Newsgroups, oddly enough, have nothing to do with news, nor are they groups. Instead, they are electronic bulletin boards with messages that can be read by anyone on the Internet. There are (depending on the news feed involved) 30,000-50,000 different newsgroups, ongoing discussions on every conceivable topic (music, television, computers, religion, politics, hobbies, sports, etc.) There are also special binary newsgroups, from which one can download, among other things, MP3 files, illegal copies of software, and pictures of nude women. (Of course, none of you would be interested in that, would you?) Newsgroups are sometimes referred to collectively as Usenet. Although Usenet is part of the Internet, it is not part of the World Wide Web, even if one happens to be reading news group messages via Google Groups.
Generally you reach these discussion areas using a program called a newsreader. You probably already have one or two newsreaders already installed on your computer: Microsoft Outlook Express and Netscape Communicator's news reading feature. There are several other (and much better) alternatives available:
The Mac newsreaders most widely used by serious Usenet junkies are descendants of NewsWatcher, a program created at Northwestern University by John Norstad. In addition to the ones cited below (MT- and YA-NewsWatcher plus Thoth), more obscure/obsolete varieties include V[alue]A[dded]-NewsWatcher, W[ord]S[ervices]-NewsWatcher, and NewsWatcher X (carbonized for Mac OS X).
M[ulti]T[hreaded]-NewsWatcher is the most popular of the NewsWatcher offspring due to its (relative) ease of use. Compared to its cousins, MT-NW is extremely easy to configure for multiple [posting] personalities and multiple news servers. Setting up filters to highlight/kill articles meeting certain criteria is also quite painless. MT-NW's handling of binaries is weak, however (until version 3.0, it couldn't even be used to post binaries). There have also been memory-related problems reported by some users, and your author has (unfortunately) experienced repeated problems with MT-NW freezing up with external USB modems. MT-NW has finally been carbonized for OS X, to the great joy of many MT-NW loyalists.
Y[et]A[nother]-NewsWatcher is especially popular with binaries groups enthusiasts, but setting up filters and configuration of personalities is not terribly intuitive. As for setting up YA-NW to access multiple news servers, you will lose your mind by the time you are finished with this complex procedure.
"Thoth" is easily the worst name ever given to a newsreader (try saying it five times fast). Created by the author of YA-NW, Brian Clark, Thoth is somewhat easier to use than YA-NW (which isn't saying much), particularly in configuring it for multiple news servers. It also comes with a nice application for converting [XX]-NewsWatcher subscribed group lists, as well as one for converting YA-NW filters. Both Thoth and YA-NW handle binaries well and allow resumption of interrupted downloads; newly-downloaded graphic binaries (JPEGs, GIFs, etc.) appear in a separate window as soon as the download is complete. In addition, Thoth and YA-NW support off-line news reading (downloading posts and then reading them at one's leisure without being online). Thoth has also been carbonized for OS X, where it is much less drab-looking. Both Thoth and MT-NW (the OS X-only version 3.2) handle binaries encoded using the controversial yEnc format (in the case of MT-NW 3.2, with a little help from Thoth's sister app, Rosetta).
[Thoth, along with sister apps Rosetta and Ptah, was discontinued on 27 February 2004 and for a while was no longer available for purchase or download. However, it is once again available for download, but the future of the only newsreader named after an Egyptian deity seems to be in doubt. R.I.P., Thothie?]
Second-worst name for a news reading application; also the most expensive newsreader. I've read many positive user reviews of Hogwasher, but I don't have any experience using it.
This newsreader, which also supports off-line news reading, is quite popular with users who pay for Internet access by the minute. Can also be used for e-mail.
Well, it's better than Netscape! Actually, OE may be OK for casual news reading, but it is far from ideal as far as serious use as a newsreader is concerned. It is probably the default newsreader on your Mac, but this can be changed in seconds in the Internet control panel. It is the only non-Netscape news client that can access Netscape's secure newsgroups, although trying to post a message to one of those groups is likely to cause OE to freeze up.
To paraphrase a well-known quotation from Gone with the Wind, “I don’t know nothin’ about Windows!” Seriously, my knowledge of the Windows OS is somewhat limited, but I have decided to include a section on Windows newsreaders because:
- Most of you are probably using a Windows computer to view this page
- I just happened to have a screen shot of Agent that I picked up from alt.binaries.news-server-comparison. [Despite the name, this is almost entirely a text discussion news group devoted to griping about one's news service provider.]
Agent is generally the preferred Windows newsreader for serious users; it is (roughly) to Windows what the myriad NewsWatchers are to Macintosh. Also handles e-mail.
Unlike Agent, Free Agent is, well, free; no e-mail capability.
For more information about Xnews and the like.
This venerable CLI e-mail program can also be used as a newsreader. It's a bit slow, so perhaps it would best be used by those who regularly read only a handful of newsgroups. The SSL-enabled version of Pine is one of the few third-party newsreaders that can access Netscape's secure news server, so fans of Netscape's or Mozilla's browsers who aren't crazy about the included newsreader might consider Pine for reading netscape.* newsgroups. Pine is available for Unix, Mac OS X, and Windows (there's also PC-Pine, a GUI version of Pine for Windows). Mac OS X users can download a binary installer, build Pine via fink, or build Pine from source (these instructions are adapted from Ernie Rothman's Mac OS X Notes site, which has been taken offline):curl -O ftp://ftp.cac.washington.edu/pine/pine.tar.bz2 tar xvjf pine.tar.bz2 cd pine4.61 ./build osx SSLLIB=/usr/lib SSLINCLUDE=/usr/include/openssl \ SSLDIR=/System/Library/OpenSSL sudo cp bin/* /usr/local/bin/. sudo cp doc/*.1 /usr/local/share/man/man1/. cd .. rm -rf pine4.61For more information on using and setting up Pine, see ii.com: All About PINE.
Pan is a GUI newsreader for UNIX/Linux/OS X and Windows. It is quite easy to set up, and, in addition to the usual newsreader features, it has built-in binary decoding (including yEnc, but not BinHex) and includes a OS X-like inline spell checker. It does not post binaries at all, and the current version has a few quirks (such as a tendency to eat the full newsgroup list). It is quite fast (especially with Giganews--anyone struggling to get Thoth to work with Giganews must try Pan). The source code and various packages can be downloaded here (the Mac OS X version can be most easily installed via fink). NetFAQs has easy-to-understand info on setting up Pan and getting started with the newsreader.
Emacs, the Unix text editor that you either love or despise, includes a newsreading function (along with pretty much everything including the kitchen sink). I doubt there's any other newsreader featuring a 500+-page manual. Gnus works pretty well (don't bother with the CVS version--stick with the latest stable version, although you should upgrade from the old version included with Emacs). Does anyone run Emacs on an eMac? ;-)
AOL users have two news reading choices: either use AOL's built-in limited news client to access AOL's news server, or subscribe to a commercial news service such as Supernews or Giganews and (if AOL Link is installed) access that using one of the newsreaders mentioned above. The latter option is highly recommended for AOL subscribers who wish to experience Usenet to the fullest extent.
For obvious reasons, none of the programs mentioned above would be of any use to a WebTV subscriber, who must instead use either WebTV's news reading interface and WTV's notoriously unreliable news service or a web-based service such as Google Groups (which also allows WebTVers to post using a non-WebTV e-mail address and avoid the ignominy and killfiles often associated with such addresses). WebTVers wishing to take part in Usenet should keep a few things in mind:
- HTML-laden signatures may look great on WebTV, but that's the only place it will look as intended. Computer users will see either just the signature (no message) or lines and lines of ugly HTML code. Consider having a text-only signature to avoid worrying about whether you forgot to click the "Remove signature" button before you submitted your post.
- Despite the name, alt.online-service.webtv is not a WebTV-only news group. It is a Usenet news group accessible by computer users all over the world. Consequently, posts to this group should be text only; no HTML! [If the name begins with alt.discuss, only then is it a WebTV-only news group in which HTML is permitted.]
- When replying to a post, try to quote relevant material from the original post. Not all computer users realize that quoting has to be done manually on WebTV (another reason to use Google Groups for posting instead). Quoting text on WebTV basically involves copying and pasting text from the original message, putting a hard return at the end of every line of text, and then typing a ">" at the beginning of each line. For this reason, it is easy to be forgiving when a WebTV-originated post does not quote the material to which the author is replying as long as he/she makes it otherwise clear what is being referred to.
Helpful info (some WebTV-specific, some general) and links.
Comprehensive guide to newsgroup etiquette, newsreading software, news providers, and more.
See you in Usenet!
(Sponsored link) Giganews Unlimited Usenet
Return to Miss Jackson's True Story
©2001-2004 Emily Jackson