Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Freebie - Do People Even Know What Usenet Is?

When people these days think about the internets, they usually just think of the world wide web. Those www addresses have become so ubiquitous, even your grandmother has one. But there's actually a lot more out there on the tube system, and it's all free for the taking. In fact, you're probably paying for access to it with your monthly broadband bill, and didn't even know it.

I'm sure most of you frequent a message forum or two on your favorite websites. These are great, but if your tastes are varied, you may find yourself browsing to a dozen sites to post all your thoughts on the moon landing hoax and that photo of Bigfoot you took on your last camping trip. Not to mention, those forums tend to be moderated pretty heavily, so you have to watch your language and what you post. Too bad there isn't a place you can go and speak your mind, not to mention break a few laws. Well, guess what - there is. It's called Usenet.

Usenet was created long before the web, and it's essentially nothing but forums. These forums are called newsgroups, and there are literally thousands of them, covering almost any topic you can imagine, and people communicate by posting messages or data. That's right, you can get pictures, music, even software from newsgroups. All you need is access to a newsgroup server, which you're probably already getting from your ISP, and a news reader program:

When it comes to Usenet programs, Xnews is the best around. This tiny little package, which is free for the taking, let's you access all the newsgroups you want to visit. Not only can you post and read messages, but uploads and downloads are quick and easy. The program also automatically recombines multipart messages, making them simple to retrieve.

I'm sure you're now asking, what the hell's a multipart message? Well, remember when I mentioned that data could be uploaded to newsgroups? This is done by storing data inside the post, not by attaching to it. The thing is, each message has a size limit, which by today's standards is fairly small. This means that a multi-megabyte file can span tens or hundreds of messages. And that's why it's important to have a robust program to download them. Xnews fits that bill nicely.

Now, concerning those downloads. As I mentioned earlier, you can find almost anything posted on newsgroups. And if you don't see what you want, you can always ask. That being said, many of the things that people get from newsgroups are not legal downloads. In other words, you can find pirated music, movies, and software rather easily. Legally I can't encourage you to go get your fill, but now that you know what's out there, I certainly can't stop you from putting that knowledge to good (bad?) use. Just be smart about what you're doing. Oh, and before I forget, there's also tons or free pron out there. TONS!

Another word of warning for you. Usenet is kind of like the wild west, meaning there's the potential for danger around every corner. There are lots of viruses and spyware out there, so make sure your scanners are up to date. Also, do not, under any circumstance, give out your personal information on these groups. This is where the real crazies live online. Of course, without risk, there is no reward.

The Xnews homepage can be found right here, and the download is right here. There's also a brief online manual, which can be found here. So have fun, but be careful. You never know what you're going to find on Usenet.