Akregator, a Champion News Collector
If you are trying to keep up with only a few feeds, this isn't a bad idea. If you want finer control over the feeds, you will probably want a dedicated aggregator. The sorts of controls I am talking about include how often the feeds are updated, how many messages get tracked, and so on. Perhaps you need some kind of search feature. One of the best such aggregators I've discovered is Akregator.
The Akregator program is a KDE-based tool that is now available as part of KDE 3.4, where you'll find it as a plug-in for Kontact, the KDE personal information manager. However, you can run Akregator on its own. Just download the package from the website at http://akregator.sourceforge.net, where you'll find the source code and prebuilt packages for a number of different distributions.
Akregator has a well-designed interface with a simple two-panel view (see Figure 3). To the left is a hierarchical list of folders, much like you would expect to see in your email package. Each folder on the left represents a category and can have subfolders or feeds inside it. By default, you'll see a handful of KDE-related feeds already in the list. Click Feed on the menu bar and then select Fetch All Feeds to update the list right away. New stories are identified with a number alongside the feed name.
Figure 3 Akregator has a clean, well-designed interface that interfaces seamlessly with the Kontact personal information management suite. It can also run as a standalone application.
The main window on the right is where you read the actual stories. Click the feed name, and the window splits into a top and bottom half, with the story headings up top and the actual story below. Links to a story open inside individual tabs, much like you would expect in any modern web browser.
Right-click on the All Feeds folder at the top, and you can choose to add a new folder. This is handy if you want to organize your folders based on the type of newsfeed you are collecting. For instance, you might create a folder for tech news sites, blogs, general news sites, or whatever else interests you. After you have done so, right-click on the folder of your choice and select Add Feed from the drop-down menu. A small dialog box appears asking you to enter the feed URL (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 The first step to adding an Akregator feed is to enter to the URL of the feed.
When you click OK, the Feed Properties dialog box comes up (see Figure 5). There are two tabs here, labeled General and Feed Archive. We'll start by looking at the General tab and its settings. The feed name is entered by the feed definition, but you can override this name and enter whatever you like here. Do not change the URL. If you look under that entry, however, you'll see something interesting: Use Custom Update Interval. The Akregator default for this is 30 minutes. You might choose to override this and make it a shorter time interval, but be warned: You could be adding undue network traffic to an already busy news site. Some sites, such as Slashdot, will even ban your client from collecting updates for a few days if you overdo this.
Figure 5 The Feed Properties dialog box lets you modify some of your feed's defaults.
Now click on the Feed Archive tab (see Figure 6). This is a setting that I change in the Akregator package defaults because I don't want to keep an archive of news articles forever. Forever just happens to be the default.
Figure 6 Just how many articles do you want to keep in your archive?
You can choose to change this here, but if, like me, you would rather have a somewhat smaller archive for all your feeds, click Settings on the Akregator menu bar and select Configure Akregator. Click the Archive icon to the left and make your changes there.
Remember how easy it was to add a feed with Firefox? You just navigated to the page and clicked the Add Feed button in the lower-right corner. Well, it can be that simple here, too, with Akregator's Konqueror plug-in. Here's what you do.
Navigate to the site of your choice and keep an eye on that bottom-right corner. If the page you are looking at provides a feed, you will see a little rectangular icon in the lower right. Let your mouse pointer hover over that icon for a moment, and a ToolTip will appear proclaiming "This site has a feed." Left-click that icon to see a small pop-up menu listing the feed's name and offering you the option Add Feed to Akregator (see Figure 7).
Figure 7 It's easy to add a newsfeed from inside Konqueror: Just click the RSS icon in the lower right.
Some websites have pages in which the feed is not directly embedded. Instead, they have one master page with several newsfeed links organized by subject, type, and so on. For these you'll see a link on the page with a red, rectangular RSS button and a link offering you the link to the feed. InformIT is just such a site; if you navigate to the Linux Reference Guide, you will see such a link available. You could copy the link, go to your Akregator, and add the feed there, but there's an easier way. Right-click the link from inside Konqueror; a context menu appears with one particularly interesting option labeled Add Feed to Akregator (see Figure 8). If you click here, the feed will be added in an Akregator folder named Imported Feeds.
Figure 8 No RSS button in the bottom corner. No problem. Just right-click on the RSS subscribe link.
That's all there is to it. When you go back to your Akregator session, you'll see the new feed there waiting for you.
With that, it's time to wrap up today's walkabout. In no time, you'll put together a list of news sources that come to you, as opposed to the other way around. Truth is, it's very easy to get used to the electronic version of the dirty-faced kid pushing a paper in your hand. He tirelessly scours the Net and is always on top of the latest news—and you don't even have to pay him.
Many other aggregator programs for Linux are available; I've given you just a couple of examples in this article. Check out my own website at http://www.marcelgagne.com/aggregators.html for a list of other programs you might want to try.
Until the next walkabout, I bid you great Linux adventures!