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What is a USENET Newsreader?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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A User Network (USENET) newsreader is a software program designed to read USENET newsgroups. A newsreader is also referred to as a news client.

Though a student at the University of North Carolina wrote the first USENET newsreader in 1980, USENET began at Duke University in the 1970s. Today, USENET is a network of over 100,000 newsgroups with topics ranging from support and recovery to vintage cars and politics. Whatever your pleasure or passion, there is bound to be a newsgroup dedicated to the subject. Savvy users can also create newsgroups by following USENET protocols.

A good USENET newsreader makes it easy to subscribe to and organize various newsgroups. It should also allow the user to assign a different nickname or persona to each subscribed newsgroup. This protects the user from invasion of privacy. Otherwise, anyone with a vested interest can enter a single name into a news archive like Google Groups and get a return page with links to every post the user has submitted since 1981. By configuring the USENET newsreader to use a different nickname for each newsgroup, a search of the archives will only return posts from the single related newsgroup.

The USENET newsreader should also have archiving options to prevent retention of posts in database archives, if desired. This optional header is known as “X-NoArchive=Yes.” Although this isn’t a guarantee that the post will not be retained by every archive on the Web, Google Groups honors the no-archive option by retaining these posts for a brief period of about a week, rather than permanently.

Another mark of a good USENET newsreader is that it creates a proprietary environment for maximum security. Newsreaders that also handle other tasks, such as those that act as the user’s main email program, scheduler, and personal assistant, have the potential to leak extensive information if compromised. By keeping the USENET newsreader separate, the user has more protection from viruses, worms, Web bugs, Trojan horses, and other threats that routinely come through email and the World Wide Web. It also protects the user’s list of subscribed newsgroups and his or her local posting archive from outgoing compromise.

A further advantage of a stand-alone USENET newsreader is that it has more flexibility and configuration choices for news than a multifunctional software program like Microsoft’s Outlook Express or the heftier Outlook. These programs are widely used as newsreaders because they come pre-loaded on many systems, but USENET aficionados are more likely to use stand-alone newsreaders like Free Agent, 40tude Dialog, orX-News.

A news client can be an online USENET newsreader or an offline USENET newsreader. An online newsreader does not retain posts once offline. Originally, when hard disk space was limited and expensive, online newsreaders saved space by purging everything at the end of each USENET session.

However, some users preferred to keep the newsgroup posts, even offline. In fact, many subscribers paid by the minute to be online and, in order to save money, needed to collect new posts, go offline to read and write replies, then reconnect to send replies. Offline newsreaders allow this. Today, offline newsreaders are more popular.

Free Agent, Agent (shareware version), and 40tude Dialog are three of the most popular offline USENET newsreaders. Xnews is an online USENET newsreader. For mobile applications such as cell phones with Internet access, mobile online-style newsreaders might serve well to preserve limited memory while allowing access to USENET on the go.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon16546 — On Aug 08, 2008

A newsreader is specifically designed to read USENET newsgroups. It has various settings handy for the newsgroup enthusiast, making it easy to organize newsgroups, filter threads and authors, etc. Just like the article says. It can also allow a user to create a new newsgroup, though this is discouraged by the USENET community unless the proposed newsgroup is properly submitted to alt.config and approved there.

By husilda — On Jul 31, 2008

how is newsreader useful in usenet?

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