Last week I did a detailed post on accessing Usenet on a Mac, it covered the basics of accessing Usenet newsgroups on your Mac. Today I am going to continue with this theme and do a detailed review of Unison, in my opinion one of the best Mac newsgroup readers out there. I am going to cover the basics of how the application works, and some of the nifty features. If you have a question or comment about the app please leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Setting up and Unison is dead simple, you first find your login details from your Usenet provider, I recommend Giganews, you enter them into servers preference option. Once you you have completed filling in the required forms its ready to go and Unison will take over the rest. The set up option also allows you to fine tune the settings, for example you can set the amount of headers/articles to download, which is really good if you are on a slow connection. Within set up you can also adjust the number of connections and speed of download. I would change the number of connections from the default down to around 10, unless you have a super fast Internet connection, for me this allows slightly faster downloads. You can also adjust the speed limit, i’ve set this to slightly lower than my maximum connection speed so I can still do other things.
The preferences pane, where the majority of the set up options are located, has other features for the program. Unison handles binary files as a result the transfer options preference pane allows you to adjust how these are handled, how par and rar files are executed and where files are stored after use. The preference options also includes how messages are handled as well as searching and the rules which you can apply to articles and messages.
Once you have set up Unison you can now begin downloading and reading articles.
Unison 2 has a new feature called the “Directory” it is aimed (I think) at new users, to help them find the newsgroups they want, although experienced users may find it helpful as well. The directory is a collection of topics with links to the newsgroups. For example the “Mac” topic when selected will give you a comprehensive list of Mac newsgroups for your to use, “Business” the same. The 18 different topics allow you to access some of the main groups quickly and easily. Its a first port of call if you need to find something in a specific section.
If you want to delve deeper in to the Usenet world then Unison has a comprehensive list of the newsgroups available to you. Depending on your Usenet provider the list may vary. The “All Groups” section lists in order of popularity the newsgroups available to you. It is laid out in a similar way to the column view in Finder, with the main newsgroups on the left and sub groups in the column next to it and so on. Most of the time this is sufficient, however you can change the view under the “View” menu to list alphabetically.
If you know the name of the Usenet group you want to find you can use the search box. As you type (including all of the dots etc) the list will slowly populate with the newsgroups available to you. This is a very quick way to find groups to your liking.
Once you have found the newsgroup you want you double click it an it added to the sidebar. As mentioned before the number of headers you download will depend on how many articles you can read at once (you can always download more headers if needs be). Every newsgroup article is displayed at the top of the page, in a similar method to an email reader. From the list you can view the articles in a thread view, so you can follow the article flow, for example you can see who replied to who. You can also view the articles linearly, so replies follow one after another.
Within the messages window you can also view the thread as an overview to help you can a better idea of the conversation. Another cool feature is the ability to view the whole thread in full screen. I find this more useful for long messages as the window at the bottom is a little small.
Within the sidebar you can order the newsgroups in which ever fashion you want. You can order them by either moving them up or down the list. One feature I find useful is using folders. This way you can order newsgroup in a way that is useful to yourself. Within the sidebar you can also set specific rules for each group. For example you change the server which the newsgroup uses, only really useful if you have access from more than one provider. You can also set if the newsgroup is loaded on start up (good for a frequently used newsgroup), as well as other minor settings. There is plenty of options which you can change and adjust to suit how you use Unison and Usenet.
One of the features touted in Unison (and Usenet in general) is the ability to download files. Every time you open an nzb file in Unison it will automatically download the required headers and start the download. When downloading it automatically control how the files are downloaded, changing the file names as needed and sourcing the required files. Unison is also smart. You can start and stop files on the fly, which is useful if you ever need to pause the download.
Unison also has built in extracting and par support. Par files are small files which allow you to repair parts of the file list with out having to download the entire file again. This allows you to repair files quickly and easily, it app will only download the par files it needs to repair the archive allowing you to save on bandwidth. I’ve found this option to be particularly useful, however it doesn’t always work and I have found a dedicated par application such as MacPar, more useful in certain times.
If you do download a lot of files, especially from alt.binaries, the download options within Unison is very useful. It makes download and opening files a breeze.
To conclude I think Unison is the perfect mac application for accessing Usenet. It has that Mac, feel of being well designed and having an intuitive interface, but having enough features to make it useful. Most experienced users will probably find Unison different to use, however for new users or people who want a good Usenet application, Unison is the way to go.
There is a could of bugs in the app, i’ve found that there can be a couple of problems with starting and stopping download and it having problems with extracting archives. The application is constantly being updated so most of these bugs will probably get squashed in upcoming releases.
The Unison costs $29, which I think is a fair price to pay. There is a 15 day trail so you can see how the application feels.
If you have any comments on this app please leave one below.