RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) is becoming an ever more popular way to read online content quickly and without having to visit individual websites. As RSS feeds becomes more popular, so do the RSS readers that allow you to access the feeds. In my opinion, the two best RSS readers on the Mac are NetNewsWire and Vienna. Now that NetNewsWire costs the same as Vienna (i.e. nothing), what better time to take a look at what each has to offer?
NetNewsWire (Free, NewsGator)
NetNewsWire combines speed with ease of use (and of course, power). NNW boasts a clean user interface that's not unlike iTunes or Mail. You are able to create multiple folders to contain your RSS Feeds (for instance, I have a three folders: Technology, News, and Blogs -- this allows me to sort all of my RSS feeds into different categories). Two features set NetNewsWire apart from Vienna: feed syncing and website thumbnail views. Feed syncing allows you to synchronize your feeds with NewsGator servers, FTP, or .Mac. When you read your feeds on two or more Macs keeping all your feeds in sync is a nice feature to have. The thumbnail view allows you to see a current snapshot of the website whose feed you're reading; this allows you to keep up with the design of the site you're reading.
Pros: clean Apple-like user interface, feed syncing on multiple Macs or for backup purposes, thumbnail view, AppleScriptable, quickly refreshes feeds
Cons: feeds can only automatically be refreshed a minimum of once every 30 minutes
Vienna (Free, Open Community)
Vienna isn't too different from NetNewsWire; it includes a good user interface, smart folders, and built-in browsing abilities. One of the features that definitely sets Vienna apart from NetNewsWire is it's ability to refresh feeds with great frequency (every 5 minutes vs. every 30 minutes). This feature alone lets you get your news much more quickly, but can, often times, drain bandwidth. Even though you can refresh feeds more frequently, Vienna downloads these feeds slower than NNW.
Pros: ability to refresh feeds more frequently, feeds can automatically be refreshed once every 5 minutes
Cons: interface can sometimes be buggy, no feed syncing, no thumbnail view, slow to download feeds
Let's see how the speed of each stacks up. For this test, I imported a new OPML file into both NetNewsWire and Vienna; it contained 76 feeds. Below is the speed comparison of both news readers.
Vienna downloaded 1464 articles in 49.5 seconds.
NetNewsWire downloaded 1464 articles in 17.5 seconds.
As you can see, NetNewsWire was the fastest in downloading the articles.
Which is better?
If I had to chose, I would say, both! Since NetNewsWire and Vienna are both free, either one is a good option. Try out both, see which one you like better -- with both being free, you can't really go wrong, now can you?
[Update:] Many people in the comments were talking about NewsFire and some "reasons" why we didn't include it in the post. I would like to clarify on that topic. We abstained from including NewsFire simply because we wanted to compare two FREE feed readers.
Also, some people have pointed out Google Reader as another viable option for reading RSS feeds. Google Reader, when combined with Google Gears and Google Reader Notifier, can offer many of the advantages of a full-featured local application.