Despite what companies like Apple and Facebook claim, you don’t need a giant corporation telling you what news stories you should read every morning. Nearly every website (worth reading) still operates an RSS feed. And now one of the oldest and most robust RSS readers, NetNewsWire, is back from the dead and worth your consideration again.
Over the years, NetNewsWire has changed owners a few times, but in late 2018, former owner Black Pixel returned NetNewsWire’s intellectual property to Brent Simmons, which he now uses as the name for an open-source Mac RSS reader he’s been developing for about five years. And as of today, it’s now available for download.
In the simplest of terms, an RSS reader lets you access a list of a website’s most recent stories without actually having to visit them directly. If you only read two or three sites every day, an RSS reader probably isn’t for you. But if like myself, you obsessively stay on top of over 100 different news sources, an RSS reader is a must-have. I started using RSS readers back in early 2000 shortly after Brent and Sheila Simmons released the first version of NetNewsWire, and despite many alternatives that have come and gone (including Google’s much loved and now much dead Google Reader), I’ve stuck with NetNewsWire for over 15 years and have yet to find a better replacement.
Having been a devoted user for so long, I’ve been following the renaissance of NetNewsWire closely for about a year now, trying each beta version as they’ve been released on GitHub. Simmons and fellow developers have been slowly and steadily adding features, and as it stands now at version 5.0, it’s an excellent alternative to services like Apple News+ for staying on top of what’s important to you. It includes a handful of sample RSS feeds for you to follow, but subscribing to new ones is as easy as finding the RSS logo on a website (it tends to be well hidden these days), copying the URL, and adding the feed to NetNewsWire. Alternatively, the team has also created a Safari extension for easily adding a site’s feed to NNW.
The Black Pixel version of NetNewsWire I’ve been using for a few years now is getting a little long in the tooth, and it struggles when it comes to playing embedded YouTube videos or other media. The new NetNewsWire, by comparison, handles everything with ease and speed. It’s also much easier to navigate, allowing you to pour through hundreds of stories with nothing but a repeated tap of your space bar, which is perfect for when your other hand is devouring breakfast. It’s also fully dark mode compliant, which is reason alone to switch.
If you’re new to NetNewsWire, the latest version is definitely worth trying, if only because it’s an excellent piece of software that Simmons is currently giving away for free. But if you’re an advanced RSS user, you’re going to find some important features currently missing. There’s no easy shortcut for quickly tagging or “starring” posts for perusal later (a feature that’s kept me loyal to NNW for ages), and customizability of the interface, such as reducing the size of fonts in stories, is limited. The current version also only syncs across devices using Feedbin, with support for more services promised later, and the iOS version of the app has not been released yet.
Being able to stay on top of my feeds using either my MacBook or my iPhone is my holy grail of RSS, but to date, I haven’t found a truly reliable way to realize that dream. With the release of the open-source NetNewsWire 5.0, I’m optimistic that will happen soon. For the time being, it still remains just out of my grasp. But the rest of you news addicts should really jump on NNW while you can and help support Simmons with its development.