I learned from Read/Write Web today that the New York Times has launched a new application, the New York Times Reader. (Update: If the previous link doesn't work, you may be able to download the app directly here.)
I tried the product out and came away impressed. The home page does the job of the paper newspaper's front page, without being a trite copy of it. Reading stories in the app is a joy. The text is displayed beautifully (the typeface isn't called Times Roman for nothing), and if you expand the application's window, a single column of text will pop into two or more columns to make lines easier to read.
Using the Reader requires free registration, just like the Times' Web site. You can also view paid "Times Select" articles if you have a subscription to that service.
The Reader has good search features, including a heat map view (like News.com's "What's hot" feature) and a graphical related stories view. And the application works offline, which is nice if you want to read your stories on a disconnected laptop. By default it synchronizes to the Times online every 30 minutes.
The Reader is still in beta. While the app was stable for me, it relies on the not-quite-released version 3 of Microsoft's .Net framework, which is a nightmare to install. The Reader installer will kick off the .Net installation, but on my machine it took forever and caused my security program (ZoneAlarm) to go apoplectic with warning pop-ups.
I like the Times Reader application very much, but its existence puzzles me. We should not need it. So much can be done today on Web sites and through RSS readers. Modern online technologies can, in theory, free content creators from the time and expense of building dedicated applications. And for consumers, having just one, or a small number, of general-purpose reader applications makes life much easier. Imagine what your life would be like if every site and blog you read had its own separate reader application.
I admit that if I wanted to take a stand against this type of application, I could simply not use it--the Times' Web site has the same content. But the New York Times Reader really is a better way to read the Times' news. Let's just hope other content companies don't try to do something equally good.