This series is written by a representative of the latter group, which is comprised mostly of what might be called "productivity users" (perhaps "tinkerly productivity users?"). Though my lack of training precludes me from writing code or improving anyone else's, I can, nonetheless, try and figure out creative ways of utilizing open source programs. And again, because of my lack of expertise, though I may be capable of deploying open source programs in creative ways, my modest technical acumen hinders me from utilizing those programs in what may be the most optimal ways. The open-source character, then, of this series, consists in my presentation to the community of open source users and programmers of my own crude and halting attempts at accomplishing computing tasks, in the hope that those who are more knowledgeable than me can offer advice, alternatives, and corrections. The desired end result is the discovery, through a communal process, of optimal and/or alternate ways of accomplishing the sorts of tasks that I and other open source productivity users need to perform.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Third installment: In praise of newsbeuter

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a T.E.T. (trailing edge technology) type of guy. Rather than chasing after the latest, greatest, electronics must-haves, I'm content to sit on the sidelines watching developments, trying to scheme up ways of getting dated tech to approximate what the new gadgets can do, or sometimes even pouncing on something a bit dated when prices to drop by 50% or more once the novelty's worn off.

That sort of curmudgeonly attitude, augmented by being something of a technological late-bloomer (never touched a computer prior to age 30), it may come as scant surprise that, until fairly recently, I'd done little to nothing involving feed reading. I do recall, when first hearing about RSS, that it seemed like something well-suited to my needs and disposition. But initial attempts at utilizing it did not get very far.

Feed reading seemed attractive to me initially because, given my penchant for T.E.T. and all things low-resource, my preference for things like news reading, which I do a fair amount of, has been, for some years now, largely to use non-graphical applications. What I mean by that is that, when I want to know, via the internet, what's happening in the world at large, I want mostly words, not pictures. And most especially what I don't want when I'm looking for news is advertisements.

Well, advert aversity and my preponderating graphical ambivalence happen to go together quite well with low-resource computing--whether as cause or symptom I don't know. These proclivities led me, for several years, to do most of my news reading under text-mode browsers--primarily links/elinks and friends. I was quite pleased with that arrangement since it obviated a good deal of the bothersome advertising and allowed me to pick and choose which of the more newsworthy graphics I wished to view.

I could, for example, set up links/elinks to use a low-resource program like feh to view the graphics of my choice. That, of course, was in the days when in-line images were the standard for web pages, rather than more modern irritations like java scripts or the even more egregious flash. Should, in those bygone days, any news story hold sufficient graphical interest, I could always copy the URL into a graphical browser and have a gander at the site in its full monty manifestation.

As the web has continued its inexorable march toward chimerical perfection, text-mode browsing--as alluded to above--has become less and less practicable. For some time, one of my primary sources for news was the collection of headlines at the yahoo main page--which used to display quite acceptably in elinks. But yahoo finally sold what remained of its soul to the devil of progress and vaulted itself yet further into the 21st century, updating its main page and thereby causing it to render quite terribly under elinks.

I was adrift for a time news-wise in the wake of the demise of the old yahoo main page. I eventually settled on google news as my news page--once I discovered the proper user-agent incantation; one that would give me the mobile version of the page, containing just a clickable headline along with a line or two from the story. The full version of the page, containing whole opening-paragraphs from the various news stories of the day, was way more news than I was looking for.

But I do like to consult more than one news source each day: for example, I typically look at some Linux news site (Lxer is my preference these days), some boxing headlines, and some MMA news as well. I was ending up with 3 or 4 tabs open in elinks, refreshing each site as I wanted to check for new stories. Which didn't work too badly, by the way.

Recently, though, I decided to have another go at learning about and seeing whether RSS might suit better my news-reading needs. What I ended up discovering was an RSS feed reader that would turn out to scratch, in the most satisfactory way probably humanly possible, the wildest insatiable itch I barely even knew I had (if that statement makes no sense, read on: it might later--though I'm making no guarantees :)). That RSS application was newsbeuter.

Will it come as any surprise if I intimate that newsbeuter is a console program? Probably not. Not only can this application be used from a pseudo-terminal, it can even be used straight from the console! Now that's right up my T.E.T. alley.

"Ok, so what is it?" you ask. Well, it's a terminal application for reading RSS feeds, an application that was developed by an Austrian (as in, fellow countryman of our own American Terminator/Governator) fellow, Andreas Krennmair. The interface, such as it is, quite reminiscent of vi/vim. As he tells us, the name
"Newsbeuter" is a pun on the German word "Wildbeuter", which means "hunter-gatherer". During the stone age, people hunted and gathered their food, and these days, they hunt and gather news and information. Credits for this idea goes to Clifford Wolf, who submitted it to a little competiton that was started when I got aware that the original name would violate French and European registered trademarks.
The screenshot below offers a glimpse at what newsbeuter looks like once it's running:

Each of the entries you see in the screenshot represents an RSS feed. You use the up and down arrows to navigate them, and press the enter key to open the feed, which shows you a list of items or headlines for that feed. Note also the numeral pairs in parentheses, which shows how many items are within that group and how many of those have already been read.

Once you've highlighted one of the items using the up/down arrows and pressed the enter key, you'll be presented by something like what's seen in the screenshot below:

Note the blue bar across the bottom of the window that gives a list of keys that can be pressed and offers a description of what each does.

Again, the up/down arrow keys are used to navigate the headlines, and pressing the enter key on the highlighted headline opens a view that shows the first few lines of the story and that looks as follows (and yes, it's running in a screen session):

Here's where the real magic comes in for us command-line commandos. The application is configured to open the system's default browser for viewing the full story which, on most systems, will be Firefox or some other graphical monstrosity. But newsbeuter offers configuration options that will cause a different, more sane browser to open when the "o" (open) key is pressed, allowing you to view the story in a text-mode browser such as my preferred news reading application, elinks.

To configure newsbeuter to use a more sane text-mode browser, just open (or create, if it's not already on your system) ~/.newsbeuter/config and add the entry html-renderer elinks, and you're all set to read your news stories using elinks. Of course lots of other options can be set within this configuration file--which you can read about at the application's documentation page at

Actually, a step that needs to be taken before even the tried-and-true elinks will be of any use to you in reading the news stories linked to, is to configure your feeds. To do that, you open the file ~/.newsbeuter/urls and enter in the URL's of the feeds you wish to monitor. Once that's done, you have a minimal configuration for reading news from RSS feeds with the big boys.

I must confess to being as happy as a clam with this new news-reading scheme--actually, happier. No clam grovelling in the cold mud in the murky depths could ever experience the warmth and satisfaction I've gotten from finding this RSS feed manager, which offers a way to link it up with my favored text-mode browser. So I'm actually happier than a clam--way happier (take that, you smug little bivalve molluscs).

I wish I would have discovered this solution long ago; but part of the reason I didn't was because, simply stated, I'm still very much in learning mode with GNU/Linux system set-up and administration. Had I discovered newsbeuter, say 3 or 4 years ago, I may very well have been unable to puzzle out how to configure and use it.

There are, of course, other command-line RSS feed readers. Perhaps some even work about as well as newsbeuter. I simply haven't looked further yet since what I have looks like it answers to all my needs.

One alternate project that looks interesting is rss2email. I may later have a look at it, but at the moment it's hard for me to imagine what advantages it would have for my purposes over newsbeuterThis entry, from the now--sadly--defunct blog "Motho ke motho ka botho," reviews a few others.

Thus concludes my paean to newsbeuter, the mutt of RSS readers: actually, I used mutt for about a year and gave up on it, going back to Alpine--so I'm more inclined to call it the Alpine of RSS readers. But, whatever.

All hail Andreas Krennmair, command-line RSS manager programmer extraodinaire! He deserves a Nobel prize for command-line RSS feed reader programming! Buy the man a beer in lieu of the Nobel prize he's been stinted if ever you meet him!


  1. Very nice program, and many thanks for standing up for us T.E.T. enthusiasts. For similar voice-from-way-behind-the-cutting-edge efforts, see my recent articles in the online Free Software Magazine. The next one in the queue demos tzselect, a 'What's the current time in ____?' program that doesn't require (a) a mouse, (b) an Internet connection or (c) a new download, as tzselect can be found already installed in the basement of most Linux distros. Who needs more?

  2. I did a video of it a little while back: