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Standalone RSS clients (OS)

While this article has, so far, only dealt with web-based RSS readers, there is, of course, another category of software that comes to mind when thinking of possible replacements for Google Reader: native RSS clients. While a migration to a native client has the downside that it cannot completely replace a service such as Google Reader due to the fact that a user's feeds and read and unread information is not available from other locations, it might however be the easiest short term solution for many users. The following selection concentrates on Linux where a number of open source feed readers are available. Windows and Mac OS X also have a number of alternatives, several of them open source, but this lies outside of the scope of this article.

Liferea screenshot
Zoom Liferea is the go-to reader for users who want to read feeds within their GNOME desktop environment

Both the GNOME and KDE desktop environments come with their own preferred news readers. In GNOME, Liferea provides a solid feature set and fast operation. It supports offline reading and folders, and synchronises read and unread items with Google Reader and Tiny Tiny RSS. For KDE users, Akregator provides much of the same functionality. It also integrates with KDE's built-in Konqueror browser and the desktop's notification system to alert the user when new feed items are available.

Blam, like Liferea, is GTK+ based and therefore integrates well into a GNOME environment, but it is a more lightweight application and therefore also suits Xfce users well. Compared to an application like Google Reader, Blam is relatively low on features and provides a more barebones experience. It is, however, very quick at fetching feeds.

Akregator screenshot
Zoom Akregator, running under Unity here, is used by many KDE users

RSSOwl, which is actually a cross-platform application, synchronises with Google Reader and provides a large number of features such as an embedded browser, multiple tabs, a stripped down "newspaper view" of feed items, sharing of stories to a number of web services, and more. The application also includes a plugin infrastructure that lets users add more features. Faced with Google Reader shutting down, the developers are currently pondering how to support synchronisation of read and unread items in the future.

Another lightweight, cross-platform, open source reader is RSS Guard. Like Blam, it is rather barebones, only supporting the most essential features of a typical RSS aggregator application. Because of its low footprint on system resources and classic layout, RSS Guard is popular with users of the Chakra and Arch Linux distributions.

Blam screenshot
Zoom Blam is the standalone news reader of choice for many users who prefer lightweight applications

For those interested in the most radical departure from the Google Reader experience possible, Linux also provides command-line only RSS readers. The most popular of these is undoubtedly Newsbeuter, which has a large feature set and is very customisable. Its ncurses-based user interface can be adapted to the user's preferences and it even supports the fetching of podcasts. The fact that it runs on the command line makes it trivial to use the application over an SSH session from a server, making it possible to use a single installation from multiple locations, almost like a web interface. Users who are prepared to take the radical departure from a GUI to the command-line-only application can find a very powerful tool in Newsbeuter, even if the learning curve will be steep for many.

A command-line-only alternative is Snownews, which is less full featured than Newsbeuter. Like that application, it is very small though, owing to its command-line-only nature, and can be easily run over a SSH connection. It also has almost all of its functionality contained in the application packages itself, only depending on ncurses and libxml2, and even supports plugins.


Newsbeuter screenshot
Zoom Newsbeuter as it is configured by default in Ubuntu

Currently, there is no one-to-one replacement for Google Reader. There are, however, many alternatives of different shapes and sizes, many of them open source. Users can choose between self-hosted application and services hosted for them. They can also switch to desktop RSS clients, at the cost of losing convenient access to their news from every web browser in the process. But whichever application suits the user's use case, it probably pays to think about the future of the service one is switching to and to have an escape route handy in case the history of Google Reader repeats itself. Open source solutions can help with this, as the freedom to fork ensures that even if one provider or developer gives up on the product or project, there can always be someone to pick up the torch and run with it.

We have found that, out of all of these services and applications, NewsBlur currently offers the best approximation of Google Reader's feature set, while its open source model means a reasonable continuity plan can be constructed. The hosted NewsBlur service is currently still struggling with being as speedy and responsive as Google Reader, but that is a problem that is being worked on with the application of hardware and the optimisation of software and, of course, users are free to self-host their own NewsBlur.

The demise of Google Reader does mean some pain for the RSS-reading developers and news gatherers, but it has also opened up a huge opportunity, one not seen for quite a few years, for open source developers to deliver new web and desktop applications which can take on the challenge of delivering the news to the user as quickly and as manageably as possible.

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