20 Free RSS Readers Reviewed

by Ross McKillop on May 6, 2007

iPod Linux Mac Windows

Now that almost everyone knows what RSS is, I figured I’d review a few of the ways you can read RSS feeds. With a heavy emphasis on cross-platform and/or open source, here are 20 (albeit somewhat brief) reviews of the free RSS readers available. Links to download, screenshots and system requirements are included with every review.
 

Name Type Supported Platforms
Alertbear client windows icon
Attensa for Outlook client windows icon
Blam client linux icon
BlogBridge client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Bloglines web apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Firefox client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Google Reader web apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Netvibes web apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Newsgator Online (Ajax beta) web apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
QuickRSS client windows icon
Rojo web apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
RSS Bandit client windows icon
RSSOwl client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Sage client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Shrook client apple icon
Straw client apple icon
ThinFeeder client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Thunderbird 2.0 client apple iconwindows iconlinux icon
Vienna client apple icon
Vista Media Center RSS Reader client windows icon

Alertbear

Homepage: http://www.alertbear.com/
Requirements: Windows 2000 or XP and the .NET 1.1 framework
Thoughts: I’m not a huge fan of the ‘river of news’ style of RSS reader. I subscribe to somewhere around 100 feeds, and with that many, there’s just too much scrolling. With that said, Alertbear does a pretty great job of creating a ‘stack’ that utilizes the river of news style. From their ‘about’ page: We believe that RSS should be usable by anyone. We also believe that RSS is not email, feeds should simply wash by, commonly called the “river of news”. Alertbear takes both of these concepts and introduces The Stack. The Stack appears whenever a feed contains new items, visibly showing you them being added to the top. You can scroll up and down it, see unread items by their cream colour and star icon, assign colours to your feed categories to make them easier to spot, click the arrow icon on each item to see expanded information, navigate through the list with arrow keys, page up/down or the mouse wheel and easily clear the stack with a quick stab of the delete key.

Screenshots:


detect feeds during install

The Stack
   

options

more options

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Attensa for Outlook

Homepage: http://www.attensa.com/get-it/
Requirements: Windows 2000 SP4 or Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista and Outlook 2000/2002/2003/2007
Thoughts: I’ve already done a fairly in depth review of Attensa, so I’ll just repeat a few things here. If you live and breath in Outlook (I used to spend 1/3 of my day in Outlook), Attensa may very well be the RSS reader for you. Attensa integrates itself into Outlook so well that you’re not even aware it’s there most of the time. You can switch back and forth between reading email and RSS feeds so easily you’ll wonder why you used to use a browser or separate app for RSS.
Screenshots:

attensa for outlook
default view
attensa for outlook
individual article
   
attensa for outlook
properties
attensa for outlook
options
   
attensa for outlook
manually add feeds
attensa for outlook
attensa settings

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Blam

Homepage: http://www.cmartin.tk/blam.html
Requirements: I honestly don’t know. Try compiling it yourself – it certainly works in Ubuntu and is a part of the Synaptic Package Manger.
Thoughts: Blam is a bit of a ‘no frills’ RSS reader for Linux. The author has a list of fixes/improvements for the 2.0 version. With all of that said, it certainly works. There are a few themes to choose from, and you can import and export OPML. One of the drawbacks is that it doesn’t fully support Atom 1.0 (only up to Atom 0.3).
Screenshots:

blam
default view
blam
preferences
   
blam
importing
blam
imbedded media

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BlogBridge

Homepage: http://www.blogbridge.com
Requirements: Java: 1.5 or later, OS X 10.3 or later, Windows XP or any Linux with a system GUI
Thoughts: Here’s how I’ll put a positive spin on BlogBridge – it’s the best RSS reader for Linux that I’ve seen so far. If you’re a Windows or OS X user, you may want to try another (but maybe not – BlogBridge is pretty darn good). There are some interesting features – Expert Guides being the one that stands out most. Per BlogBridge, Expert Guides are a collection of feeds around a specific topic that have been selected by someone who has real expertise in that area. BlogBridge is free and open source, there are some additional features that aren’t free (for commercial use). Feed Library (the software you can use to create your own Expert Guide directory) is one of them. Again, if you’re a Linux user, give this one a shot.
Screenshots:

blogbridge
default view
blogbridge
summary view
   
blogbridge
create a smartfeed
blogbridge
“Guide” (groups of feeds) icons

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Bloglines

Homepage: http://www.bloglines.com/
Requirements: a (semi) modern web browser
Thoughts: Where to begin. Bloglines is one of, if not the most, popular web-based RSS readers. There are far too many features for me to list here, so if you’re curious, visit their about page for the highlights. Though I personally prefer Google Reader for web based RSS, Bloglines comes in as a close second. They also have a fun and helpful forum that’s worth checking out. Oh – and not only do they support importing and exporting OPML, they do it right (hierarchies etc).
Screenshots:

bloglines
default view
bloglines
auto-discovery
   
bloglines
article view
bloglines
group view
   
bloglines
feed options
bloglines
forums

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Firefox

Homepage: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/
Requirements: see the full list here – but in a nutshell, Windows 98 and up, Mac OS X 10.2.x and up, Linux kernel 2.2.14 (with glibc 2.3.2, XFree86-3.3.6, gtk+2.0, fontconfig/xft and libstdc++5)
Thoughts: Firefox is a browser, not an RSS reader. I know this. But a surprisingly high number of people use it as their primary RSS reader, through a feature that Firefox calls “Live Bookmarks”. Live Bookmarks are actually a lot of people’s first introduction to RSS, even though they may not know it. By default, Live Bookmarks don’t have a lot of features – they just kind of ‘are what they are’. Enter LiveClick, one of the many add-ons/plugins for Firefox. LiveClick adds a number of very useful features to Live Bookmarks, such as: marking Live Bookmark items as ‘read’, receive alerts when select Live Bookmarks have new items, and it even allows you to use site icons (favicons) in place of the default RSS icon.
Screenshots:

firefox live bookmarks
Live Bookmarks in the Bookmarks Toolbar
firefox live bookmarks
expanded view
   
firefox live bookmarks
Live Bookmarks as Bookmarks
firefox live bookmarks
organize your Live Bookmarks
   
firefox live bookmarks
group Live Bookmarks together
firefox live bookmarks
LiveClick add-on Options

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Google Reader

Homepage: http://www.google.com/reader/view/
Requirements: For the best user experience, Google Reader requires an up-to-date browser. They recommend that you use Firefox or Safari (download: Mac), but Internet Explorer will work too (download: Windows).
Thoughts: Though I said I wouldn’t suggest which RSS reader is “best”, Google Reader is my personal favorite. With so many viewing options, keyboard shortcuts and extra goodies (integrated podcast/mp3 player, auto-sorting, etc) – you really can’t go wrong. Throw in some Greasemonkey scripts and the sky is the limit. Google Reader supports importing and exporting OPML files.
Screenshots:

google reader
default home
google reader
list view
   
google reader
article view
google reader
all items
   
google reader
preferences
google reader
import/export OPML

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Netvibes

Homepage: http://www.netvibes.com
Requirements: Most modern browsers will work, but Netvibes recommends Firefox 2+ or IE 7+
Thoughts: Strictly speaking, Netvibes is not just a web based RSS reader. You can add modules for services like Craigslist, Ebay, Flickr, local weather, To-Do lists and every email service under the sun (gmail, yahoo, hotmail, .mac, AOL and even POP). If you’re still using My Yahoo as your home page, you may want to seriously consider switching to Netvibes. With that in mind, the more you customize and/or add to Netvibes, the more you’ll need a broadband connection. Netvibes.com is my home page, and supports importing and exporting OPML files.
Screenshots:

netvibes
customized home
netvibes
example tab
   
netvibes
theme options
netvibes
add feeds or modules
   
netvibes
Netvibes ecosystem
netvibes
general preferences

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Newsgator Online (Ajax beta)

Homepage: http://www.newsgator.com/
Requirements: A modern web browser
Thoughts: I should say up front – the ‘old’ (non-beta) version of Newsgator Online is very stable. Rock-solid even. The ajax beta, not so much. I thought it might be Firefox, but Safari and IE 7 had the same errors (see screenshots). With that said, the beta/ajax version has serious potential. Once the bugs are worked out.. It has a very sleek look and feel, lots of options, and everyone loves ajax.
Screenshots:

newsgator online ajax beta
welcome screen
newsgator online ajax beta
default view
   
newsgator online ajax beta
errors (oops)
newsgator online ajax beta
full view

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QuickRSS

Homepage: http://quickrss.net/
Requirements: MS Windows and the .NET framework v.2.0.50727
Thoughts: If you’re looking for a feature rich RSS reader, QuickRSS isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a fast, functional and ‘simple’ RSS reader, QuickRSS is for you. And that’s not to say it has no features – there’s a built in web browser, it supports the use of a proxy server, and you can minimize to the system tray. QuickRSS uses very few system resources (I couldn’t get it to use more than 4MB of RAM) and isn’t at all CPU intensive. Though it doesn’t support importing and exporting of OPML (yet), it does allow you to backup and restore your feeds.
Screenshots:

quickrss feed reader
default view
quickrss feed reader
adding feeds
   
quickrss feed reader
settings
quickrss feed reader
web page view
   
quickrss feed reader
backup
quickrss feed reader
feed details

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Rojo

Homepage: http://www.rojo.com/
Requirements: a web browser
Thoughts: Meh.. Of the web based RSS readers, I’d have to say Rojo was my least favorite. Though it has the typical options (import/export, keyboard shortcuts, mark as read/unread etc), it doesn’t have the advanced features of Google Reader or Bloglines. With that said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with Rojo, and the page load times are pretty quick.
Screenshots:

rojo
default view
rojo
individual feed view
   
rojo
options
rojo
“scoop” an article

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RSS Bandit

Homepage: http://www.rssbandit.org/
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/2003 – Windows 2000, XP or 2003 is recommended. The .NET framework 1.1 or higher
Thoughts: Anyone familiar with Outlook will have no trouble using RSS Bandit. But unlike Outlook, RSS Bandit is open source, and doesn’t crash nearly as often (it has yet to crash at all for me). A jazillion features – many of which are fantastic (advanced podcast options, NNTP support etc). Support open source!
Screenshots:

rss bandit
default feed view
rss bandit
default article view
   
rss bandit
vertical pane view
rss bandit
options

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RSSOwl

Homepage: http://www.rssowl.org/
Requirements: Java Runtime Environment (JRE), preferably 1.4.2 or 1.5.x
Thoughts: Cross platform, open source, a ton of features – what more can you ask for? How about exporting a newsfeed, a single article or an entire category of newsfeeds into PDF, RTF or HTML. Don’t like the 2 column view? Switch to 3. RSSOwl even has a built in browser you can use for quickly viewing html. Three thumbs up.
Screenshots:

rssowl
default view
rssowl
preferences
   
rssowl
displayed attachments
rssowl
lots o’ tabs

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Sage

Homepage: http://sage.mozdev.org/
Requirements: Firefox
Thoughts: Sage is a lightweight RSS feed reader extension for Firefox. Once installed, open Sage by selecting View -> Sidebar -> Sage from the Firefox menu. One of the unique’ish features is the default style – what Sage refers to as “Newspaper feed rendering” (see screenshot 1 below). If you don’t like the default style, you can download one of the many pre-created ones, or make your own (styles are CSS driven). Sage supports importing and exporting OPML, and you can use Firefox’s tabs to open multiple feeds at once.
Screenshots:

sage rss reader
default style
sage rss reader
web view
   
sage rss reader
settings
sage rss reader
custom style sheet
   
sage rss reader
Sage using tabs
 

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Shrook

Homepage: http://www.utsire.com/shrook/
Requirements: Mac OS X v10.3.9 or v10.4 (Universal Binary)
Thoughts: Wow. This is one feature packed RSS reader – I don’t even know where to start. Lets see – clickable Growl support, auto-download podcasts and have them added to your iTunes Library (and auto-export to a connected iPod), sync with a web reader (shrook.com) and so much more. The column view will be familiar for any mac user. Shrook supports importing and exporting OPML files, and importing from NetNewsWire.
Screenshots:

shrook rss reader for mac
article view
shrook rss reader for mac
feed suggestions
   
shrook rss reader for mac
sync w/ shrook.com
shrook rss reader for mac
channel preferences
   
shrook rss reader for mac
iPod preferences
shrook rss reader for mac
advanced preferences

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Straw

Homepage: http://www.gnome.org/projects/straw/
Requirements: Python 2.4, PyGTK 2.6, GNOME-Python 2.6, GnomePythonExtras 2.10, Berkeley DB 3 or 4 and their Python bindings, ADNS library and the corresponding Python binding are highly recommended for smoother operation, but Straw will work without them.

Thoughts: For folks new to Linux, don’t let those requirements scare you – Straw can be installed via the Synaptic Package Manger. Straw is a straight forward, easy to use RSS reader. Not a lot of frills, but totally functional. You’ll need to learn the keyboard shortcuts to use Straw most effectively, as the GUI is pretty minimal.
Screenshots:

straw
default view
straw
preferences
   
straw
keyboard shortcuts
straw
author and post URL

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ThinFeeder

Homepage: http://thinfeeder.sourceforge.net
Requirements: Java
Thoughts: ThinFeeder, as the name suggests, is a very small Java based RSS reader. It doesn’t use many system resources, has a decent GUI, and is supports multiple languages (Catalan, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Lithuanian, Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish and Swedish). Now for the drawbacks – though it supports importing and exporting OPML, it failed (reported errors) importing my Google Reader-exported OPML file. When manually adding feeds, I couldn’t paste them in (via keyboard shortcuts or right-click) – though that may be an OS X only problem. It still gets props for being so small, and of course open source.

Screenshots:

thinfeeder
default view
thinfeeder
preferences
   
thinfeeder
included skin
thinfeeder
suggested feeds

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Thunderbird 2.0

Homepage: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/
Requirements: View the requirements for your OS here
Thoughts: Though primarily developed as an email client, Thunderbird is also a great way to keep up with your feeds. One of the many benefits of using Thunderbird as your RSS client is that it supports viewing feeds/articles while offline (depending on the feed type). Thunderbird supports importing and exporting OPML files.
Screenshots:

thunderbird
article view
thunderbird
web view
   
thunderbird
individual view
thunderbird
account settings
   
thunderbird
import/export
thunderbird
offline view

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Vienna

Homepage: http://www.opencommunity.co.uk/vienna2.php
Requirements: Mac OSX 10.3.9 or later (it’s a Universal Binary)
Thoughts: Vienna is pretty darn slick. It has a built in tabbed browser, supports embedded media (youtube videos etc), several reading layouts and on top of it all, it’s open source. The ‘smart folders’, which automatically displays all articles meeting a specified criteria, are genius. Works with Growl, and makes blogging simple by automatically recognizing the most common blogging software and launches the software with the details of the selected article pre-filled. If you know some HTML and CSS, you can even customize the article presentation. I’ll say it yet again – support open source!
Screenshots:

vienna rss reader for os x
default view
vienna rss reader for os x
embedded media
   
vienna rss reader for os x
tabbed browser
vienna rss reader for os x
preferences

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Vista Media Center RSS Reader

Homepage: http://vistamcrssreader.oabsoftware.nl/ (or here for MCE version)
Requirements: Vista Premium or Ultimate, or Media Center Edition 2005
Thoughts: Eh.. It’s neat, I suppose. If I had Vista (or a PC running MCE 2005) hooked up to my TV I might use it. RSS feeds are pulled from IE 7 (MCE version uses a seperate app to subscribe/pull feeds). You can use it to listen to podcasts/mp3s or watch vodcasts in addition to reading RSS feeds. One drawback, images in RSS articles are not displayed. note: Vista Media Center RSS Reader is free “for now” but according to the author, You may be asked to pay a small license fee in the near future. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone else comes up with a similar app in the future, with more features (and one that will remain free).
Screenshots:

Vista Media Center RSS Reader
RSS in media center
Vista Media Center RSS Reader
feed list
   
Vista Media Center RSS Reader
article list
Vista Media Center RSS Reader
article view
   
Vista Media Center RSS Reader
play audio/video content
 

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