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InterNews 1.0

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The following article comes from the text I wrote about InterNews in The Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. I made a few minor changes to take out mentions of screen shots and to avoid the transition from the NewsWatcher discussion and to Nuntius discussion. InterNews is an excellent MacTCP-based newsreader released a week or so ago from Dartmouth College, the same folks who gave us the popular FTP client Fetch. Needless to say, I can't provide all the background a reader of the book would have by the time she hit this section, but suffice it to say that you need MacTCP, and either a network connection or a modem and an implementation of SLIP or PPP. If you currently use Eudora and Fetch, you can probably use InterNews with little trouble.

InterNews -- Continuing with the excellent newsreaders, I come to a new program from Dartmouth College, InterNews. Programmed by Steve Maker and Roger Brown, InterNews is yet another take on an interface for reading news, presenting you with a three-paned window that displays a list of newsgroups at the top, a list of subjects in the selected group in the middle, and the articles in a selected thread at the bottom. In addition, InterNews works on the concept of the subscription, which is a personalized set of newsgroups. You can create any number of subscriptions, so I have, for instance, a subscription for the Mac groups, a subscription for the ClariNet groups I read, and so on. Subscriptions work well for organizing your reading, and can make starting up news less daunting than staring at a long list of all the groups you read.

Installation and Setup -- Double-click on InterNews to launch it for the first time. A Site Configuration dialog box immediately opens. You must fill it in before you can read any news, since some of the settings are necessary to connect.

The Authentication pop-up menu is the most confusing part of this configuration process because you must ask your system administrator what sort of authentication your host provides. You also must find out the name of your news server, of course, so you may as well ask the system administrator that question at the same time, along with the name of the mail server. If you don't use authentication, InterNews doesn't let you send replies via email, which is a bit of a pain. Forging email as a joke was once, and briefly, considered a neat trick. Now it's just considered stupid (although I hear that feature was added to combat what amounted to "electronic stalking" - anonymous harassing messages).

After you finish setting up this dialog with the news server and mail server information (and you can always change it later by closing all windows and choosing Configure for Your Site from the Edit menu), InterNews connects to your news server and downloads the full list of groups and then sorts it before presenting you with the Subscriptions window. As you might expect, retrieving the full list of groups takes a long time, and sorting them is also slow (although faster machines probably sort faster than my SE/30). The first time that I connected my SLIP host got disgusted with the length of time it took to sort the newsgroups and timed out, hanging up the modem. Because I use Manual addressing in MacTCP, I was able to connect again without quitting the program; if you use Server addressing you must quit the MacTCP program before reconnecting! This could pose a major problem for InterNews if your connection times out before InterNews finishes sorting the groups, forcing you to quit InterNews without letting it finish its job.

Once InterNews presents you with the Subscriptions window, the only remaining configuration work comes with your preferences. From the Edit menu, choose Preferences. InterNews displays a large preferences dialog with a pop-up menu to configure different aspects of the program.

Although you want to go through each of these screens and fill them in with your preferences and personal information, the most interesting are the Subscriptions preferences that control automatic display and sorting of articles when you open windows. By clicking on any of the yes/no markers in the matrix, you can modify the behavior of any subscription. It's a clever interface and a good idea.

After you set your preferences, the time has come to subscribe to newsgroups. First, you must create your own subscription, so from the Subscriptions menu, choose New Subscription and then name the icon that InterNews creates. Double-click on it to open its window. Then double-click on the subscription labeled All Newsgroups. You must somehow figure out how to show both windows on the screen at once. You can click on and drag down the double lines under the top pane that lists the newsgroup names to make it larger, and I highly recommend doing so, because scrolling through that list is hard enough as is.

When you see an interesting group, click on it and drag it over to your personal subscription window. Keep clicking and dragging until you've subscribed to all the groups you want to for that subscription, and repeat the process as necessary until you have all the subscriptions you want.

Double-clicking on any subscription opens the window for that subscription, and you can size the window and its three panes so that you feel comfortable working with them. If you don't wish to see the contents of a group before subscribing, you can open a Subscription and then choose Add Newsgroup from the Reading menu to pick from the full list in a scrolling dialog.

Basic Usage -- Double-clicking on any newsgroup in its top pane causes InterNews to retrieve the subjects for the articles in that newsgroup and place them in the middle pane. Then double-clicking on any subject retrieves all the articles in that thread and places them in the bottom pane. You scroll using either the scroll bars or the Spacebar shortcut, but unfortunately, you can't scroll while InterNews retrieves the articles, and particularly with a long thread, retrieving the articles can take a while.

If you're reading a thread, each article that scrolls by in the bottom pane is selectable with the mouse. You need to select an article specifically if you want reply to or save that article, obviously, but because InterNews scrolls a bunch of articles through that bottom pane, the concept of selecting one is a little odd. With an article selected, though you can do all the standard replying in mail or to the newsgroup, but you can also forward an article to someone else via mail, which I approve of, because I always seem to want to do that.

When replying, you can quote selected text and also insert a text file using commands in the Compose menu. On the whole, the message composition window is fairly standard looking, although it does have four radio buttons that enable you to change whether a message is a mail or news message, which might help take flames into email rather than clutter news with them.

Special Features -- Like NewsWatcher, InterNews can import and export .newsrc files so that you can easily synchronize your news reading between InterNews and a Unix newsreader. InterNews also sports a Windows menu that lists all your subscriptions along with the open windows (and a useful Send to Back command). Selecting any of your subscriptions from the Windows menu opens it immediately, saving you the trouble of closing all the other windows to get back to your subscriptions window. Finally, a Help menu sits alongside the Windows menu and provides online help and tips for using InterNews, including the keyboard shortcuts that aren't otherwise documented.

Overall Evaluation -- InterNews is a fine effort, and much of its interface looks slick and well-done. However, I personally always feel cramped by the three-pane approach to displaying the newsgroups because the top pane especially wastes a lot of space to the right of the rather short newsgroup names, and the separators take up space as well. If you have a monstrous 21-inch monitor, you won't even notice what I'm talking about, but on a 9-inch screen InterNews might drive you mad. I'd prefer to see the top pane instead live on the left or right of the others because it's inherently fairly thin.

I also continually have trouble with the concept of selecting an article from the bottom reading pane, although I suppose I would get used to it given enough time. Although InterNews has keyboard shortcuts for moving around so that the left- and right-arrow keys move you to the previous and next newsgroup and the up- and down-arrow keys move you to the previous and next subject, enough different keys are involved that I found the capability somewhat clumsy. Perhaps it would help if you didn't have to press Return or Enter to open each newsgroup or subject after you select using the arrow keys.

Finally, although InterNews is speedy enough, it doesn't feel quite as quick as NewsWatcher. I didn't have time to make real speed comparisons, so this objection may just be a feeling, but for most of us, perception is reality.

I feel a little bad talking about InterNews in this negative fashion because it is a great program, just not one that happens to match with my preferred method of reading news. It may fit better with your style, and it's definitely worth a look if you currently use NewsWatcher or Nuntius.

Administrative Details -- InterNews is distributed under the same system as Fetch, which means that educational and nonprofit users can use it for free, and for everyone else it's shareware. You can find it via anonymous FTP at <ftp.dartmouth.edu> as:

/pub/mac/InterNews_1.0.sit.hqx

 

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