A strange trend is taking place with some Mac software. With few exceptions, web browsers, a near necessity among Mac users, are free. Safari. Firefox. Camino. And a few others. Another near necessity among Mac utilities is the ubiquitous RSS reader. Guess what? The best RSS readers are free, too. Why is that strange? Is it even a good thing?
Among the dozen or so Mac RSS readers, the top three won’t cost you a dime. Or a yen, or Euro or whatever you use to buy Mac software. RSS readers have become like web browsers for Mac users. The best ones are free. You pay for the rest.
For example, the most popular Mac RSS reader is NetNewsWire, which is owned by NewsGator. It’s mature, loaded with features, easy to use, and a substantial advancement over Apple’s Safari built-in news reader.
The runner-up in popularity, arguably, is David Watanabe’s delightful NewsFire. It used to cost money, but now it’s free, too. Also high on the list of many Mac users is Steve Palmer’s free and open source Vienna. Capable, clean, lean, desirable.
A quick search of MacUpdate will turn up a dozen or so RSS readers for Mac users, some which reside in the Menu Bar, others as Dashboard Widgets, most are free, a few still cost money, though I’m not sure why. What’s the market segment that buys an RSS reader when so many good readers are available for free?
Competition often breeds a better product with more features. That was probably the case with NetNewsWire and NewsFire, as well as others, many of them highly capable and attractive utilities.
If you’re reading PixoBebo, you’re likely a Mac user, and certainly using a browser. Browsers are free (mostly) these days, yet the state of the art is advancing; more features, more capability, faster, more adherence to web standards, yet, no price tag.
I can argue that if you’re a frequent web browser user then you’re a good candidate for a standalone RSS reader. After all, if you view a few dozen web sites each day for news and information, it’s faster and easier in NetNewsWire than in Safari (it’s ok to argue with me on that, but you understand the issue, right?).
There are differences between the browser market and the RSS reader market. The former is probably a necessity and has the backing of large entities to continue development on a product that is essentially free. Apple has a big plan for Safari, whatever it might be. Mozilla makes scads of money with Firefox.
Where’s the money trail to continue development of RSS readers for Mac users? NetNewsWire is funded by NewsGator, which makes money in other ways. I hope. I’d like them to continue to develop RSS readers for Mac and Windows users. For free.
All RSS readers are not created equal, though the basic features are the same. They subscribe to RSS 2.0 and Atom feeds, they display a headline and summary of text from the feed. Most RSS readers will check feeds every so many minutes which eliminates extra effort for you.
After the basics, it’s a feature war with each RSS reader taking a slightly different road to get to the same place. RSS feeds that you manage like bookmarks in a browser. I’m sure NewsFire’s David Watanabe wasn’t happy to see NewsGator cut the price of NetNewsWire to zero.
When Microsoft’s Internet Explorer killed Netscape Navigator many years ago, browsers entered what I’ll call the dark ages of little development and advancement. Browser choices for Mac users were few and far between.
Then along came Mozilla and Firefox to re-ignite the world of browsers. Apple launched Safari and WebKit. Browsers flourished. The end result today is a variety of choices and quality and features never before seen, Mac or Windows.
What of RSS readers? Is there economic viability, or are we witnessing the beginning of a period of stagnation of one the internet’s best ever creations? I fear the latter.