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Usenet Tutorial

Selecting a Newsreader

As I explained earlier in this guide, Usenet is based on a client/server system. To access Usenet, you run a client program (called a newsreader) on your computer. Your newsreader connects to a remote news server and sends and receives data on your behalf. So the first question we need to ask is, "Which newsreader should you use?"

Using Usenet well requires you to master a lot of details, and most newsreaders have a large number of options and features. As a result, newsreaders are complex programs that can take more time to learn than a Web browsers or email program.

There are a large variety of newsreaders available, some are free, others cost money. The more adept you become at using Usenet, the more you will want a newsreader with advanced features. However, to start, it doesn't matter much which one you use. In fact, for a beginner, the simpler the better.

So here is our plan: I will teach you the basic ideas you need to understand Usenet. At this point, you can use any newsreader you want. (My advice is to start with a free one.) Later, once you have used Usenet for awhile, you can take the time to find a newsreader that works well for you. At this point, you may consider paying for a newsreader if you find that you really like using Usenet and that a particular newsreader suits you need. For now, however, let me tell you about the most commonly used free newsreaders.

If you are a Windows user, you can get a free newsreader from Microsoft. The actual program to use depends on your particular system.

For a long time, Microsoft offered a free email/Usenet client called "Outlook Express". (Do not confuse this program with Outlook, a totally different program that is part of the Microsoft Office suite.) Outlook Express was fine for beginners and was installed automatically, for free, along with the Internet Explorer browser. This was the case up to Internet Explorer version 6.

Starting with Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft stopped distributing Outlook Express. The Vista operating system came with a new email/Usenet client called "Windows Mail". However, since then, "Windows Mail" has been replaced by a better program (also free) named "Windows Live Mail". This program runs, not only on Vista, but on older systems such as Windows XP. So here is my advice:

If your system has Outlook Express, use it as your newsreader. (This will be the case if you have Internet Explorer 6 or older.) If your system does not have Outlook Express, download and install Windows Live Mail.

To begin, read through the built-in help information, then start practicing. Once you have some experience using Usenet, think about moving on to another newsreader. Each newsreader has its own quirks, so you may have to experiment to find the one you like best. To help you with all this, here are some useful resources.

There is an alternative to using a newsreader that you may want to try. A number of Web sites offer a free service (supported by advertising) that allows you to read the News with your browser. That is, the various newsgroups and their articles are made available as ordinary Web pages. These Web-based Usenet services are handy and easy to use. However, in the long run, you will be better off using a newsreader of your own to connect to a real news server.

Once you learn how to use a newsreader, you will have a lot more flexibility and power than a Web site can give you. Moreover, you will find that accessing Usenet with your own client program is faster than reading articles over the Web, and you won't have to look at advertising. Finally, some (but not all) of the Web-based Usenet services will only show you text, not pictures. This is a major disadvantage if you like to look at pictures.

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