First things first. You can read blogs in web browsers, by bookmarking all the blogs you want to read and switching from one to another. You can, but you would be mad. What should you do instead?
There are programmes variously called blog readers, RSS readers, feed readers or aggregators (these all mean the same thing) which go to each blog that you want to read ("subscribe to") and collect the latest utterances of your favourite authors. You can then easily skim through the summaries of the new entries – rather as you might glance at the subject line of your emails – and then open up the full article for the entries you want to read.
There is a comprehensive list of aggregators here. As you will see, they are bascially divided into two sorts:
- Some readers are online: that is, they are special web-sites that you log in to – rather as you would to a webmail account – which fetch the information from the blogs you read, and let you read from a single website. The most commonly used is My Yahoo! (though many users may not know they are using an RSS reader). Of the readers that are not integrated into a portal, the best known is Bloglines, and Google has just launched a new online reader which is too slow to be usable yet (but, knowing Google, it won’t be long before it overtakes the competition).
- Other readers run on your desktop. They may integrate into other applications, such as Firefox or Outlook, or they may be stand-alone programmes. The best known plugins are Sage, which is an add-in for the web-browser Firefox (Internet Explorer 7 will apparently include something similar) and Newsgator (which is an add-in for Outlook). Of the stand-alone applications, there are free readers such as Sharpreader, RSS Bandit and Omega Reader; or commercial applications such as Feeddemon
On Linux, I use kaggregator, built into the kontact suite in SUSE 9.3, and it is excellent: stable, easy to use, powerful and quick. Sadly, there is nothing as good for Windows. Yet.
On Windows, I have been using Sharpreader for some time. It is powerful and easy to use (very similar to an email program like Outlook). However, I have had two problems with it:
- First, it is a memory hog. It uses a lot (and I mean a lot) of your computer’s resources. That is OK if you have a fast PC with a lot of memory; but it can slow a laptop down to a crawl.
- Seondly, I keep getting "Just in time debugging" errors – which I assume are related to the .NET framework. I suspect I could switch these off fairly easily, but a quick scan on Google didn’t show any obvious ways to do so.
So I have been looking around this morning, and I’ve settled on RSS-Bandit, at least for now. The main advantages over Sharpreader, as I see them, are:
- tabbed browsing – being able to open multiple windows showing different pages. If you have used Firefox, you will know that once you have switched to tabbed browsing, you will never go back.
- better interface – I just prefer the design, which is modelled on Outlook 2003
- less memory usage, and no debugging errors
However, it does have some disadvantages. So far, they are:
- Screen repaints can be slow
- The blogs are listed in alphabetical order – there is no way to put your most interesting and important blogs first.
- I haven’t yet figured out how the cacheing and reloading of feeds takes place, but it seems to be a slow process
I also tried Feeddemon, which is a commercial product but has a free trial version. I didn’t like it as much as RSS Bandit – mainly because it does not have tabbed browsing. It is early days with RSS Bandit, but for now it has become my feed reader of choice. In the meantime, I am surprised that a killer product hasn’t entered this market yet.
Update 24 October: Playing with the Google Reader this morning – they seem to have made some improvements and it works much faster. Might be a good option if you are interested in having an online reader.