9 Apr 1995
On the Internet, the term "Network News" refers to a network of servers that receive and redistribute postings on thousands of individual subjects. Netnews is similar to Electronic Mail. The sender is identified by an E-Mail address. However, the posting is sent to a news group, such as comp.dcom.isdn ("computers - data communication - ISDN") or alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die (a group dedicated to the extermination of a large purple dinosaur).
The News Server network has developed throughout the country as an informally managed collection of machines. An organization assigns one machine in their network to be the News host, and then negotiates with a nearby Internet location that already owns a News Server to establish a "feed". A new item can be posted to any Server anywhere in the Internet. Periodically connected servers exchange information and transmit new files that each has received. The new item gets copied from machine to machine until it eventually propagates throughout the network. Each server retains items for several days (depending on available disk space) and then erases them. If the news group has a central point of administration, the items can be archived and retrieved later using other Internet protocols.
There are policies for creating new news groups. Some groups are "moderated" so that a new posting will not be redistributed until it has been examined and approved by a moderator.
Every network news client program must be configured with the name or address of the local news server machine. Because of the relationship between news and mail, the user should also provide an E-Mail address and the name of a machine that can relay mail to the Internet (an SMTP host).
WINVN is a simple freeware network news program. Initially it displays the list of Internet news groups and a rough estimate of the number of items posted to each group. Click on the name of the group to display a list of postings:
Click on the summary of a particular item to see the full text.
WINVN provides the basic news services with a standard Windows presentation. It does not have special Alt or Ctrl sequences, or a tool bar, or buttons.
The Trumpet News Reader was the original product from the people who created the Trumpet WINSOCK stack. It contains a few easy to use buttons and some useful help files. The general consensus is that both WINVN and Trumpet have advantages and disadvantages and the choice between them is a matter of personal taste. Trumpet is shareware and requires the payment of a registration fee if it is selected as the best.
NR/2 is the news reader distributed as part of TCP/IP for OS/2. It demonstrates the advantages of code optimized for a multitasking environment, but the limitations of poor IBM project management.
In previous sessions, the user has "subscribed" to a particular set of interesting news groups. When NR/2 is loaded, it contacts the server and begins to load the titles of new submissions to each subscribed group. The first group, comp.os.os2.announce had nothing new. The second group had eight new items, which are displayed in the lower window. NR/2 continues in the background to load the headings for other subscribed groups, while the user can read the titles of the first group and can even display the text for an individual item. This ability to operate in the background and anticipate the user's next request significantly speeds up processing. On a computer connected through a modem instead of a high speed LAN, no single-tasking news reader will ever compare.
When an individual item is selected, it expands to fill the entire window. However, the loading of headers continues in the background while the user views and even replies to this posting. In both news and mail, IBM has been rather slow to filter the heading lines. Most other tools will remove the Message-ID:, References:, and other lines that take up space and are usually unneeded.
The real problem with NR/2, however, is that its "reply by E-Mail" function has to filter through the poorly designed SENDMAIL program of the TCP/IP for OS/2 product. OS/2 mail provides no POP support, no monitor or confirmation, no queue display, and unreasonably complicated configuration for a simple client. This is supposed to be fixed in Warp.
WINVN is a nice program and it is free. If you just want to look around the 3000+ news groups, its ability to display the number of postings for all groups helps to filter out the groups with interesting contents.
When you become interested in a specific set of groups and monitor them regularly, especially when some of the access uses SLIP or PPP over a modem, then the OS/2 multitasking shows its advantages.
Copyright 1995 PC Lube and Tune -- Windows on the World -- H. Gilbert