Desktop XUL apps

I was all set to write a post about how we should be using centralised apps with XUL frontends for aggregation to provide native interfaces regardless of location but I find that Manuzhai beat me to it

I think an online XUL aggregator is perfect: a rich UI, but available from anywhere in the world.

He mentions XUL Channels which is no longer available because of hosting problems, and it’s certainly a start (the source is available and took me a grand total 2 minutes to set up). It’s missing a host of features such as multiple users, read/unread items, flagging, Atom supoprt etc. but given that the code alone is six months old this is probably fair enough.

Presumably with a bit of hacking it would be possible to make this an executable app (loading it via the chrome:// command like ChatZilla). It could also read any feeds for which an RDF transformation is available, and the missing features don’t seem like they’d be that hard to add in – XUL’s a doddle after all 😉

The hardest part would probably be dealing with HTML entities, which it currently appears to struggle with, but they could always be stripped out in the first instace. Do I smell the future burning bright?

Mark me up, Scotty

Simon writes about the legion of non-HTML text markup languages and introduces his own (we have enough. please stop now. Maybe writing your own markup language is the new “writing your own wiki“, which was the new “writing your own aggregator” ?)

Anyway, he points out that anyone entering italic*italic-boldbold* into most engines and that includes Markdown, Textile and [his] home-rolled Python solution… will output vadly (sic) formed XHTML.

I’m glad to be able to say that JTextile gets it right, producing:


It still doesn’t do normal line-breaks, but hey, nothing’s perfect. 😉

G fixed the linebreak problem at long last. Stupid StringTokenizer 🙂

This platform happens to be my soapbox

I think Anil Dash is missing a trick.

Anil says Platforms, not programs. But why? The most widely-known application-as-a-platform of recent years is probably Mozilla, and has that succeeded in real terms? No. Firefox has. Thunderbird has started to. ChatZilla is starting to take off the IRC world thanks to its low entry requirements (Mark Pilgrim wishes there were a standalone version of chatzilla but he might be taking the piss, so pretend I never mentioned it).

Breaking the Mozilla platform (we’re not talking about the GRE) was the best thing that could possibly have happened because it lowered user expectations. Your website doesn’t render? That’s a Firefox problem. IMAP connection keeps dropping? That’s something wrong in Thunderbird. Without them being separate applications all these errors are perceived as being due to “Mozilla”. Ergo, for the users, Mozilla sucks. Users are much more willing to forgive the same number of errors spread over different executables.

I’ve got to confess that I’ve not used Outlook as much as Anil has. In fact, I’ve only been using it for the past two years or so, but you know what? Every single time I have to use it it disappoints me. Every single time. Startup, shutdown. Mail notification. Mail rules. Calendaring. Reminders. Everything. I’m permanantly dissatisfied with every single bit of Outlook. It’s possible that there’s a mountain of stuff going on in the background that I don’t know about, but get this – I don’t care – user impressions are built on what they can see and touch, and using Outlook feels like having to hold a week-old turd.

Outlook doesn’t work as a platform because none of its constituent parts are good enough. Maybe if they were all separate apps I’d give it a break (actually, I’d probably just use different apps). The fact that the Outlook monolith is extensible is irrelevant. Anil mentions five extensions he uses despite the fact that one of them is simply a replacement for Outlook’s utterly broken searching (he even says so). Another two (Plaxo and MS Business Contact Manager) are replacements for Oulook’s utterly broken address book. If people have to release extensions to fix core functionality in your enterprise, corporate product, then what does that say about it? And because it’s a massive and closed environment, how do you know that installing these extensions isn’t going to fundamentally break something that you may not find out about for six months when you really need to send that important reply to your biggest client?

If you want platforms, then that’s great, but why write one single massive application on top of it? Why not write several, smaller, interacting applications?

Products, people. Products based on platforms, people.

Idle sods

SharpReader turns One.

So what the fuck’s been going on the aggregator scene in that time? SharpReader is *still* the most professional of all the Windows desktop aggregators (despite being free!), a crown it took when it launched and looks unlikely to be forced to give up

This must mean that I’ve been using JabRSS as my main aggregator for about 11 months, and explains my recent interest in desktop aggregators.

I’ve been really disappointed though. There’s nothing new, nothing exciting. The only thing which looks to be pushing the envelope is the RSS and BitTorrent work being done by Andrew Grumet. Maybe when someone realises that Atom was designed to handle binary content from the start someone in that camp will release an equivalent (which if done soon should knock his Support the creation of better tools—and create better ones ourselves—for production and consumption of BT-enclosure feeds. for a loop – not that I actually expect it to happen).

To be fair, there’s been prolifigation, but I can’t believe that’s all. What have I been missing? Let me know.


RSSOwl | RSS & RDF Newsreader

A cross-platform desktop aggregator in SWT

Looks pretty good, works OK although slightly unintuitive in places and laborious in others, but very feature-complete (including blogthis functionality, grouping, well-implemented searching, multiple languages built-in etc.), cross-platform and open source (it’s Java, but fast) ! What more could you ask for?

Something different that it’s got going for it is the export of single or multiple feeds as HTML or PDF. This is a decent way to aggregate data so that it can be printed.

It seems to support Atom A-OK although it doesn’t actually say so on the website, which is a bit disappointing, and it doesn’t run as using the XP theme as default on my machine (although there are instructions in the extensive and detailed documentation on how to do this).

Definitely worth another look.

It’s actually come to my attention that RSSOwl features in the Weblogs Compendium which I purported to cover in Part One, Part Two and Conclusion. Ah well 🙂