KC Lemson

By KC Lemson [MS]

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My attempt to use RSSBandit

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I tried, I tried really hard. I kept hearing from RSS Bandit users who loved it, and although I'm a fairly happy newsgator user and can't imagine switching for my core technical feeds, I thought it might be nice to at least try something else for my more casual feed reading, friends' blogs and things that I don't want to feed into my corporate mailbox. Plus, I am now suffering under the evil weight of a mail quota (gasp), and so I am looking for ways to trim the size of my store.

So a few weeks ago I downloaded it and installed it. Within a couple of minutes of using it, I hit a couple of minor but annoying behaviors that I consider to be usability problems, others may consider them to be features. I've been using it for my non-work feeds since then and compiling a list of my complaints, and here's what I have so far:

  • When adding a new feed, I have to click the “Get title from feed“ button, or type in a title myself. I would prefer that it would get the title from the feed by default, and then give me an option to override it (perhaps there could be a checkbox, checked by default - “Get title from feed“. When you uncheck the box, the “title“ input box is un-grayed out.
  • Double-clicking on an item in an individual feed just expands the thread, and if it's a singleton it's a no-op. I am going nuts with this behavior. There is no way I will ever untrain myself that double-clicking on an item of any sort (whether that be a file, mail message, appointment item, whatever) should open it in a new window. It's making me twitch. In one release of Office (maybe 2000? I can't remember), Word had an SDI interface. It was horrible. I think it was done for some reason related to using Word for email, but I don't remember the details. Thank goodness they went back to MDI.
  • At the bottom of every post is a link to get to the original item, as there should be. But the default behavior is to open up that new item in a new tab. While I know that many are in favor of tabbed browsing, I haven't drank (drunk?) that kool-aid just yet. And again, this differs from my expectations based on every other application I've ever used... clicking on a link in a non-browser application should open a new window in the registered default browser for that system. I went looking in Tools | Options and was pleased to find an option that seemed to be what I wanted... only to discover that that controls the behavior for right click | open in new window rather than just a single left click.
  • I also want that link at the bottom of every post to have the URL in the display name, rather than “Read on...“. Just a personal thing, really.
  • Minimizing the app goes to the taskbar notification area. I turned it off, I just wish this wasn't the default.
  • Delete is a no-op. I'm twitching again. I don't want the items to persist when I manually press the delete key. At the very least, use some sort of IMAP or Pine model - mark an item for deletion, hide it from the view, have an option to expunge the hidden/marked items permanently.
  • No accelerator keys on the sub-menus. There's Tools, but no Options. F1 doesn't open the help. I'm a keyboard junkie, I hate clicking.
  • Minor text inconsistencies. There's a typo in Tools | Options | Web Browser: “modfied“. You go to Tools | Options, but the title of the dialog is Preferences. The “S“ in Background Sounds is capitalized, which isn't consistent with the rest of the text in that dialog.
  • It doesn't think http://www.rebeldad.com/atom.xml is a valid feed (“Request of URL http://www.rebeldad.com/atom.xml failed: This XML document does not look like an RSS feed“), but it validates OK.
  • I thought perhaps I was running an outdated build without Atom support, so I went to download a new one. I ran the installer and it didn't seem to recognize I had a build on my machine already, it brought me to the “Install to this directory“ option immediately. I opened it directly from IE and chose to install it fresh into the same directory, and it failed with an error (man I hate it when people say “I got an error“ and don't write it down... but now I'm one of them). So I tried it again and chose to install it into Program Files\RssBandit2 instead... and got another error (really hating it when people do that, although I do remember that this error was something about not being able to find a file in the IE temp files). Then I decided to try three different things at once and I A) saved it locally and then ran it to remove the possibility of any problems with IE's download B) chose to install it for Everyone instead of just me and C) install to Program Files\RssBandit3 and it installed just fine. In a fit of guilt for not being a good tester and software citizen, I went back to the installer just now to try and reproduce the errors, and it brings me to a very smart “repair or remove“ dialog instead, so now it knows I've got it installed. I'm guessing it's because I had an older build that was registered differently and not recognized.

I understand the software development process and that it's often a judgement call - spend time on polish, or on the features that customers are demanding? I've been there myself, I remember one debate we had about Outlook Web Access' options page - some of the strings have periods at the end, others don't. I still notice it on “Automatically include my signature on outgoing messages.“ But for me as a software user (and a former tester), certain types of polish make it or break it. (The periods at the end of sentences, however, does not break it for me). I have given up on great software because I just couldn't stand the interface and wasn't able to get accustomed to it. And I also realize that I may not be the target audience, I have no interest in viewing the source, I don't need all the dials and levers in the world, I mostly just want some basic and streamlined feed-downloading-and-reading functionality out of my aggregator.

What I find absolutely amazing about RSS Bandit is that it supports displaying comments. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. It makes the Channel9 feeds usable. It makes it easier to keep track of threads on my own blog, and blogs that I watch. Configuring a notification toaster on a per-feed basis is also really nifty. And OPML sharing is killer - although I haven't set it up yet, I'm hugely in favor of the idea.

I'm going to keep working with it for a while longer and see if I can fit it into my workflow.

Comments
  • On RSSBandit... I think there's a big difference between a commercial app like Newsgator and a open source, part-time endevour like RSSBandit. And your expectations should match that.

    When I pay money, I expect perfection. Who doesn't? But the people behind RSSBandit aren't making $$ off their work. They're in it for the love of the process. You sound like you have good ideas, so why don't you help them?

    Finally, there's another difference between RSSBandit and Newsgator? Hate something about RSSBandit and can't convince anyone else that it matters? Just download the source, zap in your change, and you're off to the races. Just how do you do that with Newsgator, which, btw I've tried, and is a nice app (although I spend enough time in Outlook already as it is, thank you.)

  • I must say, although I haven't tried many RSS readers, try SharpReader. Very cool so far and has many of the features you miss. Must have .NET 1.1 installed to use...

    http://www.sharpreader.net/



  • I've recently switched from SharpReader to SauceReader to RSS Bandit, and am sticking with RSS Bandit for the time being despite the warts you noted (plus some others - for instance - clicking on my collapsed Weblogs.Asp.Net folder causes mayhem in the list page as each feed is loaded into the list one at a time.) I was tired of the crazy memory usage in Sauce/SharpReader, and SauceReader's posting tool crashed and took out a post right as I was trying to submit it.

    And the shared OPML / state thing is really cool. I wish it was automatic - retrieve on startup, upload on shutdown - but it's nice to have my read posts at work marked as read when I get home.

  • I'm using sharpreader aswell, while the interface works quite well, it does not seem to be updated much and the "looks" are too win2k-ish or crap in other words.

  • Good luck! I've landed on RSSBandit (I've been using it for a long time now) and I'm devoted enough to be forgiving... ;)

    I tried the others, but they just didn't do it for me. The killer feature was the inline comments, the fact that I can post comments directly from it (if the weblog supports the Comment API), and the tree view on the left.

    I tried newsgator but I didn't like the way the columns were setup by default and I have many subfolders to categorize my blogs - each one had to be configured separately.
    RSSBandit supports categorized feeds (subfolders) beautifully.

    Stick with it, you'll like it more as time goes on.

  • I agree with you on your comments. The most annoying to me is the behavior of the browser. This seems to be a fairly new change though as older versions seem to correctly handling a "right click" on a link and open a browser window. I have no idea why this was changed, but I've tried everyway possible to get back to the old behavior.

    I still have to say it's a good product as I moved from SharpReader to RssBandit after experiencing some breakage in the reader.

    One thing I noticed about the install problem was first uninstalling the old version and then installing the new one works great. Your feeds are preserved.

    One interesting feature I found recently is the ability to "bookmark" an article for later review. That has really saved me when I need to get back to a post and have no idea where it is. The item then appears in either the Items for Follow Up or Items for Review folder. Cool!

  • Chris: Absolutely, I have different expectations from free software, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't feel free to explain what I do and do not like about something, even if it's free. I *am* trying to help, by explaining my issues. I'm not much of a coder, so I can't help by adding the behaviors that I want. I also opened a few bugs last night on the sourceforge project, although I didn't open ones that I assume are by design, but I should probably go open them as suggestions.

    Wes: Ahh good to know feeds are preserved - that's exactly why I didn't uninstall the old one, I was afraid they wouldn't be. Bookmarking and the search folders are indeed great as well.

    JW: The reason I've never tried sharpreader is because of the memory hogging that I've heard about so frequently... I just don't want to get into that.

  • It appears that you were running an older build KC. I am currently running 1.2.0.115 and atleast some of the items that you mentioned are fixed.

    - Tools|Options dialog has the title 'Options'
    - F1 opens up the help though its not 'context-sensitive yet
    - Most menus have accelerator keys.
    - Your rebeldad.com feed works fine.
    - I use the "outlook2003-orange" custom formatter. I find it easy to read with than any other formatter there. So if you want to see the URLof your item rather than "Read On..." just open, lets's say outlook2003-orange.xslt file from your RSSBandit\templates folder and make a small change:

    <div class="PostSignature">
    <a href='{//channel/link}' title='{//channel/description}'><xsl:value-of disable-output-escaping='yes' select='//item/link'/></a>

    Note the '//item/link' in place of '//channel/title'.

    I have tried almost every 'free' aggregator that I could find and IMHO RSSBandit offers the best combination of feature list, performance and ease of use.

    Ofcourse everyone wants outlook integration :-)

  • Munish: I downloaded the build last night. I think it was 1.2.0.90. I only downloaded the 'stable' release, not the development one - do you know if 115 is a dev release?

    For me, free is not a reason to use it or not use it... I'm happy to pay for my aggregator (I own newsgator), because I use it every day. If I end up switching to RSS Bandit full time, I'll definitely paypal them something.

  • KC: the latest 'stable' release is 1.2.0.114.

    http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/rssbandit/RssBandit1.2.0.114installer.zip?download

    I usually never uninstall the previous version. I just download the latest installer and let it run at the same location. Had no problems since last 2-3 releases.

    'Free' is not the only goodie that comes with RSSBandit. You also get the source code. Probably you don't care much for it, being in the thick of things at MS, but I find looking at the source code of applications that I use all the time, a great way to learn .NET/RSS/XML/* concepts and ofcourse I can change anything, anytime that I don't like :-)

  • Sorry, I take my comment regarding installing without uninstalling back. I got too used to of downloading the latest nightly build and unzipping it in my folder! As you correctly noted the latest installer does detect existing installations and shows the repair/remove dialog.

  • I couldn't live in Newsgator having seen the comment support in RSSBandit. It's great for reading comments, but even better that I can post comments without opening up the browser. This comment was posted from RSSBandit.

  • Most of the time, I can drag the feed link or XML icon directly from the browser into RSS Bandit, drop it into a folder and it resolves the title just fine (occasionally, for reasons unknown, this doesn't work). I'm not sure why you have to click "Get title from feed" every time.

    I agree that Atom support would be nice, but then we might have to petition Dare to change the name... ;)

  • One recent problem I've noted with RssBandit is a CPU hogging issue. It goes off and consumes 100% CPU cycles for as much as 5 - 10 minutes. It does eventually subside, but there have been a number of cases I've had to kill the process to resume work. VERY annoying.

    Also, like SharpReader you can use the OMPL file to populate another reader. I've manage to trim down that file and use it to populate a PocketFeed subscription on my PPC.

  • Josh: This is me posting a reply from rss bandit. I agree, this is really sweet.