Having access to the latest news through feeds is very important if you want to be an informed person without visiting hundreds of websites. In order to browse and manage your feeds with ease you can use RSSOwl, a powerful, Java based RSS reader.
Working with RSSOwl is very easy, since the application is small, simple and does not require any tutorials in order to use it.
Feeds can be added without too much effort, and you can change their order simply by using drag and drop and you can easily organize them in a folder.
RSSOwl is written in Java and you'll notice that right from the start, since the application uses the Java default look and feel. Unfortunately, there aren't any other skins available, so you cannot change it.
The application comes with five available layouts, which change the way you view your news. Classic allows you to access the headlines in the main window; clicking them will open an additional window in the background containing a small preview.
The Widescreen layout basically works the same way as Classic, but is optimized for widescreen resolutions, and the preview window is moved to the right. List allows you to view the headlines, but in order to read them you must double click the desired item and it will automatically open it in the default web browser.
The Newspaper layout gives you direct access to the headlines, along with a small preview containing text and images. Finally, Headlines allows you to view the latest news, and a single click on any headline will enlarge the selected item.
One can begin adding feeds right after launching the application, without the need of any initial setup. You can add .xml links, or import your feeds from your old feed reader by using an OPML file (the import/export options are available from the File menu).
The application also allows you to synchronize it with your Google Reader account, if you have one. All your feeds are available on the left panel (for testing purposes we'll use the Classic layout). They can easily be arranged in any order by using drag and drop, if needed. Right clicking one of them will give you access to options like Mark as Read, Search or Filter the selected feed and will also allow you to share the selected feed on 26 social media websites, including Facebook, Twitter or Delicious.
This is an interesting feature, since it allows you to spread hot news right from your feed reader (before the feed is posted, the application will open a browser window and ask for your permission).
The layout type that feels a little awkward is the List view, mainly because the user doesn't receive any summary for the selected news. By default, double clicking any article will open it in your default browser, however you can change this by going to the Preferences panel, in Browser settings.
RSSOwl comes with an integrated browser, that will allow you to open the selected news right within the application. While this is an interesting feature, adopted by more and more feed readers, it's really generic and doesn't really bring anything new to the table. At times, it can prove to be a nuisance, especially when trying to open items while feeds are updated (It worked after clicking the item 5-6 times).
The menus above the news window allow you to filter your feeds. For example, the first menu enables users to view certain types of news, based on various criteria like new or unread, sticky, labeled or the ones from the last 5 days.
The second menu lets you create news groups using different criteria such as author, date, feed, state, stickiness or label. News groups are an interesting feature because they allow you to sort the news any way you want to.
Above the Feeds and News windows you'll find the application toolbar. From here you an can add new feeds, create feed folders, batch update the feeds or update them individually, search feeds, mark them as read, or sticky. RSSOwl's toolbar basically contains the same items which are available by right clicking news or feeds.
The View menu, accessible from the menu bar, brings some interesting features, like zooming text in or out, or changing the number of columns (by choosing only relevant columns: Tile, Date, Author or Category, among others).
RSSOwl Preferences allow you to personalize your experience in various ways, by customizing feeds or labels. Feed-related options are the ones you would expect: setting the automatic update time, choose the way you mark feeds as read, or changing the default layout.
The Preferences window is also the place where you can create feed notifications, or set a master password. There are also some appearance related tools that let you customize the tabbed browsing experience and other miscellaneous feed actions.
Accessing Preferences/View also features an option that allows you to minimize the application to the menu bar, and select the you want it to do so. Here, one can see that the menus state System Tray instead of menu bar, making it clear that RSSOwl was initially created for Windows. Despite being an useful option, the application crashed two times before I was able to make it work properly.
At first I tried testing RSSOwl as a normal user, with 10 to 50 feeds, and then as a power user, adding more than 2000 feeds. While the application easily handled the smaller number, it had big problems when dealing with a lot of feeds.
Most of the time, when trying to update them, the application became unresponsive, and remained in this state for more than 10 minutes. I believe this has something to do with the fact that the tool is developed in Java, thus relying on the allocated memory. I tried to allocate 1 GB of memory only for RSSOwl, yet there weren't any visible performance improvements.
Managing and reading feeds with RSSOwl is very easy, and the fact that you can choose from various layouts allows each user to customize his experience with the application.
Being a Java (cross platform) application is both good and bad for RSSOwl. It's great that you can use such an application on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux, but there's also a downside: it simply can't handle a big number of feeds without becoming unresponsive and consuming a lot of system resources (based on my experience 50-80% CPU and 1 GB RAM).
RSSOwl is a generic feed reader, that doesn't really bring anything new. Despite its small problems, I do recommend it, but only to home users that want a small, free feed reader with Google Reader support, capable of handling a small number of feeds without consuming all their Mac's resources. Download it now and see if it suits your needs
Here are some snapshots of the application in action: