NNTP readers on OS X are built from failure

This post should be treated as an historical artifact at this point.

In the office where I work we use & maintain a company newsgroup server with a variety of internal newsgroups where everything from items for sale to complaints and hassles are posted. Late last year I went pretty much all-Mac, all the time, with a Remote Desktop window connected to a Windows machine in the office which I used for Outlook (because we’re an Exchange shop) and Thunderbird (to read the newsgroups). Wondering if I could cut ties a little further, I looked into NNTP readers for OS X.

A small bit of background first: I’m using Snow Leopard and I’m unwilling to deal with the vagaries of less-than-native clients. This means that I’m not using ported Unix apps. So no Gnews, newspost, Pan, Pine, Slrn, or Tin. Those are right out.

This left me with a list cobbled together from MacUpdate:

I had intended this to be a marginally comprehensive review of my time using these clients, but I barely got into the account setup with most of them, if I installed them at all.

Here’s how it broke down…

Unison looks like crap; It hasn’t been updated in since 2-26-08, and it has quirks under Leopard and Snow Leopard that I’m just not prepared to deal with. It feels dated, by which I mean it doesn’t look good by modern Aqua standards; it also uses multiple windows to manage a lot of its information. It feels like it’s really based around the file-sharing on Usenet, instead of being a general-purpose NNTP reader, which led me to uninstall it within five minutes. It’s probably the worst looking Panic application (but one of the better looking ones in this list), which is unusual for a company who is often considered the vanguard of independent Mac development.

Nemo? So much promise. So god-damned buggy. Poorly translated, and unfortunately priced given the wide-ranging nature of the bugs. These are fixable (and the price would be reasonable otherwise), but the simple fact of the matter is that this client is an example of how not to use cocoa frameworks. Didn’t even make it to “use” because once it littered the root of my hard drive with empty files, I trashed it.

UPDATE

The Malcom-Mac site is down for “scheduled maintenance” and the developer of Nemo has stated his desire to squash these outstanding bugs and polish his software. Maybe I’ll revisit this in a few months time.

MacSoup? No idea. It asked me to create a “settings file” to create a new database for news and mail. Obviously doesn’t get what “native” client means. Looks like it’s using old QuickDraw calls to render the UI. Never set even up my account in it.

Pineapple News is free but the custom icons look extremely janky compared to the “standard” icons they’re replacing. After setting up my account, it just hurt to use this tool. It’s visually grating on the eyes.

Xnntp has an installer. Aint no damned reason for that; it’s just a bloody NNTP reader. It doesn’t need to create system files. OS X uses the application bundle format for a reason.

Hogwasher looks like an old Hotwire1 client that someone stripped the file-sharing out of and then glued some NNTP support to. It costs a lot of money (and maybe it took a lot of time to develop) but it’s just god damned unusable. Trashed within minutes.

OSXnews looks awful too. Probably works better than Nemo, but has a distinct level of spit and polish missing. This was another case of never even setting up my newsgroup account. The author stated in July of 2007 that he was working on version 3. I wrote this in October of 2009.

I cannot stress how terrible the experience with MT-NewsWatcher was. It is basically an old Classic Mac application that has been updated just enough to sort-of run under OS X. It took a while to do anything, and it might be the worst looking of all of these clients. Apparently, Classic Mac OS users love it because it still looks and works like a Classic Mac application. Just so we’re clear, I fucking hated the Classic Mac OS.

MaxNews was downloaded, but at this point I gave up and just installed the Thunderbird 3 beta. Is it a little overkill? Yes. Is it a little bloated? Yes. But it just works, and it works reliably.

So what happened? I think that a few options are plausible: these developers date to a different era, with different development mores and means. They may think that people still using NNTP don’t care about their clients looking or working like complete shit, or they may think that because NNTP and Usenet as a whole date to an era where people would just roll their own GUIs or slap some shit together in curses and call it a Usenet client, they can still get away with that sort of behavior and worse still, get away with charging money for it.

So, am I being a bit of a snobby dick and trashing developers hard work?
Yes, I am.

But when the honorable mention you give to Thunderbird 3 (which is in beta right now, and more usable than anything else I listed) is the best thing you have to say about the state of Mac OS X NNTP clients, the whole damned situation is in a sad sorry state of affairs. And if you’re going to ask me to pay money for something, you’d better give me something worth paying money for. So this attempt to review these clients has ended in abortive failure, and concession bolted to compromise so I can get by with the least worst option available.


  1. Hotwire was a file-sharing service where a tracker would host files, and users would usually have to meet some insanely arbitrary condition to get access to download them. It enforced limits and ratios, and some trackers were commercial. Pretty sure that it’s extremely dead now. 

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