Farewell Google Reader and Adobe BrowserLab. These are two services I used almost daily for the last several years. It just goes to show that even deep-pockets Google isn’t willing to maintain a free service forever if they’re not getting anything out of it.
So Long, And Thanks For All The Free
For those of you who aren’t aware, Google Reader is a free RSS reader that allows you to keep up with the latest posts without having to necessarily visit the website to see if something new is posted.
I found it to be incredibly handy to keep up with all my blogging friends, web design/development blogs, video games and all that. I could even subscribe to comment feeds on blogs or websites where they didn’t have any kind of comment notifications. You could log into Google Reader from your phone and from other computers, so it was ideal for me.
So now that’s closing down on July 1st, 2013 and even though it isn’t gone yet, I already miss it. I could keep using it until then, but I thought I’d get the jump on the shut-down and get used to something else. Some don’t want the good times to be over, so they started a petition to prevent the shut down of Google Reader. I doubt this is likely to work, so we’d all better be ready for the inevitable.
After reading many, many, many articles on Google Reader alternatives I settled on Feedly and Netvibes:
I was already using Feedly on my phone. Yes, the magazine style interface is a bit jarring when you’re used to the more tame interface of Google Reader, but it does feel fresh and energetic, and definitely interesting to look at.
This is also a handy lesson to bloggers to always get a relevant, vibrant featured image if at all possible. Just imagine your bare, image-less post/article next to some of these colorful examples and you’ll quickly see how easy it is to be passed over.
I changed both of my new feeds to a “mosaic” style interface for this very reason. I just thought it looked cool. Actually, Feedly is in the “Cards” layout (you change the layout by clicking the “gear” icon at the top right) and Netvibes is in “Mosaic” layout (change it using the icon third from the right underneath the username). Check out the screenshots below:
Both of these services offer a combined “Front Page” of all your latest feeds, plus some of their own categories of curated news, as well.
I opted out of those and chose the “Reader” style view with my feeds on the left and the content in the right pane. So that’s the way I’m gonna be rolling with RSS in the future.
If you don’t like those options, here are several of the articles I wrote that contained other options. Some cost, but most are free. Give it a whirl and hopefully you’ll find something you like:
Et tu, Brute Adobe BrowserLab???
This next one was even more painful than Google Reader. The loss of the Reader hurt because it as useful, but Adobe’s BrowserLab hurt even worse because I needed to use it.
If you’re not into web development you have no reason to know about BrowserLab, but it was a way to test your websites in a myriad of browsers without needing to own the operating system to run them.
It saved my ass a few dozen times over the last several years.
Mostly I used it to test in multiple versions of IE, since it was difficult to install more than one version of IE at a time on one Windows install. There were workarounds, but often-times they weren’t very accurate, so not as useful as the real thing.
There were services out there that let you login to remote computers and test your sites, but most were subscription-based. I needed the services enough to use BrowserLab but not really enough to justify paying a fee for it, so the free price of BrowserLab was just what I needed.
Of course, it wasn’t what Adobe needed, as I discovered when I tried to login to BrowserLab one fateful day. It was quite a shock, especially following on the heels of another major browser testing service announcing their departure – BrowseCam. Farewell links below:
BrowserCam wasn’t free, but it had been a staple of my web development life for almost 10 years. If I ever “really” needed to test something, you could just pony up for that one project, remote login and do your checking. Now knowing both of these tools would be gone, web development might get that much more stressful.
Still, despite being inconvenienced, I had to wonder about the massive cost of supplying these services.
Consider Adobe’s free service: Just the bandwidth bill alone must have been staggering. maintenance on all the machines used to run the software and process the requests, plus electricity, salaries for those maintaining the machine and the programs. All this for a free service with no direct revenue stream coming in.
On top of that the latest Creative Suite was not a huge success, so they’re not raking in the cash like they used to. Plus investment in their “Creative Cloud” service has got to be a large expense. The marketing budget on it must be astronomical. It’s everywhere.
So all things considered, I guess I can’t be too mad et ’em. We had a good run. The question was, where to go from here?
Adobe provided a couple of alternatives in their BrowserLab swan song post, Sauce Labs and BrowserStack:
Sauce Labs had an introductory deal for BrowserLab users, and I signed up with them to give it a go. There’s a free option, so I went with that for now. But when you get in the middle of an IE emergency you can easily exhaust all the allotted time/bandwidth of a free account with these services. Hopefully I won’t need much more than that, but it’s not too expensive if I do.
Here’s screenshots of the set up screen and my website as viewed in Internet Explorer 10 using Sauce Labs:
I didn’t personally check out BrowserStack yet, but it looks like a complete testing suite just like Sauce Labs. The thing I really like about both of them is that they test on mobile devices, which can be a huge pain since no one could possibly own all those devices. So if your client is upset about how their site looks on the iPad, but you don’t have one, you can pay a small fee to one of these sites instead of actually buying one of the many iPads on the shelves now.
Other Browser Testing Tools
Adobe also made sure to plug their new mobile devide tool called Adobe Edge Inspect. This essentially pairs up your mobile device with your computer so you can use Google Chrome to debug your website as you would for a desktop site.
At least that’s what it’s supposed to do. I couldn’t get it to work. You have to install the Inspect extension into Chrome, then download the desktop app and the mobile app, then input the passcode generated by your mobile device into the Chrome extension. I input that passcode many times, but between the field flat-out refusing to accept text entry, or when it finally did the pairing would somehow break – I couldn’t get it working to be able to comment more on what it actually does as opposed to what the marketing says it does.
Finally, there’s still good old Browsershots.org. It’s a venerable free service that takes screenshots of your page in a whole bunch of browsers.
Browsershots is good if you have time, because your request will go into a queue, then you’ll need to wait it out until it finally gets processed. If you’ve got a hot deadline you’re better off paying for a service, but if you’re not under the gun, you can always take a few shots and check them out when they finally appear.
I’ve used it off and on over many years, so I hope I don’t go back there and see the “Grand Closing” sign on the front page. These days you can’t be too sure about anything…
The Wrap Up
So the lesson here is, my days of being a web freeloader are nearly done. Corporations actually expect me to pay to use their services now, or at the very least refuse to provide and maintain services for which they derive no direct benefit (monetary or otherwise) -and I must say that even though I can 100% understand it, I’m not accustomed to it.
There are many who are saying that they would pay to keep Google Reader active. I don’t know about all that. If necessary, I could always subscribe to RSS feeds using Safari or my Mail app. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would work.
Still, you never know what people are willing to pay for convenience. This is a chance for other players to step in and fill a void left by two giants. I think we can expect to see a lot of innovation in these spaces in the near future.
If you were affected by any of these shut-downs make sure to let me know in the comments. Or if you weren’t affected, how did you keep up with the websites you visit? If not for RSS, I’d never be able to catch up with all the sites I read.
I suspect many people these days simply “Like” their favorite Facebook pages and wait for new posts to be mentioned on there. My Facebook involvement is a bit minimal at this time so it’s not a viable option for me.
Anyway, I’m outta here for now. Thanks for reading and see you all next time..!