Downloading Photos and Movies from Newsgroups

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Charlie writes, "Where can I get help on entering Usenet newsgroups, I can't seem to find any info on it. I want to download or look at alt.binaries.pictures."

Newsgroups are possibly the oldest download communities still receiving heavy use online, with roots dating back to the late 1970s. I'm not sure if anyone has a count of the entire known universe, but most estimates suggest more than 50,000. Most of the newsgroups traffic today focuses on area like alt.binaries.pictures where people swap things like images, movies and music similar to p2p applications. If you're dipping your toe into the newsgroups world for the first time, I suggest taking them for a test drive through servers provided by your ISP, which are generally included as part of your monthly access fee. There are a few tricks to getting a great experience from newsgroups. I'll walk through the basics of setting up newsgroup access to get you started.

There are a number of ways to view newsgroups, each with their respective strengths and weaknesses. Free email clients Thunderbird and Outlook Express both support newsgroups, but really work best for dealing with text newsgroups. Still, using a free app is a decent way to get started providing some background for the more advanced features available in standalone newsreaders later. For this tutorial, I'll walk through setting up Thunderbird as a newsreader.

For an introduction to browsing newsgroups, a good place to start is the servers provided by your ISP. Some ISPs use one of the bigger newsgroup services as their backbone and limit the amount of data you can download each month. I'm a Comcast customer. Comcast uses the Giganews servers for newsgroups, but limits monthly downloads to 2GB. What this means is, if I download 2GB of data through the newsgroups, I'm done until the account is reset for next month. If you are downloading pictures through newsgroups, a 2GB limit may be enough. Downloading music or movies will likely put you over the threshold within the first day or week of the download cycle.

Setting Up Thunderbird

If you don't already have Thunderbird, you can download it from Mozilla here:
Download Thunderbird

Thunderbird is my favorite free email client to boot, so if you're looking for something with more features than Outlook Express, give Thunderbird a spin. It makes a fine companion to Firefox.

Step 1: Launch the New Account Wizard from File > New > Account

Step 2: Choose Newsgroup Account

Step 3: Enter your name or some alternate nickname and an email address. I recommend using a bogus email address unless you want to be bombarded with spam if you ever post to a newsgroup.

Step 4: Enter the name of your ISPs newsgroup server. You can find a list of newsgroup servers for a few large ISPs below.

Step 5: Enter a name for your account. I generally just leave the default, which is the name of the newsgroup server. On the next screen click Finish.

Step 6: Highlight your new news server account in the Thunderbird Folders list and click Manage newsgroup subscriptions.

Step 7: Enter your ISP username (usually the primary email address for your account)

Step 8: Enter your password

Step 9: At this point, you will be presented with a long list of all available newsgroups on your ISP's news server. You can scroll through the entire list, or filter the list by typing in part of your search in the Show items that contain: box. In the example below, I typed in alt.binaries.music.classical to shorten the list to only the classical music newsgroup (primarily because that's one of the few searches where I can safely avoid adult content). To subscribe to a particular group, check a box next to that group.

Step 10: After you subscribe to a newsgroup it appears in your folder list. Highlight the newsgroup in the folder list and then browse the contents that appear in the message list. When you find something you like, download it.

This last step is where Thunderbird is less than perfect. For large downloads, like movies, people typically break the files into many smaller files and compress the files with WinRAR. In more advanced newsreaders, you select all parts of the file and download the entire thing. Thunderbird doesn't play well within this concept making it virtually useless for very large files in Usenet.

When you are ready for the next stage in newsgroup downloading, check out BNR2 as a free binary download tool.

Another alternative I like is UsenetGrab!. The app acts as both a search tool and newsreader, improving your prospects of finding exactly what you are looking for and downloading the files you want from newsgroups.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of servers and settings for some of the larger ISPs in the U.S. Consult your ISP for more details on their news server setup. If you are searching their FAQs, you may also want to search for the term NNTP, which is the protocol used by news servers.

Adelphianews.adelphia.netusername@adelphia.netpassword
Charternntp.charter.netusername@charter.netpassword
Comcastnewsgroups.comcast.netusername@comcast.netpassword
Cox East (CT, FL, GA, LA, NC, OH, RI, VA)news.east.cox.netusername@co@cox.netpassword
Cox Central (AR, IA, ID, KS, MI, NE, OK, TX, UT)news.central.cox.netusername@co@cox.netpassword
Cox East (AZ, CA, NV)news.west.cox.netusername@co@cox.netpassword
SBCVaries by regionusername@sbcglobal.netpassword
Verizonnews.verizon.netusername@verizon.netpassword

When you outgrow the news servers provided by your ISP, Giganews is the one place I recommend as a solution for more storage and reliable options. They support up to 10 connections, which means faster downloads and as much space as you need for about $25 per month. 25GB per month is an affordable $13 monthly.