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Black Pixel Sketches Future of NetNewsWire

Many Macintosh eyes have been on Black Pixel since the recent announcement by Google that it would shut down its Google Reader RSS news-feed viewer, aggregator, and synchronization service. Black Pixel is the current owner of NetNewsWire, the most popular Mac newsreading software, which relies on Google Reader for syncing across Macs and iOS devices. Black Pixel posted on its blog that it has been steadily working on a new release of NetNewsWire for Mac and iOS, and has plans to start its own sync service. (For other options, see “Explore Alternatives to Google Reader,” 18 March 2013, and be sure to read “Thoughts Prompted by Google Reader’s Demise,” 14 March 2013.)

NetNewsWire was originally developed by Brent Simmons and released in 2002. He sold it to NewsGator in 2005, but essentially kept doing the same job, updating the software and expanding it to iOS. In 2008, NewsGator switched from a paid and “lite” release to a single ad-supported free version; you could pay to remove ads. At Simmons’s suggestion, NewsGator sold NetNewsWire to Black Pixel in June 2011. Black Pixel has released compatibility upgrades since then.

In the intervening time, Black Pixel chief Daniel Pasco writes, the company has overhauled the Mac version and rewritten the iOS versions from scratch. At the time of the sale to Black Pixel, Simmons realized the amount of work he saw in front of him as a one-man shop to bring NetNewsWire up to date, and was happy to hand it off to a team of developers.

Pasco writes that Black Pixel knew it would need a Google Reader alternative — since Google+ appeared and then sharing features were removed from Google Reader, it has been clear to observers that Google Reader was operating on borrowed time.

Black Pixel originally pursued using iCloud and its Core Data support for syncing database updates. But, as we’ve heard privately and read publicly from many developers who have tried to build syncing services on top of Apple’s offering, iCloud ultimately disappointed. The cloud service may have robust features, but the interfaces it exposes and its options don’t seem to match up well with developers’ needs. Black Pixel will build its own sync option, instead of using iCloud.


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Comments about Black Pixel Sketches Future of NetNewsWire
(Comments are closed.)

Dan Daranciang  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-03-20 16:37
I really strongly hope that we're not heading for iCloud as an RSS savior. My main iCloud account can no longer synchronize documents & data on any devices, and even with the help of a senior tech support person at Apple, I have been unable to fix the problem. It doesn't bode well for any future RSS sync solution.

It seems likely that Google Reader is going to be replaced by a single vendor, upon which we will all still be reliant. I am willing to pay for the privilege, but I don't know if enough people will do the same, and the future of any service depends on multiple subscribers (see:

I looked into Fever, but the setup process is beyond me.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-20 16:45
Ah, my article is confusing. They are in fact not using iCloud. They tried to get it working and are building their own syncing solution separate from iCloud. I've updated the column for clarity's sake.
Adam Bell  2013-03-20 16:45
With the exception of Apple's own apps, iCloud seems to be a major pain. NetNewsWire struggled and abandoned it, and so has Bare Bones with Yojimbo.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-20 16:48
And those are just the ones willing to state anything publicly. I've had conversations with other developers who prefer not to say anything to earn Apple's ire who have the same things to say.

Dropbox's incorporation in Mac and iOS apps is partly because of its reach with tens of millions of users; partly because it works in a reliable fashion even if it doesn't have the same fancy features as iCloud.

The newest Dropbox API might offer even more tools for use Dropbox instead of iCloud. And Dropbox works on many platforms (and many versions of Mac OS X).
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-20 19:47
Vemedio also dropped iCloud in Instacast 3.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-20 19:47
I'd argue that one of Apple's biggest problems is how reliant its developers are on Dropbox. If Dropbox were to be purchased by Google or Microsoft tomorrow, Apple would be in big trouble. I know that's unlikely, but if I were Tim Cook, that would make me very nervous.
Thomas Peak  2013-03-20 23:48
With Google and Microsoft having their own cloud services, I couldn't even see them entertaining Dropbox. There were those early reports before iCloud that Apple was looking at Dropbox, and it is a shame that Apple has developed its own. With that said, there are developers using the iCloud interface: 1Password and Alfred 2. NNW rolling its own sync solution, really?
Francisco Hirsch  2013-03-21 08:12
1Password uses iCloud (or Dropbox) for the iOS versions (1Password 4). The Mac version (3.9.6) only Dropbox
So if you sync with a Mac or Windows, Dropbox is the only way
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-03-25 17:22
And if they bought Dropbox and shut it down?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-25 17:41
The FTC in the US and EU commissions have successfully fought back against such consolidations in the past. Dropbox is sufficiently large as are the competing services it would be hard to argue for efficiencies given the high level of competition.
Scott Lopez  2013-03-25 20:23
I hope they go with Dropbox and go with an open opml format for saving its data file.
David Sanchez  2013-03-28 04:55
Dropbox does not do what developers are aiming to do with iCloud. Dropbox is a document based synchronization tool and iCloud does document syncronization perfectly fine.

The issue is with CoreData and iCloud. CoreData is a database and database synchronization with distributed systems is not an easy task. It was promised with iCloud but it does not work reliably. However there are no services that provides distributed database syncing. Dropbox does not do that.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-03-28 10:22
For some purposes, you don't need a distributed database; you need a structure that can be read rapidly and synchronized reliably. For an RSS reader, the odds of collision are low for a single person unless he or she has an exactly identical feed update schedule on two or more devices.

Dropbox's API revisions give developers more control over how they interact with the storage system. I wouldn't be surprised if Dropbox ultimately rolls out something like Core Data since it's such a valuable thing to offer, and they have so many pieces in place.

But perhaps it's too far outside its core competency.
Doug Grinbergs  2013-03-28 10:09
It's been 22 months since Steve's "iCloud just works" announcement, so I find it hard to understand how this ongoing iCloud debacle hasn't blown up spectacularly a long time ago - and why this vaporware (embarrassware) still hasn't been fixed by giant Apple. Are there any grown-ups in charge?

Omni Group has had Omni Sync Server live for a year (documented Omni iDisk/MobileMe sync issues go back to at least Aug. 2008), Black Pixel is working on their own solution; surely, there must be talk of a Mac/iOS developer alliance to provide a robust and independent alternative infrastructure to iCloud, even if it means skipping the Mac App Store. (What to do about iOS apps, though?)