When I first started
reading newsgroups back around the turn of the 90's, the only real way to do it was
to log on to a UNIX or other mainframe, and run "rn" or "trn"
or some other awful UNIX style newsreader. The commands frequently consisted of single
letters that meant one thing when you were in one screen and another when you were
in a different screen, with sometimes disastrous results. The programs had a slapped
together feel, and seemed to consist of several different programs glued together.
Around that time, the legendary John Norstad wrote a little program called NewsWatcher
for the students at Northwestern University. It ran on that newfangled Macintosh
computer and used a TCP/IP stack to access the NNTP servers that were supplying the
USENET newsgroups that, up until that point, had only been accessible via a mainframe.
The program was an instant hit. Brilliantly conceived, it presented a window to select
the desired newsgroups, and allowed saving of newsgroups so that you only had to
read the news once and your place would be saved for the next time around.
Over the years, John worked on the program and it got better and better. After some
time, John ran out of time to update it any further, but it is still available as
NewsWatcher 2.2.2. Meanwhile, the Mac grew up, was able to run more than one program
at a time, and even within a program, was able to do multiple tasks at once.
A fellow named Simon Fraser picked up the program and gave it multitasking abilities,
killfile capabilities and expanded it's abilities to deal with more than one user.
His version of the program is called MT-NewsWatcher (MT stands for multi-threaded),
and it is currently at version 3.1 for Mac OS 9, with a new Carbonized Mac OS X version
due real soon.
When the program is started for the first time, you are asked several questions about
whether or not the program will be used in a lab or privately, to set up the program
for multiple users or not. It also prompts you for the name of the NNTP server, the
email address of the user and several other items. When this is complete, the program
contacts the NNTP server and downloads a list of all the newsgroups. This can take
some time over a modem, and results in a list of every newsgroup carried on your
ISP's NNTP server. This can be just a few or as evident at my isp, 20,000 or so.
Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to select your favorite groups and drag
them over to the groups window that appears. This window is titled "Untitled"
and will be renamed when you save it to what ever you want. You are aided in your
newsgroup selection by a find command, or you can just type the first few letters
of what ever group you might be looking for and the group will be selected.
Once you get the groups you want, you just double click each group to open it. The
headers of the news articles are downloaded and presented to you in order. This order
can be alphabetical, or by date or by article number. The articles are presented
as threads, so that just the first article on their server is presented. You don't
have to see every article at once, but you can if you want, by clicking on the familiar
triangles, which expand each subject.
After that, you simply double click each article you want to read, and when you want
to reply to something, you select Followup to Newsgroup, and a window is presented
in which you can type your reply. You can also create new articles and respond via
That's all pretty straightforward, but if you've been on the internet for a while,
you know that there is a lot of SPAM, and a lot of people who's opinions you just
don't care for. This is where the kill file capability comes in. In MT-NewsWatcher,
killing and sorting are actually done using the same mechanism. You can select articles
in many different ways, and either kill them or highlight them. And you can do this
permanently or only for a specified time. The filters, as they are called, are contained
in a convenient window, which allows them to be dragged to different newsgroups,
and copied as well.
There are many other features of NewsWatcher that I don't have room to discuss here.
You can set up personalities, so you can be one person in one newsgroup or someone
different in another. You can track more than one news server, and the program takes
care of the dirty work of tracking all those article numbers for you. And for those
with faster connections, you can download and upload binaries from the binary groups,
with decoding and joining or encoding and splitting done automatically by NewsWatcher.
All in all, given the choices for newsreaders out there, I would pick MT-NewsWatcher
- Fast and supports
- Familiar Macintosh
- Easy configuration
- Automated downloading
and upload processing of binaries
- Takes a long time
to download groups (not really NewsWatcher's fault)
- Doesn't post in html
4 1/2 out of 5 Mice