With all of the weird stuff happening last week, I almost missed a good thing I found in the sunpig server logs: NewsGator. NewsGator is an RSS aggregator that integrates with Outlook.
If you’re not familiar with RSS aggregators, they are basically programs that allow you to check web sites for updates without having to visit the sites themselves in your browser. RSS is especially popular with people who read and write weblogs, because it’s very easy to get interested in a lot of weblogs, and they often change several times a day. Checking dozens of weblogs just to find out if they have changed gets old really fast. But an aggregator program takes all of the hassle out of it.
There are a bundle of RSS aggregators out there: Radio Userland (which is also a blogging tool), AmphetaDesk, NetNewsWire, Aggie, and Syndirella are just a tiny selection of the most popular ones. Radio Userland and AmphetaDesk have a program that runs in the background on your machine, while the actual RSS newsreader interface appears in your browser. NetNewsWire, Aggie, and Syndirella are programs you have to fire up separately. With all of them, you say how often you want to check on your news sources, and then they scan them for you automatically.
I’ve been mostly using AmphetaDesk for my RSS newsreading purposes, but now that I’ve come across NewsGator, I may well switch. NewsGator acts as a plug-in for Outlook. When it scans your RSS news sources, it converts new articles into Outlook items, and sorts them into a set of folder for you–just like mail items. After that, you can treat the article/headlines just like anything else in Outlook. You can delete them, move them around, or drag and drop the most interesting ones into a public folder so others can see them.
I love it. It’s like saying to all your favourite sites, “send me an email when a new article appears”, only without the twin disadvantages of ending up on dozens of email lists (which you then have to manage, or remember about) and having your inbox flooded with dozens of non-critical emails each day. It’s a perfect match for the way I think about RSS news.
The only possible problem is that it runs on Outlook. I’ve been reluctant to run Outlook as my mail client at home, because of vulnerabilities like these. I don’t think that Outlook is necessarily much less secure than other mail programs, but because of its ubiquity (and Microsoftness) vulnerabilities are much more likely to actually be exploited.
After trying the new M2 mail client in Opera 7 for a while, I’ve temporarily settled on Mozilla mail reader, but it’s horribly slow. Diego Doval’s Spaces email client also includes an RSS newsreader, but the software is still alpha quality. I tried it yesterday, and while it showed promise, it didn’t quite click with me. (Also, with switching between mail programs, there’s always the question of how easy it is to switch back if you don’t like it.) Spaces is certainly promising, but I’m not ready for it right now.
So Outlook it is. By taking proper care (make sure you have the security settings right, don’t open dodgy attachments, view messages as text-only, etc.), it can be made pretty safe. I have a virus checker on our home firewall, and one running on my PC as well, all of which help. (Still, security is a process rather than a product, though, so no complacency will be allowed here chez Sutherland 😉
I have to say that I’m actually quite excited about starting to use NewsGator. There are dozens of sites that I want to track, but which haven’t made it into my AmphetaDesk subscriptions file. NewsGator is going to bring me up-to-date with all of them–and much faster than I could have tracked them before.