There's an abundance of software titles and services you can use to keep an eye on RSS feeds. Today I'm taking a look at NewsMac Pro, a software title that's been on the market for a while and has received praise for both its usability and overall feel. The target of this review is NewsMac Pro 1.2.2, the latest version of the program, released only a few days ago.
With the popularity of RSS feeds the Internet has undeniably changed. There's a plethora of websites you want to keep track of, yet visiting each one of them would just take too much time. By using an RSS reader you can keep watch on hundreds of websites and quickly scan the stories you are interested in. This has produced some repercussions: websites are experiencing less visitors and the overall quality of the articles is rising. It's simple, you have to produce higher quality content now more than ever, otherwise the reader will just head over to the next URL in line. The aim of this review is to see if NewsMac Pro can make that jump easier for you.
Please note that some of the larger screenshots in this review have a bigger version available, just click on the smaller image to see the big version. If case you're wondering, this review was conducted on Mac OS X 10.4.3.
As expected, the installation of NewsMac Pro is very simple - you just have to drag the application icon to a location on your hard drive. When you start it up for the first time and check to see new feeds you get the following screen:
The first thing I noticed is the look of the application. It's very smooth, polished and looks just... great! The icons are quite intuitive and as far as the layout goes, well, it just makes perfect sense. I use a lot of diverse utilities for various tasks and sometimes I have to adjust to the interface. When I come across an application that enables me to start working right away without blinking it naturally makes me happy. I'm not an interface expert and I'm sure there are users out there that would like to see things done differently but the approach the author took here just worked for me.
Adding new feeds
The first thing every user will want to do is add their own feeds. You can either browse the wide selection of feeds available within NewsMac Pro, enter your own feeds one by one or import an OPML file. Here's the menu that you will be using for these tasks. It appears when you click on "Add Channels":
As you can see, everything is pretty intuitive and easy to use. Since I have an OPML file ready to be imported with all of my feeds I chose that option. In case you're using another reader or a service that enables you to export your subscriptions into an OPML file, starting fresh with this software will be pretty quick.
Since my feeds have been imported I'm finally ready to take NewsMac Pro for a spin and see how it performs.
Searching for news
Getting new items from a channel or a group of channels just right click and select the "Reload Channels" option and the downloads will start. NewsMac Pro allows a maximum of 10 downloads to occur simultaneously so if you have more, and I have many more, the rest will be put in a queue. The process is fast and works flawlessly. Keep in mind that I'm on a broadband connection and therefore cannot account for possible problems modem users could experience.
Shown below is an example of what you see once you reload some feeds select a news item you're interested in:
In order to browse news you can either click on an item to have it displayed within NewsMac Pro in its own browser or you can right-click and select the "Open in default browser" to continue browsing in your browser of choice. This is what browsing within the application looks like:
The pages I've tried load fast and the browsing experience is quite enjoyable for quick looks at interesting articles. It's even got the Google search bar included and with the channels waiting in the left side of the screen it makes them very accessible. When you click on a channel and select a new story to be displayed in the browser the story you were reading does not get replaced but a new tab appears which is very handy.
Feeds can be also synchronized with a PDA, cellphone or iPod. However, NewsMac Pro is not just about news. You can also subscribe to podcasts and listen them in the integrated player. It integrates with iTunes and allows you to sync with your iPod.
Customization: colors and columns
Oscar Wilde said: "I have the simplest of tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." As we all know, tastes wary and NewsMac Pro surprised me with a great selection of predefined themes that can be used to display news items. Go to NewsMac Pro > Preferences > Appearance and you'll see this dialog:
The quickest way to switch themes is to select the "Default Theme" dialog in the middle of the bottom bar of the program. There's something here for everyone and it definitely makes reading news much more pleasurable. After all, we all love to personalize our desktops and icons so why wouldn't we get to personalize the look and feel of a program we use on a daily basis?
What's more, you can customize the layout of the columns. Since I'm on a widescreen PowerBook I prefer settings that enable me to take advantage of the screen completely and naturally I appreciate this feature.
It doesn't matter if you have many channels sorted into folders like I do, you can always keep a watch on exactly what's important to you by using Smart Folders. To create one, simply click the "New Smart Folder" icon in the toolbar and you'll get the following window to fill out:
As before, everything is pretty straightforward and once you make a few Smart Folders you'll see how you can save on browsing time.
The help file
Although few reviewers take a look at the help file of an application, I always do. A good and thorough help file is very important for an application to succeed. Remember, not all users are experienced, something very intuitive for me can be strange for someone else. What's to note here is the simplicity of the help file filled with screenshots that will be clear to the most new of users. Very well done, it will certainly minimize support questions.
By now you must be wondering it's pretty weird I haven't come up with any downsides for this tool, but there is one feature missing. What I'd like to see in NewsMac Pro is the ability to synchronize with my Bloglines account. This would make reading news on multiple computers and locations much easier and I think it would increase this tool's success ratio quickly as I know many people use online services to browse RSS feeds. Luckily, the author of the software thinks the same and he plans to introduce this feature in one of the next versions.
To sum it all up, I believe NewsMac Pro is a fine piece of software. As you can see from everything I pointed out above it's very straightforward and filled with a myriad of options. The tasteful icons and color selections are a big plus as well.
A trial version of NewsMac Pro 1.2 is available here. It does not expire after a certain number of days but rather allows you to have 10 feeds until you buy the full version for $24.95. Try it out and you'll see it will enrich your Internet experience pretty fast.