Usenet goes back. Way back. Its one of the oldest and most popular protocols on the internet. In a nutshell, Usenet is a service which allows you to access articles post by people like you and me over the internet. Since this information is spread world wide and most importantly it is the same, you can access a bustling community of enthusiasts (of every kind) in a quick and easy manner. I wanted to bring up how to access Usenet because there is a large community of Mac users using the service, which is great for learning new things and asking your questions. I have done a post previously on this site about accessing Usenet, but I am going to updated version here with more detail, as a request from one of you guys who contacted me.
Put simply, Usenet is a way of sending and spreading information. Imaging the Usenet network as a forum, every time you make a post this information is spread world wide where everyone else can receive that post. Post are made into Newsgroups. Each Newsgroup is a on a specific topic (such as a specific forum), these vary from information about Mac (which I will post about later), to science, sci-fiction related and to the legality ambiguous alt.binaries.* where you can get the latest movies, TV shows and everything in between. The advantage of this is easy access and the ability for everyone to see the same thing. You don’t need to find the specific website as you do with modern forums. If you want to learn more about Usenet, read the wikipedia article or read a couple of books from Amazon, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Usenet Newsgroups and Managing Usenet are old books but still relevant. I use Usenet to read up on the latest news in my area, in my university field and ask and solve questions about Mac related stuff. Hopefully by the end of this guide you can do the same.
To get access to the Usenet network you need a newsgroup provider, these are the companies which allow you to access the information. You can’t access newsgroups from a web browser. Most ISP’s offer newsgroup access of some form or another so I recommend you go searching through the help pages, beware that ISP’s can drop certain newsgroups and and not store all of the articles, so you may not be getting a of the available articles. If you have and ISP which doesn’t offer it, I recommend you buy access. It only costs a couple of dollars a month. My favourite is GigaNews, cheap price and good access as well as a free trial which I recommend you sign up with. I’m only on the cheap Bronze package since I don’t download much data. The more you download the bigger the package, stuff like binary files take up a lot of bandwidth. If you just want it for browsing articles a lower package will suffice. Note that the retention is how longer the newsgroup provider keeps the articles. The longer the retention the further back you can go and the more you can read. A short retention may mean an story or article you are reading may get cut off or deleted before you have finished reading it. Especially if its a busy newsgroup.
At this point you have your newsgroup login details and you are ready to access some articles. For this tutorial I am going to use Unison. I’ve found that it is one of the best Usenet applications. Others include Mozilla Thunderbird, Gemini or Binbot for grabbing binary files. There are plenty of apps out there, a quick Google search will probably bring up a lot more. I recommend Unison since it is the best one I have tried and has everything you will need. Its also one of those really well designed Mac apps that you expect on your Mac.
Adding your login details to Unsion (or other readers, for this tutorial I am going to use Unsion) is simple. Go to File > Preferences > Servers and enter your details. Give it a nickname, then enter the server address, password and port. SSL is only needed if you have a restrictive ISP who likes to filter and slow traffic. The number of connections refers to how many open lines there is to the server. In theory the more connections the faster the download since the server can give you more information. However too many connections can lock up your router and give you a large overhead of extra unneeded data, especially if you have a slow connection. The “limit to” box is used to limit your connections, since newsgroup access will saturate your connection you may want to limit this value to stop you downloading to much data.
You are now ready to start accessing newsgroups and articles. In Unison either go to directory and select a category such as “Mac” and then select a newsgroup underneath. Newsgroups are organised in a funny manner, for example a Mac newsgroup may be comp.sys.mac.apps. To find a newsgroup of your liking, use the directory function and search through the various lists or use the “All Groups” function to look and search through the hierarchy. It will take you a while to figure out where everything is, exploring is usually the best way to find information. But once you have selected a newsgroup you can read through what people are saying and join in the conversation. Note, that when you select a newsgroup you have to download the “headers” this is the information such as what articles are called, who has responded and various other bits of information. You need to download headers to view a newsgroup, however they don’t take long to download. You also only need to download the headers once and any new headers. Large groups get updated frequently so you may find you are downloading a lot of information. To limit the header download go to Preferences again and change the header load count. Anywhere between 5000 and 10000 is satisfactory.
In the screen shot above the newsgroups are on the left, i’ve subscribed to many groups on things I am interested in. Note that the large numbers is due to all the new responses and may note represent new articles. The main window shows all of the new articles and vary on topic, however they usually represent topic and conversation, depending which newsgroup you are in. You can read them like an email/forum and reply in the same way. In a couple of days I am going to post about Unison in more detail. In the mean time simply search the web on how to use newsgroups for more information.
Mac Usenet Newsgroups
If you are stuck on some things to read there plenty of groups out there. Some Mac specific ones are below. If you want to access them the quickest way is to type them into the search box in the “All Groups” section of Unison or search the “All Groups” section manually.
For readers who are in Europe and speak the specific languages:
There is plenty of content out there and it is all updated very regularly by new users. Those groups are just the nutshell and you can access more from the “All Groups” or the directory in Unison. If you are into downloading binary files you will need to find the required files on sites such as NZBClub. An NZB files is used to group specific files (found in Usenet groups) so they can be easily downloaded. This is only used for binary files such as TV Shows, Music, Movies etc and you don’t need it if you only reading information. I don’t recommend it since most of the binary files are illegal. Unison does, however support binary files off the bat with no need to do anything special.
To conclude Usenet is a great way to access information an articles. If you have a Mac question and want a large audience to access it, Usenet is a way to go, remember to ask it in the right newsgroup. All you need is a newsgroup provider such as GigaNews and a little know how and you are ready to go. There is a lot of information out there and it will take you a while to get your head around it. But it is worth it in the end for the amount of stuff you can learn. There are hundreds, if not thousands of groups which you can access on nearly everything. Its great for hobbies, i’m into photography and there is some great groups to help you learn and discuss ideas. With Unison as your Mac app it couldn’t be simpler.
If you have questions or comments please leave a comment below.