NewsBeat, a shareware news reader created by Dave Minogue and Vipin Bhargava, aka Insomnia Software, is a very spartan program that is quite adequate for basic use but less than adequate for people who use news groups heavily. While it is simple to use and there are parts of its interface that I really like, its quirks, lack of customizability and tendency to behave unreliably in large news groups won't endear itself to heavy Usenet lurkers or posters.
Still, it's a pretty good program for those who just want to check out a few groups now and then, and there are features that many people will like.
Installation is straightforward, but nonstandard: instead of using IBM's standard installer, NewsBeat uses a quick and simple (though attractively designed) dialog box that allows you to choose a path and install at the push of a button. The installer program won't tell you how much free space you have on your drives though, and if you want to place NewsBeat in a nested folder, you'll have to type that in by hand (no "browse" functionality). There is a check box, however, that will allow you to install the EMX runtime files with the NewsBeat installation (the EMX runtime is necessary for the program to function properly).
A nice feature of the NewsBeat installation is that, unlike some other programs, you don't have to reboot to use it.
When the program starts for the first time, it automatically opens its settings notebook, where you'll need to enter your Usenet server address and SMTP server address (the Usenet server address so it'll know where to look for news groups, your SMTP server address so it will be able to send e-mail replies). After you do this, NewsBeat starts searching the Usenet server for news groups.
NewsBeat is an attractive application with some interesting user interface design decisions (GIF, 26.7k), but ultimately I found it a frustrating program to navigate around in. While the toolbar at the top of the program is attractive and its round, multicolored buttons are a refreshing alternative to the standard chiseled gray ones, it isn't the most intuitive thing in the world to use. It does have a kind of a "bubble help" feature built into it, activated by pressing mouse button #2 over the toolbar button in question, but it would be more convenient if bubble help were activated after a few seconds of the mouse resting over the button.
There are only three viewing areas in the program, but they each serve double duty. The first area lists all available news groups (GIF, 3.7k) on the server -- until you click on that region's title bar, upon which it shows only the news groups you've subscribed to. Likewise, the "Article List" window does double-duty as a killfile list, and the "Current Message" area is also used as the UUDecoding Queue. This is very easy to use -- all views are right there -- but there's not much you can do to customize it. You can't even move the position of the separator between the subscribed news groups and article lists, nor can you move the separator between those and the current article list.
NewsBeat also provides an alternate way of viewing your information. Its "Zoom" (GIF, 24.1k) feature turns NewsBeat into one big viewing area with six buttons at the top, each of which will take you to one "view". This can clean up the interface considerably, but it can be confusing if you have a tendency to jump around news groups a lot.
The text defaults to System Proportional -- not an attractive font when you're reading large quantities of information. This can be changed by dragging and dropping fonts form the font palette, but sadly this change does not seem to be permanent. Each time the program is loaded, text reverts to System Proportional.
Also, while you can run any UUDecoder from within the newsreader, the only image viewer you can specify to link to is PMView. If you're going to choose only one image viewer PMView is a good choice, but the lack of other options strikes me as somewhat inflexible. And there is no ability at all to decode MIME encrypted messages, which is a serious drawback in most binary newsgroups since MIME attachments have become very popular in recent years.
Ultimately, I found that the interface was too simplistic for my taste, and the inability to change the sizes of the individual viewing areas was very, very frustrating.
NewsBeat's speed was generally very good, with a few notable exceptions. NewsBeat shined when it was downloading all the available news groups from the server for the first time. Usually this takes an interminably long time -- there are a huge number of available news groups on most servers, and they're all listed before you can choose which ones you actually want to subscribe to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that NewsBeat goes through this process relatively quickly, giving me a complete list of news groups to choose from in under five minutes with my ISP. Once the list is complete, it's displayed in the first section of the application window.
Subscribing to a group is also very responsive -- until you start hitting the very large groups. Comp.os.os2.advocacy took a fair amount of time to download 1,500 headers -- about six or seven minutes. Alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 (which, according to NewsBeat, had roughly 3,500 messages on it) took more than 20 minutes. This slowdown was noticeable in other large news groups as well (though no other group was able to top alt.binaries.sounds.mp3). Large news groups not only seem to slow down NewsBeat, they seem to make it unstable as well. On groups with over a thousand messages, I found NewsBeat had a tendency to close down without warning. Reading a message in a news group also seems affected by the size of the news group itself -- again, larger news groups seem to slow down NewsBeat significantly.
NewsBeat's design makes it an ideal application for someone who doesn't know a lot about news readers, and who doesn't want to know a lot about news readers. People who are fairly experienced with them, however, may find NewsBeat's lack of customization and limited choice of features restricting. Also, NewsBeat seems to be unstable when subjected to high-volume news groups and has shut down, without warning, on my machine.
All in all, I think NewsBeat has promise as an application for novices, but it needs to be able to handle large lists more reliably.
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.
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