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There are many ways to aggregate and read feeds.
The "best" feed reader is a matter of individual preference, or even personal taste. There are many good ones. Most of them, including the best, are free like browsers. The one that matches the way you want to work is best for you. :-)
No matter which reader you choose, it should give you some way to back up your feeds, preferably as an OPML file. You may also be able to use your OPML file to move to another reader, although the formats may not be compatible.
QuiteRSS is a relatively-new, open-source, cross-platform RSS/Atom news reader. It has been under active development since 2012. It's a clean, up-to-date implementation of an email-style feed reader.
FeedDemon: A powerful, time-proven program with a well thought out user interface. It can be intimidating to new RSS users, but most are able learn to use FeedDemon fairly quickly, and it has an excellent help facility. FeedDemon integrates seamlessly with Google Reader, so you have great synchronism between devices, as well as access to the best of desktop and web-based readers.
You can subscribe to audio podcasts and play them directly from FeedDemon as well. FeedDemon also handles secure feeds (those that require a username and password). You may still be able to create a portable version of FeedDemon.
Update: Nick Bradbury has released a last, free version of FeedDemon Pro, which no linger links to Google Reader.
"FeedDemon requires Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, with Internet Explorer 7 or later installed." It's been running fine for me on Windows 8 as well.
RSSOwl: Compares very favorably with FeedDemon. They both have powerful ways to manage feeds, and several viewing options. RSSOwl's options seem more versatile. It's not obvious how to find and set up just the combination of options you want for either one though. I like to view just a list of feed posts in the reader, and open the ones that catch my eye directly in Firefox. That combination is not easy to set up, but it's possible to get just what I want in both. I like the resulting view in RSSOwl a little better, but there are many other viewing modes that I haven't evaluated. RSSOwl easily imports existing feeds from other readers.
FeedReader is a simple, straightforward program that easily handles a large number of feeds. FeedReader is not as powerful as FeedDemon but it has most of the important options, and not a lot of confusing ones. It does not require Java either (many readers do for some reason). FeedReader provides the important option to open links in an external browser (but not the post itself as FeedDemon does). It does not sync with Google Reader, but imports or exports OPML files that are compatible with Google Reader.
BlogBridge is targeted at power users who subscribe to many feeds, but don't let that scare you off. It's designed to make it easy to discover feeds you'll be interested in. BlogBridge gives you access to "Guides", which are written by experts in many different feed categories. You can upload a list of your feeds to a free "BlogBridge Service" account to synchronize your feeds across multiple computers.
Omea Reader combines Web browsing, feed reading and newsgroups in one capable application. Omea Pro (also free) adds email, ICQ and Miranda (multi-protocol IM) to create an integrated information workspace. Integrated with Microsoft Outlook for email.
RSS Bandit and Awasu are comparable to FeedDemon, but they're a bit less capable and complex. That means their learning curves are not as formidable. Even so, they are elegant full-featured readers. RSS Bandit is now an Open Source program. It was launched by Dare Obasanjo -- programmer, avid feed reader and active blogger. Awasu is widely used by business users.
Thunderbird has built-in support for aggregating RSS feeds. Thunderbird allows you to view RSS feeds the same way you view your email. I is convenient to have feeds available without opening another program. It's simple - but a little obscure the first time - to subscribe to RSS feeds with Thunderbird. The mollizaZine knowledge base has the information you need to get started subscribing to RSS feeds with Thunderbird.
Related Products and Links
InoReader is the RSS reader that I use now. It is clean, simple and powerful, and displays articles is several formats. Like many modern web-apps, InoReader offers a full suite of social "sharing" options. It also integrates with many other web-apps, e.g., Pocket, Evernote, and Readability. InoReader provides Android and iOS apps, plus a mobile site for other small format devices. There are also InoReader extensions for major browsers.
G2Reader is also similiar to InoReader. According to their web site, the free version of G2Reader can accomodate up to 100 feeds (although it added all 447 of mine).
Blogtrotter is a unique service that accesses web feeds you subscribe to and relays them to your email inbox. It converts the content to a compact, easy-to-read format. Blogtrotter accepts OPML subscription lists so you could use it to replace Google Reader if you only have several feeds you want to follow.
Netvibes offers a wide range of "widgets" and apps to access web feeds, tweets and other kinds of dynamic content. For example, there's an app that delivers all the latest news from Google, split up into 8 tabs for World, U.S., Business, Sci/Tech, Sports, Entertainment, Health and Most Popular.
Feedbooster has an impressive array of filters -- date, folder, author, source, etc. It's a different way to access articles. I loaded Feedbooster with a large collection feeds, and it made it easy to find specific feeds and topics. Some users will find it works well for them.
AOL has a simple but complete web reader. In particular, it makes it easy to open items you're interested in a new tab. After you've got the ones you want load, you can shift to reading them, extracting what you want, etc. It importated my large OPML file flawlessly, and I was on my way. (I'm back with FeedDemon for the long term though.)
Browser Add-ons / Extensions
Add-ons / Extensions for browsers and web-apps for smartphones and tablets combine many of the advantages of desktop readers and web-based readers like Google Reader. They have a small footprint and can be "instantly" installed/uninstalled as well. Like web-based readers, an add-on reader creates an efficient browser-centric workspace, with good work flow for feed-based tasks.
Opera has a built-in RSS reader integrated with Opera Mail.
Mozilla maintains a "collection" of popular feed-reader add-ons for Firefox. You can add them to Firefox directly from the collection page.
NewsBlur is an RSS reader that you can "train" (like/dislike) to show you just the kind of posts you want to see from each feed.. See my reply to a fortuitious comment for more information. PCWorld has a more recent article written from the viewpoint of a user. The free version of NewsBlur is limited to 64 feeds, but that is enough for many users. Free iPad/iPhone aoos, Android apps, Windows Phone 8 apps, browser add-ons, and more.
Brief is a Firefox extension: It is powerful and simple at the same time. Brief is an excellent, capable replacement for Google Reader. I follow nearly 500 feeds [crazy I know], and Brief imported all of them flawlessly for my test. NewsFox is another capable add-on that puts a three pane reader (classic email layout) directly in a tab. Both of these Firefox extensions integrate directly with Live Bookmarks. There are also many other feed reader extensions for Firefox.
RSS Subscription Extension adds RSS feed discovery and subscription options to Chrome. The extension comes with 4 feed readers predefined (Google Reader, iGoogle, Bloglines and My Yahoo).
Podcast and Vidcast "readers"
gPodder downloads and manages audio and video content ("podcasts"). Listen directly on your computer or on your mobile devices. Supports RSS, Atom, YouTube, Soundcloud, Vimeo and XSPF feed formats. For Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, Mac OS X and mobile devices like the Nokia N810, N900, N9 and Sailfish OS. A portable version is available from PortableApps.com
Miro is ideally suited for pulling in and managing content from video feeds (vidcasts). It's a powerful open-source video aggregator that opens up a large variety of video "channels". The organization behind Miro is working for a more open and diverse world of online video. [more video programs]
Juice's primary purpose is to pull in and manage audio content (podcasts). Juice supports many media players directly. According to a comment below, Juice appears to be abandon ware, but works fine. FeedDemon also has a podcast utility.
Notice: Google announced that Google Reader was swept up in their 2013 "Spring Cleaning." Many feed readers currently use the Reader API to sync subscriptions and post read status between computers and also portable devices. They will all be left high and dry unless another API is made available by some as yet unknown entity that leaps in to fill the gap.