reader.

Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web makes the case that Desktop RSS readers are nearly dead. They ran a poll to ask visitors which types of readers they were using in January 2007 and again in July 2007. According to their results, Web based readers grew the most (+7%) at the expense of Desktop readers which lost 6% market share.

Table courtesy of Read/Write Web:

Jul-07 Jan-07 Change
Web-based (e.g. Bloglines, Google Reader, Rojo) 59% 52% 7%
Desktop (e.g. FeedDemon, NetNewsWire) 13% 19% -6%
Start Page (Pageflakes, Netvibes, etc) 16% 16% no change
Browser (e.g. Firefox Live Bookmarks) 6% 8% -2%
Email or email-based client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird) 3% 3% no change
Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, etc) 0% - n/a
Other (please comment) 2% 2% no change

There is still a big need for a simple, easy to set-up desktop reader, and I am sure someone will come up with the perfect application soon. A free reader with a targeted “push” ad serving model - could be a winner!

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