The New York Times launched its revamped alpha/beta NYT Reader this weekend (download here). The NYT Reader is an ambitious and incredibly interesting attempt to combine the look/feel and breadth of the actual paper version with the interactivity and vibrancy of the online version - it has been unsuccessfully tried with options such as Zinio before, but this is a next generation effort. Let me be clear first that I'm a NYT weekend subscriber and that I think it's the top paper in the US, but that I now read the daily versions only online, so I'm a perfect test market.
The installation process is a nightmare - there is no way around that issue, but one assumes that many of the issues are due to the beta part of the process since the commercial version is allegedly due in 2007. You have to first download the "pre-beta Microsoft.Net Framework 3.0" which invariably either causes your computer to crash or just produces strange error messages. Once you reboot and figure out how to return to the necessary page, it's somewhat simpler to download the NYT reader part of it, but it's at least a 30 minute process in total - I assume this will get better over time but you're still looking at a client software install, unlike we what we did with Meez.
Once you survive the painful install process, my early thoughts are that this hybrid service is a great step forward for the NYT in particular, and for the overall newspaper business in general - it just feels like the actual paper online while still being cutting edge. The software syncs up on some type of schedule, or whenever you feel like connecting - it's almost like the old Pointcast service with far better features and graphics. Once it syncs up, you have most of the experience sitting on your desktop, whether your connected to the Internet or sitting on a plane. I'm still getting used to the feature set, but it offers an incredibly rich set of photos and features, all with very quick response times since it's cached on the PC hard drive. To be clear, you need to let it synch up in some time of schedule in order to fully enjoy the experience, but you can always change those options in the "settings" section.
Once you get synched up, it's true that the ads are also quite prominent, you need an NYT sign-on account, and it doesn't look like the "Times Select" subscription content is available, but it offers a really rich experience which mimics the paper version while offering the advantages of the online one. It has a set of cool features like the ability to mark which articles you have already read, a very rich search feature, easy ways to change the fonts, and the ability to optimize it for Tablet users (all 3 of you). There may be more options, but I'm still working my way through the service.
The service is currently available only for XP users, so one assumes the next steps are to broaden the user base to include Mac and portable/cell phone users, but that will be difficult given the bizarre software requirements of MS Framework 3.0. There should be some way to create this experience without downloading a strange Windows update, but it seems to offer some advantages as well. That having been said, if you're a NYT junkie who is looking for either a richer online experience or the ability to have a great offline one, this is a great find.