The New York Times has a software-based version of the paper that – for the first time – makes it possible to imagine mornings without a newspaper printed on dead trees.

The New York Times Reader can be installed for thirty days for free; a subscription costs $14.95/month. The Reader is free if you have a newspaper home delivery subscription.

It’s hard to replicate the experience of reading a newspaper, which offers the tactile experience of holding the paper and allows the eye to jump around from story to story in a way that’s hard to mimic onscreen. usatoday Newspapers have basically had no success making money online despite years of experiments with overhauled web sites and various bits of software. No one has had any success charging a subscription for access to a news site – years ago Slate limited access to subscribers only but gave up quickly, and more recently the New York Times reluctantly stopped charging people for access to its archives.

As they get more desperate for money, newspaper web sites are increasingly cluttered by advertisements. The news sites seem especially prone these days to ads that expand to fill most of the screen for a few seconds, or animated ads that roll around in the middle of the screen blocking content, or ads that fill the window for 15 seconds while the news page is “loading.”

It might be enough for you to consider paying fifteen bucks a month for a better experience.

The NY Times Reader uses a variety of techniques to improve your experience – things that seem natural and someday will be commonplace, but haven’t been done well before. The program adjusts to any screen or window size and never needs scrolling – no scroll bars, ever. Font sizes are fully adjustable and stories flow naturally to fit regardless of font size. Content is stored locally on your computer and updated automatically at regular intervals, so everything appears instantly. (That means it’s also available offline – you can flip open your laptop on the plane and read the news.) Controls are intuitive. Stories can be annotated and stored and printed and mailed and anything else you might want to do. There’s a powerful Search mechanism and some cool ways to display pages for browsing. Ads are unobtrusive.

04-28timesreader

The New York Times collaborated with Microsoft to develop the Reader based on new UI technology at the heart of Windows Vista, the “Windows Presentation Foundation.” (The Reader also runs on Windows XP after automatically installing additional software – Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 – to support it. A Mac version is planned but not yet available.)

The Reader is readable, in a way that online news sites are not. I’m impressed. If you’re a news junkie, you might want to give it a try.

Here’s a Microsoft press release when the project was announced in April 2006, and here’s Slate’s press columnist swooning over the Reader after spending some time last year with a beta release.

Incidentally, readers in Sonoma County know that the Press Democrat has almost completely collapsed as a source of national or world news, the victim of the forces driving most local and regional newspapers out of business. Don’t overlook the option to get home delivery of the New York Times – it turns out the Press Democrat carriers deliver it, so you can get a newspaper with a lot of words delivered daily if you’re in an area served by the Press Democrat. About $28/month. Sunday morning looks a lot more appealing with a real newspaper!