NetNewsWire 5 review: Venerable Mac RSS news reader goes back to basics

Back in the hands of the original developer.

netnewswire 5 mac icon
Brent Simmons

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At a Glance

I’ve been an ardent fan of RSS news readers for a long time, but lately find it easier to consume information on Twitter in bite-sized chunks; you can browse headlines in near real-time, clicking links to read full articles of interest from a web browser.

A well-designed reader app does the same, but once you add an avalanche of feeds, it becomes time-consuming to slog through the digital noise every day. When I heard Mac reader app NetNewsWire had been resurrected by the original developer, it felt like a good time to dust off my feeds and give RSS another shot.

Coming home

NetNewsWire 5 is the latest incarnation of an application dating back to 2002, when developer Brent Simmons unveiled what would soon become one of the most popular Mac news readers. Three years later, the software was acquired by NewsGator, who kept Simmons on board, adding synchronization for good measure.

netnewswire 5 user interface Brent Simmons

NetNewsWire 5 makes a triumphant return to the Mac, adapting to whichever dark (top) or light (bottom) appearance has been selected in System Preferences.

That led to an iOS version which launched in tandem with the App Store, but by 2011 NetNewsWire was packing its bags for Black Pixel, who took two years to release an open beta of version 4.0. For a short time, the future looked promising (there was even briefly an Apple TV app), but development stagnated. Flash-forward to last summer, when the owners generously returned all rights to Simmons, who just so happened to be working on a new RSS reader dubbed Evergreen.

Coming full circle, Evergreen has been rechristened NetNewsWire 5, a free, open source RSS reader for Mac that remains as solid and reliable today as it was 17 years ago. With a lean, Spartan user interface, NNW5 keeps the focus on your favorite content—though getting those feeds into the app was a little more cumbersome than we would have liked.

Stripped down

At launch, NetNewsWire 5 supports two types of accounts: RSS feeds saved locally on your Mac (with more than a dozen quality sources included to get started) or those synced via Feedbin, a paid subscription service. As a Feedly user, my only recourse was to export existing subscriptions to an OPML file, which I was then able import into NNW5—a quick procedure that went off without a hitch.

netnewswire 5 general settings Brent Simmons

There aren’t many settings to be found in NetNewsWire 5, but you do have the option of setting the default reader to another app.

If you’re at all familiar with RSS readers, the UI layout here isn’t much different: Subscriptions appear at left, your list of feeds in the middle, and the selected article displayed in the larger portion of the window at right. Feeds can be organized into folders, and NNW5 features Smart Feeds, which automatically sorts articles into Today, All Unread, and Starred views for easier consumption. A toolbar provides easy access to create new folders, mark whatever is selected as read (including the must-have “mark all” option), star favorites, or open links in your preferred browser.

While a solid foundation, NetNewsWire 5 feels lean compared to modern RSS reader apps, particularly in the sharing department, which is limited to native system-wide extensions. (For now, that means no one-click sharing to Instapaper, Pocket, Twitter, and the like.) There are settings to control how often feeds are refreshed, select a default RSS reader, hide unread count on the Dock icon, and an option to open webpages in the background. But that’s about it.

netnewswire 5 toolbar IDG

While sharing may be a weakness of NetNewsWire 5 right now, the customizable toolbar includes most everything else you might need.

As unremarkable as this might sound, what’s here is done with panache and it all works great. The developer’s goal was to first make NNW5 “stable, fast, and free of bugs,” and that mission has been accomplished in spades. Additional features are planned for the future, and a new iOS companion app is also in the works.

Bottom line

NetNewsWire 5 is a solid comeback, even if it lacks many of the conveniences of modern RSS reader apps.

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At a Glance
  • NetNewsWire 5 is a free, open source RSS reader for Mac that makes aggregating and consuming articles from favorite websites or social media outlets more convenient.

    Pros

    • Free, open source RSS reader for Mac
    • Fast, stable, easy to use
    • Smart Feeds for quicker access

    Cons

    • Limited sharing options
    • No feed sync options except Feedbin (requires paid subscription)
    • Lacks advanced features of competing apps
  
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