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NNTP readers on OS X are built from failure

This post should be treated as an historical artifact. It probably contain broken external links and it may no longer reflect my views or opinions.

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.

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. ↩︎