RSS readers and Mac OS X 10.4

Software

Recently, on Twitter, my friend Brando asked about the state of RSS readers on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Are there still standalone applications supporting Tiger for RSS feed management?

I know, some people’s reaction may be Who cares about Mac OS X 10.4? Upgrade your Mac, already! It’s not a matter of upgrading: for instance, my main machine is only one year old and fully upgraded to Mac OS X 10.6, but there are many Mac users who have slightly older machines that aren’t obsolete yet and can still perform a lot of other duties. Typically these Macs are old PowerPC G4s which do not support Mac OS X 10.5 or, when they meet the minimum requirements for running Mac OS X 10.5, they do so at the price of poor, disappointing performance.

I have a few of these Macs in my home network, and they still serve me well, especially the PowerMac G4 Cube at my side. With the vintage but still beautiful acrylic 22-inch Cinema Display attached to it, the Cube is perfect for displaying information I want to glance at while I work. I also use it to check a couple of low-traffic email accounts; to open additional browser windows in Safari when the browsers I have open on my main MacBook Pro get too crowded; to listen to music (I have a separate iTunes library on the Cube entirely dedicated to classical music); and of course to check my Twitter stream and the RSS feeds. Therefore, it makes sense for me — and for other people who use a similar setup — to worry about Mac OS X 10.4 support in the third-party applications I use.

Back to RSS readers, my two favourite ones, NetNewsWire and Vienna have both dropped support for Mac OS X 10.4 in their latest versions (3.2.7 and 2.5.x respectively), and now they require at least Mac OS X 10.5 to run. If you search for them in other Mac software download websites, you may encounter misleading pieces of information, for example that they require “Mac OS X 10.4 or higher”. It’s wrong, they won’t even open under Tiger. Another well-known RSS reader which has gone Mac OS X 10.5 or higher is NewsFire.

If you’re not interested in syncing your feeds with Google Reader, then in my opinion and experience your best option is to use an older version of NetNewsWire. The last version supporting Tiger is 3.1.7 (you can download it here). Although it isn’t developed anymore, it’s stable, free, without ads, and runs smoothly on my Cube (a G4/450MHz machine). Similarly, you can also use an older (pre-2.4) version of Vienna — see here for a list of downloadable versions.

A nod to those who still use Mac OS X 10.3 Panther: NetNewsWire 2.1.5 and Vienna 2.2.2.2212 are the versions you have to look for, respectively. I use the former on my blueberry clamshell iBook G3/300 and it works fine.

A couple of RSS readers that are still under active development and support Mac OS X 10.4 are NewsLife and Shrook. The first is shareware (£7.50 / €10 / $12), the second is free. I haven’t tested either, but from the screenshots and the information available on their sites, they don’t look so bad.

I also received a nice tip on Twitter, from my friend Grant Hutchinson: you can also use Thunderbird as a standalone RSS reader. I hadn’t even thought about Thunderbird because after attempting to use it as an email client when version 2 debuted, I was disappointed and underwhelmed by its performance, so I deleted it and forgot about it entirely. You read me right: it’s not necessary to set up email accounts in Thunderbird to use it as a RSS reader, you just create a new RSS ‘profile’ and add your favourite feeds or import them from another RSS reader in OPML format.

Then, of course, there’s the option of reading RSS feeds inside a browser, especially if you don’t follow a large number of feeds. Safari is still supported in Mac OS X 10.4 (Apple just released version 4.1.2) and it’s probably the best choice. Another less obvious option is to use Opera. I said ‘less obvious’ because at first glance, Opera doesn’t seem to be able to manage feeds, but it actually does. This page in the Support area is quite helpful and well written. There’s only one thing that needs further clarification: in the aforelinked help page, you’ll read that:

The first time you subscribe to a feed, the Feeds item is added to Opera’s menu bar, and a “Feeds” heading appears in your Mail panel if you have set up one or more email or news accounts.

Which is true, but you’ll have to restart Opera to actually see the Feeds menu.

Opera displays and handles feeds like email messages; in my limited testing, this can be a bit confusing, especially if you have a long list of feeds and you select Feeds > Read feeds. You’ll be presented with a very long list of ‘messages’ and, since Opera treats them as emails, instead of seeing the source of a feed, you’ll see the name of the author of the article. This is somewhat bewildering unless you choose to display all articles from a single source by individually selecting the source in the Feeds menu. On the bright side, Opera full supports Mac OS X 10.4 and you can install the latest version (10.62) on your Tiger machine without problems. Opera also gives you various options when subscribing to a feed: you can add it to Opera Mail, Opera Portal, Bloglines, Google Reader, My AOL, Netvibes, Windows Live and Yahoo!

If you’re a Google Reader user, perhaps the easiest path is to just use the Web interface. It would be nice to have a program like Fluid to create a Google Reader application with, but sadly Fluid also requires Mac OS X 10.5 or higher. You could try using WebDesktop in a similar way as I did for reading tweets (see Bye for now, Twitterrific) — WebDesktop is a very light and versatile WebKit-based browser: just open it, tell it to load your Google Reader homepage and set it to refresh the page at the time interval of your choice. Then, you can leave it in the background and it’ll do its job without eating too many CPU resources.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. If you know of other updated RSS feed readers that still work under Mac OS X 10.4, feel free to add your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

The Author

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