Reeder for Mac: a stunning implementation of minimalism, elegant design and practicality in one RSS client

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been using my MacBook Air a lot more than my iPad in the past month, since it’s actually lighter (if you take into account the fact that it needs a separate bluetooth keyboard to function), more powerful (since it runs OS X, rather than iOS) and has a much wider choice of apps to use, especially for blogging. In fact, I found myself only using my iPad to read The Economist, the Spectator and the Financial Times online editions (the former two being glorified PDF versions of their paper selves, the latter underwhelming in its mediocrity, yet all three more convenient than waiting for delivery by a newsboy).

Until yesterday, there was one exception to what I said about OS X: Google. I use Google Reader to manage my feeds because on the server side, like everything engineered by Google, it’s unbeatably good at storing feeds, keeping track of what you’ve read or not, and sharing anything of interest with the wider world. Yet unfortunately, Google insists on living in a fantasy world in which the distinction between server and client has been abolished and believes its users are happy resorting to its hideously impractical and badly-designed web clients to access those applications. For two of the three Google applications I use daily, Google Apps Mail and Calendar, this is not insurmountable, because they can be hooked to existing OS X and iOS applications, so I never have to use or even look at the web eyesores except when adjusting preferences.

The Google Reader web interface probably wins the prize of the worst-designed and most impractical non-Microsoft product I have ever used: over the past two years, I’ve desperately tried to find ways of avoiding it. I played with Fever, the very clever self-hosted RSS reader designed by Shaun Inman, but rapidly gave up on it because (i) Shaun seemed uninterested in designing iOS clients for it and (ii) using a self-hosted stock of RSS feeds makes sharing links less practical then Google Reader. So when Silvio Rizzi’s fantastically—and justifiably—successful Reeder for iPhone Google Reader iOS client was released, followed by an equally well-designed iPad version, I reverted to Google Reader, to which both versions of Reeder are ideally suited. What was lacking, until yesterday, was a companion OS X client for those frequent occasions when I want to keep an eye on my feeds while using my MacBook Air. Hacks to the existing Google Reader web interface, such as the Helvetireader 2.0 or GReader Safari extensions, bring the Google Reader web interface back just below tolerable proportions, but still had me daily pining for Signor Rizzi’s announced OS X version of his application, Reeder for Mac.

Well, what Silvio Rizzi, characteristically modestly, describes as Reeder for Mac 1.0 Draft 1, is now available for download, and I’ve been using it since yesterday. I think it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the result is a stunning implementation of the new trend towards allying minimalism, elegant design and practicality that has characterised the best applications for the wider Apple ecosystem on both iOS and OS X in the past few months. Reeder for Mac basically strips out all the useless clutter in Google Reader, using its real estate just for seeing a list of new feeds (with each folder collapsible into individual subscriptions, each neatly identified by its own icon) on the left, and navigating between them on the right. Reeder makes it, if anything, even easier than its iOS predecessors to switch between the actual feed content, the original page and, if desired, its Instapaper version. The top bar is entirely customisable and can be used to share content easily on Google Reader itself (with or without notes), Twitter (or a number of other social networks I don’t use personally such as Delicious) or by email.

You can also send items to Instapaper or Read It Later, and Reeder, as far as I could work out, uses your existing browser’s permissions to do this—not just for some of the social networks, but also for those of your subscriptions that require passwords to access.

The original, impractical Google Reader keyboard shortcuts are replaced by a number of eminently convenient ones: those I find myself most using are A for Mark All As Read, V for View Original and B for View in Safari.

You can’t at present manage your subscriptions from Reeder, but that limitation hardly bothers me, since that’s not really something I do every day, and I prefer to do so within Google Reader’s own preferences. Adding a feed to Google Reader from Safari is extremely easy if you set Safari as your default RSS Reader (which can be done in Apple Mail’s preferences) and install the Add to Google Reader Safari extension.

With this fantastic OS X declination of his iOS Reeder apps, Silvio Rizzi has achieved, over just a few months, what other longer-established players, such as Gruml, Socialite or the notoriously crash-prone NetNewsWire have failed to do. He has achieved this despite the quirks and general unreliability of the Google Reader API, since no official API is as yet available form Google.