Read RSS feeds in Leopard Mail

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Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Take Control of Apple Mail in Leopard, a $10 electronic book available for download from TidBits Publishing. The 95-page ebook helps readers set up and configure accounts of all types; explains the ins and outs of addressing, composing, and sending e-mail; and assists in organizing and finding incoming mail. Other topics covered include Time Machine backups of e-mail, Address Book integration, Notes and To-Do items, archiving messages, rules, basic spam management, and more.

Starting with Tiger, Safari has been able to display RSS feeds, which many blogs, news sites, and other online publications use to distribute information on an article-by-article basis. But frankly, Safari was never a great RSS reader; it does the job, but not with the wealth of features or flexible interface of stand-alone RSS readers such as the free NetNewsWire. With Leopard, Apple has tried a different approach: putting RSS support in Mail.

In principle, this makes more sense. Mail’s interface is better than Safari’s for displaying RSS feeds, and many of the tasks you perform in Mail (marking messages as read, searching, using smart mailboxes, and so on) can be done exactly the same way with feeds. Having spent several months giving Mail’s RSS capabilities a good workout, my opinion is that if I were stuck on a desert island with only Mail to meet my RSS needs, I’d manage, but I’d prefer a more capable tool.

With that in mind, I want to provide a quick overview of using RSS in Mail. But if you read more than a handful of RSS feeds on a regular basis, I suggest you look seriously at NetNewsWire, because Mail is likely to prove unsatisfying.

Configure Mail’s RSS preferences

Mail has three new feed-related preferences, all found in the RSS preference pane. Before adding any feeds, take a moment to set these preferences to your liking:

  • Default RSS Reader: When you click a link on a Web page to subscribe to an RSS feed (or when you click the RSS icon in Safari’s address bar), the application shown in this menu will display that feed. Oddly, the default RSS reader in Leopard is still Safari, even though Mail is much better. Unless you have a favorite third-party RSS reader, choose Mail.
  • Check for Updates: Choose the frequency with which Mail checks for new RSS articles. I suggest the shortest value, Every 30 Minutes. (If at any time you want to force an immediate update of all articles, click on the pop-up Action menu at the bottom of Mail’s Viewer window—or Control-click (right-click) on the feed or mailbox icon—and choose Update All RSS Feeds.)
  • Remove Articles: Articles from RSS feeds sometimes accumulate rather quickly. Because of the fleeting nature of most RSS posts, it makes sense to let Mail delete them every so often in order to save disk space (and after all, you can usually return to a feed’s Web site to read old posts if you wish). If you subscribe to lots of high-traffic feeds, choose After One Day to keep from being overwhelmed with unread (or simply outdated) posts. Otherwise, stick with After One Week; the longer periods make little sense.

Note: Mail treats each RSS article as a separate message, downloaded and stored individually on your Mac, much like messages from POP accounts. In fact, if an article changes, Mail may download it again, rather than altering the existing version.

Add and manage RSS feeds

If Mail is your default RSS reader, you can add feeds in several ways:

  • From a Web page: Locate and click the RSS link or button; in the Add RSS Feeds dialog that appears, leave Specify a Custom Feed URL selected and Show in Inbox unchecked; then click Add.
  • From Mail: Choose File -> Add RSS Feeds, select Specify a Custom Feed URL, and type or paste in the feed URL. Click Add.
  • From Safari’s feed collection: Choose File -> Add RSS Feeds, select Browse Feeds in Safari Bookmarks, pick the feeds you want, and click Add.

Feeds you add to Mail appear in your sidebar under the RSS heading. You can drag the entire RSS group up or down in the list if you wish; you can also group your feeds into mailboxes (choose Mailbox -> New Mailbox, select RSS, and click OK; then drag one or more feeds into the new mailbox). If you select an RSS mailbox, it displays the contents of all the feeds within it, giving you an easy way to display a list of articles from several feeds at once. However, within each RSS mailbox, note that feeds are always listed alphabetically.

To remove a feed, select it in the sidebar and choose Delete Feed from the pop-up Action menu at the bottom of the window; click Delete to confirm.

Should I check Show in Inbox? The Show in Inbox checkbox appears in the Add RSS Feeds dialog noted just above. I suggest you not select it, because it displays all the posts from your RSS feeds along with e-mail messages in your Inbox. Apart from overwhelming your Inbox with clutter, this makes it harder to distinguish articles from e-mail messages. If you choose to show a feed in your Inbox anyway, you can change your mind later: find the feed in your sidebar (under Inbox), Control-click (right-click) its name, and choose Show in Inbox to uncheck that option.

View RSS articles

When you select an RSS feed (or a mailbox containing more than one feed), the articles appear in your message list, just as if they were e-mail messages. You can read, forward, delete, and move them in exactly the same way, too; rules and smart mailboxes also work with RSS articles. If you want to mark all the posts currently visible as read, click on the pop-up Action menu at the bottom of the window—or Control-click (right-click)—on the feed or mailbox icon—and choose Mark All Messages as Read.

Tip: Disappearing RSS feeds? On a couple of occasions, I’ve opened Mail to find the entire RSS category mysteriously missing from the sidebar. According to some online discussion forums, numerous other users have had the same problem. If this happens to you, try either of these cures:

  • Choose File -> Add RSS Feeds, and then click Cancel.
  • Quit Mail. Go to the .Mac pane of System Preferences and click Sync. Uncheck Synchronize with .Mac and reopen Mail. If the feeds are back, you can return to the .Mac preference pane and re-enable synchronization.

[Joe Kissell is Senior Editor of TidBits, contributes frequently to Macworld, and has written numerous books about the Mac, including many popular Take Control ebooks. His latest is Take Control of Apple Mail in Leopard (TidBits Publishing Inc., 2008).]

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