Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Weblog applications

1591 words

The scene of Mac tools for weblog creation and consumption is starting to be a vivid one. This is a short review of the tools I like. While it lists all you need, it's not comprehensive as it simply omits players like ecto on the creation side – which looks too cluttered and fiddly – or Blapp – which doesn't do the job for me – and PulpFiction on the consumption side – which takes the whole feed reading thing by far too seriously. Other omissions are Shrook with its four pane horror and NewsFan which looks like a cluttered NetNewsWire clone. I didn't want to spend my time with those apps as I think they basically get it wrong. Yet – there do seem to be people who like them nonetheless, so you may want to go and hunt down their reviews for good balance. In short, my account of the state of the art is highly subjective and selective or Fair and Balanced as the say in the media. It's also exclusively about software which isn't properly released at this point.

NetNewsWire

NetNewsWire by Brent Simmons of Ranchero Software is the first feed reader I've known on the Mac. It started off clean and simple and with attention to detail. For a hater of the 'three paned' approach to applications like myself it was the first 'three paned' application that made sense and worked with ease – rather than seeming to force to user to have everything in a single window when several windows might be more appropriate. I think this is because most feed items are rather transient, so they don't warrant opening another window. [I also like the iTunes 'three-paned' approach but that's quite different in my opinion as all three panes are basically lists and using them is 'filtering'. There is no real 'content' displayed in iTunes.]

NetNewsWire has always done the job of presenting feeds well. After a while, Brent started making a for-pay 'Pro' version. To earn some money and add new features. That's fair enough. But – as I argued at the time – those new features, which included a weblog editor and an outliner, seemed rather half-assed and nowhere as carefully executed as the feed reader part of the application. This basically left you with the choice between a good and free feed reader or a feed reader plus buggy weblog editor (which couldn't even handle accented characters) with a hefty $40 price tag. Not a good proposition in my mind.

NetNewsWire icon Very recently the first public beta version of NetNewsWire 2 was made available. The first thing to notice about it is its new icon: It won't turn into an indistinguishable blue blob in the dock but has a golden satellite to make it stand out. Very good. Launching it is even better. Everything remains familiar and simple – yet the new features are the ones that make sense – search for example. The Pro version looks even better. It has been stripped of the bad add ons and now remains a feed reader only (kind of like going from Mozilla to Camino/Firefox). That's a good move on Brent's part. The Pro version has extra niceties such as the ability to 'mark' feeds or AppleScript support. It also gives you the opportunity to reward Brent for his efforts. I still find the price tag of $25 quite steep for a reading app, but it's within range now.

Finally, I feel compelled to note that the software is still beta. It may (and will) trash your preferences. Certain things like text-only toolbars don't really work yet and so on. But it is very promising and shows that NetNewsWire is heading in a good direction, which may be important after a long period of quiet.

One more thing – I found it amusing that Brent recently wrote on his weblog:

Note: we realize that Help viewer used to be so painfully slow that we've all become unaccustomed to using it. But it's pretty fast in 10.3, and NetNewsWire's help actually has a bunch of info. Also see the Tips page in the Help book.
That's exactly how I feel. And in fact I recently made a very similar remark to that elsewhere. Basically the OSX help system has sucked so much for such a long time that I learned to avoid it at all costs. Nonetheless it's often surprising that help files are full of good hints.

NetNewsWire soundtrack: Lou Reed – Satellite of Love

MarsEdit

Girls are from Venus – bloggers are from Mars

MarsEdit icon That's probably not a slogan which will get MarsEdit many users but there may be a hidden truth. MarsEdit is the spin-off of NetNewsWire. The integrated crappy editor has been turned into a standalone one. And a rather pleasant one at the first sight. I am writing this very text in it and it doesn't look too bad. I wouldn't say it's an exciting application but it looks very down-to-earth (excuse the pun) and like it's there to get the job done. At $25 it won't be cheap, particularly at its current feature set. But the price is tolerable (particularly if you buy a license for NetNewsWire at the same time which will save you $10).

I'm not sure this will be the right thing to me as all the features I use are the typing plus preview and the hitting of the send button. Things that, I think, Hydra and some AppleScript should be able to do equally well. The perfect blogging app for me would probably be half the complexity and half the price of MarsEdit but as long as that doesn't exist, MarsEdit may be a reasonable compromise.

Soundtrack for MarsEdit: David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

NewsFire

When I went to try out he new beta of NetNewsWire, I decided to also give the new kid on the block, NewsFire a spin. And I am very impressed. It's written by David Watanabe of Acquisition fame. My short encounters with Acquisition led me to the conclusion that these days P2P networks aren't as useful at finding rare songs as they were in the days of Audiogalaxy and that David is an evil master of slick UI genius. Despite being written with Java (and thus sucking up all my RAM), Acquisition is fast and good looking.

NewsFire icon The first impression that NewsFire leaves is by means of its icon. Black and red – another rare colour combination in the Dock and thus easy to find. I'm all for it. As seen in Acquisition the icon is very shiny – almost too shiny. Upon launching you get a small window. And that's all. It looks shiny as well but otherwise very modest. No self-important toolbars and – hooray! – only a two-paned interface.

Now, this is funny: I said above that NetNewsWire was one of the few applications where I found the 'three-pane' interface tolerable. And here comes another application of the same type and shows that two panes do equally well. Why is that? My theory is that David boldy programmed what most of us intuitively know: Most of the interaction with a feed reader is hitting the space bar. There is no real need for a list of unread posts. Just giving people the content and a rough idea what they are reading does the trick. Add a fast search field and you'll have happy punters. Add some slick animations and people will be stunned.

And that's exactly what NewsFire does. Over here at Minimalism-Я-Us we are very pleased. One more thing I feel compelled to ad is about – suprise! – metal. I am a known hater of metal interfaces. I can't stand them. And NewsFire's window does use metal. So how can I stand it? To begin with, I installed PatherBrushKiller ages ago. This removes the metal texture from the windows, making their appearance just grey. That's not the prettiest thing ever, but much better than metal.

And then, there is a dirty little secret about metal windows that I rarely mention because it's actually a good feature: They don't have a visible title bar. This means that the UI within the window can begin right beneath the title bar whereas in normal windows there has to be some space for things not to look crammed. This means you'll get more content per pixel [it's funny this isn't called 'square pixels'. A pixels seems to be a unit of length and of area at the same time]. Which is a good thing. And NewsFire uses it for the best. No unnecessary status bars, just the bare necessities.

Just as the Ranchero betas this isn't perfect software yet. The alternating table columns don't respect my graphite colour scheme for example. Yet the application is surprisingly smooth for such an early release.

Yesterday I thought I may fork out $40 for the whole Ranchero package. Today I think I'll stick with NewsFire. Let's see what I'm saying next week...

NewsFire Soundtrack: Light My Fire or rather the Electric Six's Fire?

Cocoalicious

Cocoalicious icon Buzz Anderson's Cocoalicious is just a front end for the delicious service. It's not really a fully fledged client for reading or writing weblogs, so I put it here more as an honourable mention. It has yet another non-blue icon that stands out and is coming along nicely. If you're into dumping your links at the delicious site, you may enjoy the application.

Soundtrack for Cocoalicious: Boomfunk MCs – Freestyler

Conclusion

Things are looking good.

September 24, 2004, 21:17

Trackback

Trackback “Cult Of Newsfire” from Transient:

More playing around with OS X software, this time it’s a Newsreader called Newsfire.

September 29, 2004, 17:47

Comments

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Very nice overview, Sven.

For now, I’m part of the Newsfire cult, though I reserve the right to switch back to NetNewsWire next month when I start carrying a Powerbook around for work (syncing could well be the killer feature, if it’s well implemented.)

September 25, 2004, 15:45

Comment by Stevie: User icon

Nice write up, but I wanted to let you know that the developer of NetNewsWire is Brent Simmons, not Brad. Just tryin to help out.

September 26, 2004, 18:37

Comment by ssp: User icon

I knew he’s called Brent, but switched to Brad halfway thourgh the text. Odd. Thanks for pointing that out, Steve.

I’ve corrected that now.

September 26, 2004, 19:37

Comment by Justin: User icon

Hi there. Have you checked out Pukka for posting to del.icio.us? I’m not sure if you’re interested in updating this list or revising it, but if you are, I’d appreciate a glance and some good constructive criticism that you might have.

March 20, 2006, 3:05

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for the note, Justin!

I don’t currently plan to update this page as the scene has changed a lot since with Safari entering the game, NetNewsWire being bought and a few interesting smaller or specialised players coming up everywhere. So it’d be a lot of work to cover everything adequately, even when only limited myself to the interesting applications.

I’ve seen Pukka (sweet icon!) but failed to see the point of it. For my delicious usage a little JavaScript bookmark in Safari is just good enough for getting the job done while leaving a minimal footprint in terms of the screen space it requires.

March 20, 2006, 14:05

Comment by Justin: User icon

Since I replied in email:

Fair enough — makes sense. I hear you on the point of Pukka as well, but if you happen to have multiple accounts or 2000 tags and want fast auto-completion (which is what this sprang from), then it’s very useful. Single account, maybe not so much. It remains to be seen whether folks will pay a couple bucks for the utility, but it’s been getting pretty widespread usage.

March 20, 2006, 17:48

Comment by ssp: User icon

Justin, I don’t doubt that there are situations in which a more high-tech approach to delicious makes sense (in fact, I’d very much doubt you would’ve gone through the trouble of writing Pukka if it didn’t make sense to you to begin with).

But that’s not my situation. So I take the liberty to not care too much.

March 21, 2006, 1:38

Comment by Justin: User icon

Fair enough. Thanks for your useful blog post anyway.

March 21, 2006, 4:55

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