In this chapter, I’ll now turn your attention (if I may) to the Usenet service. I’ll give you
some background about Usenet, and then I’ll show you how to wield the newsreader
portion of the Outlook Express show.
Usenet began its life back in 1979 at Duke University. A couple of resident computer whizzes
(James Elliot and Tom Truscott) needed a way to easily share research, knowledge, and smart-
aleck opinions among Duke students and faculty. So, in true hacker fashion, they built a
program that would do just that. Eventually, other universities joined in, and the thing just
mushroomed. Today, tens of millions of people participate in Usenet, sending hundreds of thou-
sands of messages a day.
Some Usenet Basics
To get your Usenet education off on the right foot, this section looks at a few crucial
concepts that will serve as the base from which you can explore the rest of Usenet:
article An individual message in a newsgroup discussion.
follow up To respond to an article. (Also: follow-up; the response itself.)
hierarchy Usenet divides its discussion groups into several classifications, or hierarchies.
There are several so-called mainstream hierarchies:
comp Computer hardware and software
misc Miscellaneous stuff that doesn’t really fit anywhere else
news Usenet-related topics
rec Entertainment, hobbies, sports, and more
sci Science and technology
soc Sex, culture, religion, and politics
talk Debates about controversial political and cultural topics
Most Usenet-equipped Internet service providers will give you access to all the main-
stream hierarchies. There’s also a huge alt (alternative) hierarchy that covers just about
anything that either doesn’t belong in a mainstream hierarchy or is too wacky to be
included with the mainstream groups. There are also many smaller hierarchies designed
for specific geographic areas. For example, the ba hierarchy includes discussion groups for
the San Francisco Bay area, the can hierarchy is devoted to Canadian topics, and so on.
newsgroup This is the official Usenet moniker for a discussion topic. Why are they called
newsgroups? Well, the original Duke University system was designed to share
announcements, research findings, and commentary. In other words, people
would use this system if they had some “news” to share with their
CHAPTER 20 Participating in Internet Newsgroups532
colleagues. The name stuck, and now you’ll often hear Usenet referred to as
Netnews or simply as the news.
newsreader The software you use to read a newsgroup’s articles and to post your own
articles. In Windows XP, you can use Outlook Express as a newsreader. Other
Windows newsreaders include Agent (www.forteinc.com/agent/) and
NewsPro (www.netwu.com/newspro/). For the Mac, you can try Microsoft
Entourage, part of the Office 2004 suite, or MT-NewsWatcher
Instead of using a newsreader, you can access all the newsgroups through your web browser by
using Google Groups (groups.google.com). This is useful if your ISP does not offer newsgroup
access or if you would like to read particular newsgroups without having to subscribe to them.
However, if you want to post messages to a newsgroup, you must register with Google.
news server A computer that stores newsgroups and handles requests to post and
(or NNTP server) download newsgroup messages. There are four types of news server:
• ISP news server—Most ISPs supply you with an account on their news
server in addition to your email account. Your news server username and
password are almost always the same as your email username and pass-
word, but check with your ISP. You should also confirm the Internet
name of the ISP’s news server. This name usually takes the form
news.ispname.com or nntp.ispname.com, where ispname is the name of
• Commercial news server—If your ISP does not offer newsgroup access, or
if your ISP offers only a limited number of groups, consider using a
commercial news server, which offers newsgroup access for a fee. Two of
the largest commercial news servers are Giganews (www.giganews.com)
and Newscene (www.newscene.com).
• Public news server—If you are on a limited budget, try a public news
server that offers free newsgroup access. Note, however, that most
public servers restrict the number of users on the server, offer a limited
number of groups, or place a cap on the amount you can download. For
a list of public news servers, try Newzbot (www.newzbot.com) or Free
Usenet News Servers (freenews.maxbaud.net).
• Semi-private news server—Some companies maintain their own news
server and their own set of newsgroups. For example, Microsoft main-
tains a news server at msnews.microsoft.com that runs more than 2,000
groups related to Microsoft products and technologies.
post To send an article to a newsgroup.
Some Usenet Basics 533