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Finding An Atom 1.0 Feed Reader

Sunday 18th September 2005 - Saturday 24th September 2005


You may or may not be aware of Atom. For those of you in the latter group, Atom is essentially an alternative to RSS. If you don't know what RSS is, look here. Personally, I prefer using Atom since it isn't controlled by a company that can change the specification at a whim (RSS 2.0 was changed twice without the version being changed, meaning your RSS feed could have become invalid overnight without a single interaction from you). Rather, Atom is controlled by a standards body, giving it more stability. However, it isn't yet widely supported - which is what this article is about.

While writing a guide for writing an Atom 1.0 feed (don't hold your breath, it's taking a long time. There's a reason why the RSS guide was written first - it's easier!), I found that my test news reader, Straw, couldn't read my Atom feed. At all. (To be quite honest, I didn't try very hard - if you do get it working with an Atom feed, please send a message to me.) Mozilla Firefox could read the feed, but it only reads the title and the link - I wanted to check the many other details, such as the date and author, was working properly. And so began a long search...

Linux News Readers

So... where better to start than in Debian's repository. A quick bit of internet searching, and I find On the website is a list of news readers that claim to be able to read Atom feeds. A quick look reveals three that I can install easily - Liferea, aKregator and Straw. After reading that last entry, I was slightly dubious about the validity of the list, but I was willing to try other readers.

Both Straw and Liferea are designed for Gnome, so I tried those first. After some more fiddling around with Straw (which essentially involved me refreshing the list and trying the Atom feed from, I gave up. It wouldn't even work out the name of the feed.

Next up was Liferea. My hopes weren't too high when I started it up to find an almost identical look to Straw. Still, looks can be deceiving, so I carried on. So I added the feed and... success! It appeared! So, a happy ending to my little story? Not quite. Yes, it read the basic parts of the feed, but it decided that every date was in 1970, which was slightly off from what I was hoping for. On the feed, the pictures wouldn't display, while they appeared on the RSS feed. So, I was closer, but still not there yet.

Finally, we have aKregator, which is designed for KDE, meaning it took slightly longer to download due to the KDE libraries. It claims to be able to read Atom 1.0 feeds, but with this program I was back to the same situation as Straw. A different look, but the same blank stare.

At this point, seeing as I've forgotten to mention it (and also seem bizzarely incapable of scrolling up the page and editing what I've already written), if you do know of an Atom 1.0 reader, please let me know, and put me out of my misery!

Now, we're at the end of the article so far, but I'm not quite sure how to finish it. It won't be the end permanently, so I can't just wrap things up, but I don't know what's coming next. Probably best just to leave it like this then.

Web Browsers

And so we come to web browsers. What choices do we have? Well, we start off with Mozilla Firefox. Now, we know that Firefox can read the Atom feeds, which is more than some other programs, but only the basic parts. Fortunately, one of the advantages of Mozilla Firefox is extensions. A quick search for news reader extensions leads me to Sage.

Sage creates a pane on the left, similar to other panes such as History, with the list of the feeds. Click on one, and you are presented with the items in the feed in the main Window. A quick test on an RSS feed reveals it reads the titles, dates and descriptions of the feeds and each item. On the other hand, it ignores the subtitle and the date on the Atom feeds. Failure.

No doubt that there are many other news reader extensions for Firefox - I may try them at some point, but for now lets move on. If I tried them all, I could be here for quite some time.

Other web browsers? There are two main other web browsers: Internet Explorer and Opera. Internet Explorer doesn't support any kind of feed reading, but Opera contains a fully fledged reader, rather than the drop down list of Firefox.

So, we an RSS feed to Opera, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, it works without a problem - including date and author. An Atom 1.0 feed in Opera, and, unsurprisingly, dates don't work. It simply displays the date of the last update as opposed to the publication date, as it does for RSS feeds. To its credit, it does read the author correctly.

So, at the end of another part, I'm not really any closer. I wonder if it is really worth the effort? After all, some feed readers read almost everything - Opera, Sage and Liferea can read virtually everything, while Firefox reads the same amount from Atom feeds as from RSS feeds. However, if they support most of the feed, they should really support all of it. This might be a petty cause, but its a cause I want to continue (or at least until I get bored). RSS is well supported by just about all of the feed readers - why not Atom?

Webpage Based Feed Readers

This was my last try, for now at least. I will, most likely, come back and try other software, but right now there isn't enough reason for me to carry on searching.

So, as you may have gathered from the title, this part looks at webpage based feed readers. For those of you anxious to know the result: it's a failure. I tried two feed readers: Kinja and Bloglines. We've seen so far that feed readers generally fall into two main categories. Number One is the category that returns absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, Kinja belongs to this category. She (she? Do websites have gender?) refused to do anything with any Atom feed I tried.

The second category is made up of those feed readers that have a good go, but forget to tell the time, as well as not reading the subtitle. Bloglines falls into this second category. Remember, if you find any programs that lie in the empty third category of 'It works!', please get in contact, either through e-mail or by leaving a comment.

The results of my little investigation leave me slightly confused. I can understand the Atom feeds not working at all, although I would have thought Atom feeds were widespread enough for more readers to support them. No, it was all of those that nearly got there that have me slightly befuddled. Surely, once you have supported all of those other parts of the feed, it wouldn't be too difficult to add in support for just a few more tags?