I’m a little late to the party, but today I downloaded and tried Times Reader, the standalone application that downloads and displays the New York Times.
At first blush, I like it a lot. It took a long time to download, mostly because it uses .NET 3.0, which I didn’t have on my XP machine (it’s a built in part of Vista though), and therefore had to be downloaded. And it also took a while to populate (it archives a weeks worth of news). But once it was done, it was smooth sailing.
I think the main reason I like it is that it’s well laid out. It has sections and columns, just like you’d expect a “real” newspaper to have. There’s a front page, which seems to correspond more or less to the print edition’s front page, and each section (Sports, Business, etc.) also has a page. Each is laid out something like a traditional newspaper – in columns, with the size and position of the headline being a visual indication of the “importance” of the story. Pictures and graphics are positioned like they would be in print as well. There’s an aesthetic there that’s somehow missing from most online news. And the display is very nice – crisp and clear. All this makes for an experience more like reading a traditional newspaper, but with the advantages of being online. Which is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I like the convenience of getting my news online, but I miss the structure and organization of a traditional newspaper, as opposed to the constant linear flow of articles that you tend to see online.
Of course, time will tell if it works well for me or not. It’s free for me, since I already subscribe to the print edition. I’m bummed that it’s not available on OS X, my primary OS at home. I’ve heard that Microsoft is working on a cross platform version of WPF (and some other parts of the .NET CLR) and that when it’s available, the Times will port the Reader. We’ll see if that ever works out. But so far, it’s great.