Many Web sites are using RSS news feeds to automatically push content out to interested readers rather than waiting for readers to visit their Web site. In doing so, RSS can save readers time visiting multiple sites, while also ensuring content providers that readers have access to content.

For a support tech, allowing users to access RSS feeds means installing a new application and training users how to use it. Rather than teaching your users a new application, you can make RSS easier to deploy by using NewsGator, which allows you to integrate RSS feeds directly into a program that users are already probably very familiar with—Outlook.

What are RSS feeds?

RSS is a relatively new protocol that pushes Web content out to specialized RSS viewers. Readers can access Web content directly from the reader rather than having to click from Web site to Web site to find what they’re interested in. You can find out how RSS works and how to deploy it on your own Web site by reading this Builder.Com article on aggregating content with RSS. For the purposes of this article, I’ll show you how to configure a reader to access these feeds, including the new RSS feeds from TechRepublic and Builder.Com.

What’s NewsGator?
NewsGator 2.0 is an RSS reader that integrates into Outlook 2000, Outlook XP, and Outlook 2003. Most RSS readers come in the form of discrete applications, which force you to install, train users on, and support additional software. With NewsGator, all you have to do is install and configure the application, make some tweaks to Outlook, and you’re done.

NewsGator 2.0 is a product of NewsGator Technologies. Don’t confuse NewsGator Technologies with the infamous Gator spyware. Even though the companies have similar names, NewsGator Technologies doesn’t have anything to do with Gator spyware.

Unlike most RSS readers, which are shareware, freeware, or open source, NewsGator does cost money. NewsGator Technologies prices NewsGator on a sliding scale. Price per user drops the more licenses you buy. Current prices for NewsGator 2.0 are:

  • 1 – 4 users: $29.00
  • 5 – 19 users: $26.10
  • 20 – 49 users: $23.20
  • 50 – 99 users: $20.30
  • 100+ users: $17.40

NewsGator Technologies offers 14-day trial versions of NewsGator to get a feel for the product before you buy. You can download the trial version from NewsGator’s Web site.

Installing NewsGator 2.0
The file you’ll need from the NewsGator Web site will depend on whether or not you’ve installed Microsoft’s .NET Framework. NewsGator’s Web site states that your workstation must be running Windows 98 or later and Outlook 2000 or later, but unmentioned is the fact that you must also be running the .NET Framework extensions on your workstation.

If you’re running Internet Explorer, NewsGator’s Web site will try to detect if the .NET Framework is already installed on your workstation. If it is, the Web site will suggest you download NewsGatorSetup20N.EXE. Otherwise, you’ll be prompted to download NewsGatorSetup20D.EXE. Both files are only 2 MB in size, so it shouldn’t take too long do download either file.

The .NET Framework is a little over 20 MB, so it will take longer to download and install. You don’t have to install it prior to running NewsGator’s installation program. NewsGatorSetup20D.EXE will automatically download and install .NET Framework for you, so long as your workstation remains connected to the Internet. To simplify matters, I’ll be showing you how to install NewsGator20N.EXE on a workstation that already has the .NET Framework installed.

Begin by closing Outlook if it’s open. Because NewsGator 2.0 extends Outlook’s functionality, it won’t install if Outlook is still running.

Once you close Outlook, double-click NewsGator20N.EXE. When you start the file, you’ll see a typical Windows installation wizard appear. NewsGator20N.EXE installs just like any other Windows program you’ve ever installed. Just click your way through the wizard, following the screens as you go. You won’t find any gotchas that will cause any problems.

After you’ve finished running the Setup wizard, restart Outlook. You’ll then be ready to configure NewsGator to pick up your RSS feeds.

Configuring NewsGator
When Outlook restarts, you’ll see the screen shown in Figure A. This is the initial trial screen for NewsGator. You can click Activate to enter your key if you have one. If you don’t, you can click Purchase Now to obtain one. To continue on with a trial, click Continue.

Figure A
NewsGator begins by asking you to Activate.

You’ll then see the Welcome To NewsGator wizard begin. This wizard will help you configure NewsGator to work with Outlook. Click Next to bypass the first two screens. The first screen you’ll see that has anything you have to worry about is the News Folder screen. Here you’ll have to choose an Outlook folder to store your news feeds.

Click Choose Folder. When the Create New Folder screen appears, enter the name for the folder in the Name field. You can select a location in the Select Where To Place Folder box as shown in Figure B. Outlook will prompt you to add a shortcut to your Outlook button bar under the My Shortcuts menu. Doing so will make it easier to find your news feeds later.

Figure B
Decide where to store your news feeds.

The Welcome To NewsGator wizard will then walk you through some informational screens that will show you the default configurations for NewsGator. Click Next through each screen until you get to the Finish screen. Click Finish and you’re done.

Click My Shortcuts | Folder Name where Folder Name is the name of the folder you created during the Welcome To NewsGator wizard. You’ll then see the screen shown in Figure C.

Figure C
NewsGator is ready to start accessing news feeds inside of Outlook.

Adding custom news feeds
By default, NewsGator just accesses its own news feeds. You’ll need to add your own news feeds to it.� Adding a news feed is very simple. You probably noticed in the upper-left hand corner of Outlook that NewsGator added an additional button bar. That’s where you can customize NewsGator.

Click NewsGator | Subscriptions. You’ll then see the NewsGator Subscription screen appear. Click Add. You’ll then see the Add Subscription screen appear.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll show you how to add TechRepublic’s RSS Feed and Builder.Com’s RSS Feed. Enter the path for the first RSS news feed in the URL field. For example, to add TechRepublic’s RSS field, type as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
You can add any RSS feed you want.

Click OK when you’re done. Click Add again to add subsequent feeds. At the end, you’ll see the NewsGator – Subscriptions screen shown in Figure E. When you’ve added all of the feeds you want to receive, click Close.

Figure E
Subscribe to as many RSS feeds as you want.

When you’re done, NewsGator will load the latest copies of the RSS feeds into Outlook. After that, NewsGator will check for updates to the feeds every hour, placing the updates in your RSS folder. You’ll see the feeds appear in Outlook as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
NewsGator loads your RSS feeds directly into Outlook.

From there, you can access articles in the feeds just as you would any regular Outlook e-mail. You can either click the title of the article to display in an individual message or you can click the icon next to the title. Doing so will load the actual Web page connected to the article directly into Outlook as shown in Figure G.

Figure G
You can view Web pages from RSS feeds directly in Outlook.

More than just RSS
NewsGator does more than just deliver RSS feeds. You can use NewsGator to view NNTP news feeds inside of Outlook. Normally, if you want to view Usenet newsgroups, you must use Outlook Express or some third-party NNTP reader rather than native Outlook. With NewsGator, you can view Usenet newsgroups as easily as you can RSS news feeds.

NewsGator’s integration with Outlook makes it easy to e-mail information from feeds to others in your organization. If you see an article that someone else might find interesting, you can forward it through Outlook just like any e-mail.

NewsGator allows you to post to blogging sites as well as receive RSS news feeds. It does so through the use of specialized plug-ins. All you have to do is download and install the appropriate plug-in for the blogging site you use. After that, it’s as easy to post additions to your blog as it is to e-mail someone in your organization.

Separate from the basic NewsGator 2.0 product, NewsGator Technologies offers NewsGator Online Services. Online Services, which is a subscription service, allows you to do such things as synchronize your news feeds across different platforms, obtain RSS news feeds in non-RSS readers such as POP3 e-mail clients, and view content that’s only available through Online Services. You can find out about pricing for NewsGator Online Services here.

The bottom line
As you can see, NewsGator 2.0 is extremely easy to set up, configure, and use. For organizations wanting to take advantage of RSS news feeds, NewsGator 2.0 is hard to beat. There may be cheaper alternatives, but NewsGator’s features are unmatched—especially when you want to allow users to do new things like access RSS feeds while still using familiar software such as Outlook.