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RealTime, an easy newsreader with a few twists

RealTime, an easy newsreader with a few twists

At DemoFall, RealNetworks released the public beta of RealTime, a newsreader utility that displays headlines in a bar across the bottom of your Windows display. It also has a screensaver that's reminiscent of the old PointCast. (By the way, a new team has resurrected the PointCast name. Their project is still in development.)

RealTime is unlikely to win over tech-savvy news junkies who are already using onscreen widgets such as Yahoo Widgets to display feeds, nor is the RealTime Web site (which also displays personalized newsfeeds) a competitor to a strong modular home page such as NetVibes. However, compared to many newsreaders, RealTime is easy to use, and it has a few nice features. For example, when the RealTime app is running and you load a Web page, it will pop a window up if the site has RSS feeds and let you select a feed to subscribe to. Again, this isn't a radically new concept (some browsers have this feature built in), but RealTime has most other feed recognizers trumped on ease of use.

Compared to many always-on news tickers, the RealTime display is fairly unobtrusive. Headlines fade in and out, which is less distracting than scrolling. However, since the ticker just displays one headline at a time, if you're not looking at it all the time, you're going to miss a lot of stories. There are other solutions that can keep you informed without making your eyes bleed: for example, my favorite always-on feed readers are AlertBear (for computers with limited screen real estate), and Yahoo Widgets if you have a giant monitor with excess pixels.

The RealTime ticker has some other features, though. It will also display local weather. It looks like it's supposed to display stock quotes too, but I couldn't get my beta version to show that data. You can hide the ticker if you like, and you'll still get RSS alert windows on applicable Web pages.

The product has a screensaver that displays headlines and images. It looks good, although just as with the old PointCast, I don't quite get the attraction of having an information display that's designed to turn on precisely when you are not using your computer. RealTime's screensaver is a bonus, though, not a central feature of the product.

Oddly for a product from Real, there's no integrated audio or video functionality. I expect future versions will have features to subscribe to podcasts and video blogs.