NewsFox Review

With Google Reader slated to be taken off life support on 1st July 2013, people are rushing to find alternatives. Due to this, some old feed aggregator services have seen massive bumps in terms of number of users, while many more new services are springing up, hoping to get a share of the pie.

So, why is Google killing Reader?

They claim that the user base is declining, implying that not many people are interested in Reader. But with so much opposition coming from the users (you can search the web to get an idea), one has to wonder if this really is the cause. In my humble opinion — and that of many others — promoting Google Plus seems to be the real reason.

That said, I personally am not affected by this change. Why, you may ask? This is because I never used Google Reader in the first place. In fact, I have never used a web based feed reader/aggregator. Instead, I use NewsFox.

What is NewsFox?

NewsFox is an old school, three-paned feed reading addon for Firefox.

Below are the primary reasons I use NewsFox:

  • Firstly, I don't prefer web based feed aggregators as that involves maintaining yet another online account, and these days we are already overwhelmed with innumerable online accounts. Also, by using web based feed readers, we are exposed to the same privacy issues that exist with the usage of Google Search, Facebook, etc.
  • Secondly, I believe that a feed reader should be tightly integrated with the web browser, as the content ultimately leads us to web pages. There are many desktop based feed readers, but they open the feed contents in a browser anyway. Some do have integrated web renderers, but they aren't comparable to full-fledged web browsers.
  • Lastly, of all the browser based feed readers, I like NewsFox the best. An honourable mention goes to Opera's integrated feed reader, but I only use Opera occasionally, so it can never replace NewsFox for me.

This article intends to serve as a review, as well as a tutorial, for NewsFox. So, let's get started!

NewsFox Interface

When you first launch NewsFox, the interface feels a bit empty. By default, it just contains a feed named Newsfox, which shows the release history of NewsFox.

NewsFox first launch

NewsFox First Launch

Toolbars

NewsFox consists of two toolbars: the Main toolbar and the Feed toolbar.

The Main toolbar is positioned at the top of NewsFox's window.

NewsFox main toolbar

NewsFox Main toolbar

The Feed toolbar lies at the top of the Article Pane.

NewsFox feed toolbar

NewsFox Feed toolbar

As previously mentioned, NewsFox uses a 3-paned interface. It consists of the following panes:

Feeds Pane

The pane on the left of the interface, called the Feeds pane, consists of the feeds you have subscribed to and the groups they have been categorised in.

NewsFox feeds pane

NewsFox Feeds pane

Article Pane

The upper right pane, called the Article pane, displays the articles of the selected feed. The Feed toolbar lets you perform various actions related to the currently selected feed.

NewsFox article pane

NewsFox Article pane

  • You can click on the grey dot under the Flag column to flag an article. Flagged articles are denoted by a golden star. Flagging is a way of marking important articles. Flagged articles are safe from the automatic deletion settings of NewsFox.
  • The R column denotes whether an article is read or unread. The green dot denotes unread articles. You can toggle the read status by clicking on the dot.
  • The Pr column shows your probable interest in an article using Bayesian filtering.

You can add or remove available columns by clicking on columnpicker — the rightmost icon on the column bar. You can sort articles according to any column by clicking on the respective column name.

Content Pane

The lower right pane, called the Content pane, shows the real thing, i.e., the contents of the selected article.

NewsFox content pane

NewsFox Content pane

Adding new feeds

RSS/Atom Feeds

You can add new RSS or Atom feeds in a number of ways.

  • On visting a web page with feeds, the background colour of NewsFox's icon in the Add-on Bar changes to blue. You can right-click the icon to view all available feeds for that site. On left-clicking one of the listed feeds, you will be presented with the Feed Options dialog, which can be used to add the feed to NewsFox.
  • You can manually copy the URL of a feed and add it through the Add feed option on the Main toolbar.
  • If you are subscribed to some feeds using Live Bookmarks, you can add those to NewsFox using the Manage Live Bookmarks option on the Main toolbar. NewsFox automatically offers to add the available Live Bookmarks to its feeds, at startup.
  • You can add a set of feeds by importing an OPML file through the Options menu of the Main toolbar.

Storage Feeds

NewsFox offers a special type of feed called the Storage feed. These can be used to create your own custom feeds.

You can create Storage feeds using the Add feed option of the Main toolbar.

After creating the feed, you can drag and drop articles from other feeds onto the Storage feed, thus creating your own custom feed. It can be exported to RSS through the feed context menu.

Using Groups

Groups let you organize your feeds according to different criteria. By default, all feeds are added to the FEEDS group.

There are three types of groups available in NewsFox, and you can start using any of these groups through the Add group option in the Main toolbar.

Regular Groups

Regular groups are used to categorise similar feeds under a common name. You can perform various actions on the whole group such as: refresh feeds on a per-group basis, mark all feeds of a group as read, export the feeds of a group as OPML, etc.

Search Groups

Search groups are a very powerful feature of NewsFox. They perform a search on a group of feeds according to the criteria specified.

Different criteria for searching include: the time when an article was posted, whether the article is flagged, whether the article is unread — and of course — the text to search inside the articles.

I recommend creating a search group for flagged articles, using which you can easily view all the articles flagged by you.

NewsFox flagged group

Adding a "flagged" search group

Tag Groups

Tag groups list all the articles tagged with the same tag. Articles can be tagged by right clicking on them, and using the Tag selected option, or through the Feed toolbar option of the same name.

Configuring NewsFox

The Main toolbar provides the Options menu, which lists all the available options for NewsFox. Following are the various entries under the Options menu.

NewsFox Options (Named Options in the drop-down menu)

On clicking this option, you are presented with a window, which consists of the following tabs:

Feeds/Articles Tab

NewsFox options: feeds/articles tab

Feeds/Articles tab

Here you can modify different options such as: the date style for the Article pane, whether the feeds should be refreshed when NewsFox is launched, the timeout value when refreshing feeds, etc.

Global Tab

NewsFox options: global tab

Global tab

On this tab, Display Style lets you specify the display style for the article contents in the Content pane.

  • Text displays the articles as text (HTML where applicable).
  • Web Page displays the resulting web page for the article. It is useful for feeds that only provide a summary.
  • Web Page (-JS) is the same as above, but without JavaScript.
  • Text (XHTML) uses XHTML — instead of HTML — in the text view.

Delete old articles lets you specify if you want to delete the old articles.

  • Set as old specifies the criteria to set the articles as old. Possible options are: the articles which are not available in the feed anymore, or the number of days after which the articles are considered as old.

Auto-refresh: Set the feeds to refresh automatically after the specified interval.

Sorting Tab

This tab provides options for sorting articles inside individual feeds, as well as inside groups. You can specify upto four sorting options for each of them.

General Tab

NewsFox options: general tab

General tab

Newsfox directory lets you specify the directory where NewsFox should store the feeds. The default directory on Linux is ~/.mozilla/firefox/<profile>/newsfox.

Note: Changing the default can be useful if you want to keep your feeds synchronized. For example, you can set it to a directory on a usb drive, or you can even point it to a Dropbox folder.

Enable interest filter enables the Bayesian filter mentioned above (section: Article Pane). After enabling this, you can sort your articles according to the Pr column to follow the filter's recommendations.

Autosubscribe icon in status bar decides the behaviour of the NewsFox icon in the Firefox Add-on Bar. You can set it to display the number of new articles, number of unread articles, or not to display the icon at all. This icon also lets you subscribe to feeds, as mentioned above (section: RSS/Atom Feeds).

Shortcuts Tab

NewsFox options: shortcuts tab

Shortcuts tab

Another good feature of NewsFox is the keyboard shortcuts it provides. By default, NewsFox provides 2 types of shortcut keys:

  • standard: These are single letter shortcuts, though some of these require pressing the shift key (for capital letters).
  • alternate: These keys are prefixed with the <Alt> key.

If you don't like the default keybindings, you can define your own. To do so, select an operation and double-click on the corresponding row of the keystroke column. Now press the key or the combination of keys that you want to assign to that operation. These keys will be assigned to the custom key group.

Keywords Tab

Here you can enter upto 5 keywords that you want to look for in articles. The titles of the articles containing these keywords will be highlighted in the Article pane, and the keywords themselves will be highlighted in the Content pane.

Feed Options

This option is only available if you have selected a feed in the Feeds pane. It is also presented to you when you are adding a new feed. And, it is also available in the Feed toolbar on the Article pane.

It consists of the following tabs:

General Tab

NewsFox feed options: general tab

General tab

You can specify/modify the URL for a feed in the first row, as shown in the image above.

You can also decide under which group(s) should the feed be displayed — you can select multiple groups if you want. Be sure to select the flagged group, in case you have added one.

You can also override various global settings such as the display style for articles, feed update interval, etc. This way you can have different settings for different feeds.

Sorting Tab

This tab lets you override the global sorting options for the feed.

Security Tab

NewsFox feed options: security tab

Security tab

Here you can choose to encrypt the feed contents if you are the paranoid kind, or you have some super sensitive feed. :-P

You can also enter the authentication credentials for feeds that require them.

Web filter

This is explained in detail below.

Other Options

Other options include:

Export to RSS: This can be used to export a group of feeds, or even feeds such as storage feeds, to RSS.

Import OPML:

  • Add to existing feeds: Add the feeds contained in the OPML file alongside the existing feeds of NewsFox.
  • Start fresh: This option will remove all your existing feeds and replace them with the feeds contained in the OPML file.

Print article: Print the currently selected article.

Change Password: Change/Add the password for the encrypted feeds.

Restore Backup: NewsFox automatically backs up your feeds to an OPML file. You can use this option to restore a backup in case you manage to mess up your feeds.

Filtered Web

This is one of the most powerful (and probably the least understood) features of NewsFox.

When this is enabled, NewsFox downloads the destination web page for an article, strips all the unnecessary content from the web page (according to the rules specified by you), and displays the resulting content in the Content pane.

This feature is very useful for those feeds which only list a summary in their contents, and you would like to view the full material instead. The Web Page display style does something similar, but it downloads and displays the full destination web page. But with filtered web, you can specify what you want to display.

To use this feature, you first need to enable the Filtered Web column using the columnpicker icon. The Filtered Web column is denoted by a + (plus) sign.

NewsFox filtered web in the article pane

Filtered Web in the Article pane

The state of Filtered Web is denoted by the dots under the + column.

Following are the different icons (dots), and the states that they denote:

  • Grey dot: The filtered web page hasn't been downloaded or is not activated. Clicking on it starts downloading the filtered web page, or displays the filtered web page, if it has been downloaded already.
  • Blue down arrow: The filtered web page is being downloaded.
  • Green dot: The filtered web page has been downloaded and is ready to be displayed. Clicking on it will toggle the filtered web state, i.e., the feed contents will be displayed normally.
  • Green dot with Yellow background: Images for the filtered web page are being downloaded, though the filtered web page can still be viewed.
  • Red X: This denotes that an error occurred. To debug this, ensure that the Firefox option javascript.options.showInConsole is set to true. Now, try downloading the article again and then look at the Firefox Error Console to see the errors, if any.
NewsFox filtered web options

Filtered Web options

The Web filter tab of the Feed Options dialog lets you configure whether you want all new articles for a feed to be filtered.

More importantly, it lets you enter the rules for processing the downloaded web page, i.e., what contents should be displayed.

The default filter shown in the image above works fine for most cases. It only shows the contents inside closed <p> elements.

You can use the following for filtering the web pages:

  • RegExp, i.e., Regular Expressions.
  • JavaScript
  • XPath
  • Web Page (this is equivalent to the Web Page display style).

You can find some examples for creating filters on this page.

The Override charset option lets you specify the charset for the web pages that don't set it properly.

Limitations

Everything has some limitations and NewsFox is no exception to this.

Some of its limitations are:

  • Lack of documentation: There is a real lack of documentation for NewsFox, though the changelogs are really helpful. This article attempts to act as a decent source of documentation for NewsFox.
  • No support for online feed aggregators for those who prefer them.
  • The only major browser it supports is Firefox. Though, it is also available for SeaMonkey and K-Meleon (which is as good as dead).
  • Searching for NewsFox gives most of the results for all types of news, including Fox News. :-P
  • NewsFox is essentially in maintenance mode and new releases are rare. But a special thanks to longtime developer Ron Pruitt for carrying on the development of NewsFox and ensuring that bugs are fixed swiftly. Also, thanks to its maintainer — Andrey Gromyko and its creator — Andy Frank.

Ending Notes

NewsFox is a very powerful and flexible feed reader. I have been using it for over 5 years and am very satisfied with it. The performance is good, the keybindings are good, the interface is good.

I switched over to NewsFox from Brief as it was lagging in the performance section (at that time), and I never looked back. I tried a few other readers for Firefox, as well as some desktop/console based ones, but I found no reason to ditch NewsFox.

But, can it replace Google Reader?

That depends on your needs. Some people were using Reader without needing the online features it brought with it. If you want a good non-cloud feed reader, you should definitely give NewsFox a try.

Here's a final screenshot of NewsFox in action. Looks much fuller than the first launch. ;-)

NewsFox in Action

NewsFox in Action

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