RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) is a document specification for publishing headlines/content to other sites and RSS-aware applications. While available as a format for many years, RSS usage has risen dramatically during the past 12 months. SourceForge.net’s January 2005 Project of the month is RSSOwl, a RSS aggregator. It allows a user to gather the latest headlines from their favorite news sources all in one place for easy viewing including the New York Times, BBC, SourceForge.net, Slashdot.org, and thousands of other sites and blogs. RSSOwl currently runs under Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris. The software reached a major milestone last month (Dec 2004) with a 1.0 release. With over 60,000 downloads, RSSOwl is one of SF.net’s most active projects. The SourceForge.net team is proud to make RSSOwl our January 2005 project of the month.
RSSOwl is a newsreader for RSS, RDF, and Atom newsfeeds. It is written in Java and uses the powerful and fast Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) as a graphic library. SWT provides a native look and feel on the supported platforms Linux, Mac, Solaris, and Windows. RSSOwl can export news into PDF, RTF, and HTML and import and export bookmarks via Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML). It includes an integrated newsfeed search engine and a feed validator. By using RSSOwl to aggregate entire categories into a single view you can search in hundreds of newsfeeds for keywords.
- Development Status: 5 – Production/Stable
- Intended Audience: End Users/Desktop, Developers
- License: Common Public License
- Operating System: All 32-bit Microsoft Windows (95/98/NT/2000/XP), Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris
- Programming Language: Java
- Topic: WWW/HTTP, Communications
- Translations: Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukranian
- User Interface: Cocoa (Mac OS X), Win32 (Microsoft Windows), X Window System (X11)
Why and how did you get started?
Prior to developing RSSOwl, I used Eclipse for various other Java projects. I had heard of the Standard Widget Toolkit that Eclipse uses for the graphical user interface. I decided to develop a project within which I could explore the possibilities of SWT along with learning its usage. Around that time a friend showed me a newsreader he advertised on his home page. I installed it, and quickly decided to create my own newsreader using Java and SWT. After two weeks of development, I released RSSOwl 0.3a on SourceForge.net.
What is the software’s intended audience?
Most users use RSSOwl to collect daily news from newsfeeds like Slashdot and the New York Times or to read blogs, but some developers interested in Java look at it to see what’s possible with SWT in comparison to Swing.
How many people do you believe are using your software?
I guess around 10,000 people use RSSOwl every day.
What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?
I was pleased to learn of a user who wrote a report on RSSOwl in a Software Testing and Quality Assurance course at his university. He applied two common software testing techniques on my program.
What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?
Almost every day I look at the project statistics on SourceForge.net. This is a very important indicator for me. Second most important is the number of hits at Google when you search for RSSOwl. As the number of downloads grew, more and more people gave me feedback and participated in the forum and tracker on the project page.
What has been your biggest surprise?
A very active user of the tracker once told me that he wanted to write about RSSOwl in his next O’Reilly book.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Preparing an unstable pre-release built for a release, including testing on Windows, Linux, and Mac and getting all translations done in time for the release.
Why do you think your project has been so well received?
I reckon quite a lot people are searching for applications that run on more than one platform. Since RSSOwl is written in Java it can be used on different platforms and, thanks to SWT, it maintains a native look, feel, and performance.
Where do you see your project going?
Well, my to-do list is not empty yet, and a lot of interesting feature requests are waiting for implementation. I will work on them in 2005 and continually release new versions.
What’s on your project wish list?
Finally getting the Model-View-Controller pattern into RSSOwl. Most parts of the source code became very difficult to maintain once the project had grown. An implementation of MVC is planned for the next release (RSSOwl 1.1). A news-ticker view would be cool too; it’s one of the top items in my to-do list.
What are you most proud of?
Involving so many people working on and with RSSOwl.
If you could change something about the project, what would it be?
The number of developers writing source code. I think development would have been faster and better with at least one other developer being responsible for a part of RSSOwl.
How do you coordinate the project?
Since I am the only one writing source code, coordination is not that difficult. But I am using the excellent CVS-service at SourceForge.net to compare local changes with the repository. With the help of the mailing-list service, I created a list for all translators to request and collect new translations.
Do you work on the project full-time, or do you have another job?
I am a student of applied sciences in Berlin.
If you work on the project part-time, how much time would you say you spend, per week, on it?
This depends on the work I have to do at university. I would guess an average of 5 to 15 hours per week.
What is your development environment like?
I am developing on a 1.4 GHz Centrino notebook with 512 MB memory. The huge screen resolution of 1400×1050 provides an excellent overview of the source code, which was written with Eclipse, one of the best Java IDEs.The source code is compiled with Java 1.4.2 and the release is created with an ANT build script.
For testing I am also running SUSE Linux 9.1 on the same notebook, and I use an Apple G4 Powerbook for testing with Mac OS X.
- Version 0.3a (July 2003): Initial alpha release
- Version 0.4b (August 2003): RSSOwl reaches beta. Favorites are saved on exit and restored on startup.
- Version 0.61b (September 2003): RSSOwl is now available for Linux and Mac users. PDF, RTF and HTML export of news was implemented.
- Version 0.7b (February 2004): Integration of AmphetaRate, Newsfeed search engine, and the possibility to use the internal browser to read news. Added a large tutorial.
- Version 0.71b (March 2004): RSSOwl is now available for Solaris. Support for Atom Syndication Format
- Version 0.8b (June 2004): Implementation of drag and drop to manage favorites, offline archive, integrated feed validator
- Version 1.0 (December 2004): Stable release
- Version 1.1 (March / April 2005): Performance tuning, memory-usage tuning, MVC pattern.
How can others contribute?
We would love to get more feedback on RSSOwl’s usability and how it performs on the different platforms (especially Solaris). In addition, we are looking for people interested in testing pre-release versions of RSSOwl. They should contact me directly via email.