ast year we reviewed PMINews when it first came out, and if you remember, the verdict was not a positive one. Now that the OS/2 market has seen the introduction of another major newsreader, we thought it'd be fair to give PMINews a second chance, especially since the authors have done an admirable job of addressing most of the problems found in the original review.
Distributed electronically, PMINews is available for instant purchasing and download from Stardock's own commerce server and the OS/2 Supersite. Using the familiar IBM Installation program, PMINews can be installed and uninstalled independently from PMMail if you already have it. PMINews will install to the same "Southside" directory where PMMail is kept and share your address book between the two programs. Documentation comes in the program's help files.
PMINews still has a great interface (GIF, 23K), possibly the best of the bunch. It looks good and gets you around quickly.
Its method of managing subscriptions is a little different from what you'd find elsewhere, and introduces the concept of Group lists - collections of newsgroups divided by categories you define, such as "OS/2", "Music", "Sports", and so on. Each Grouplist has its own settings, signatures and filters that are kept separate from the rest.
However, there still does not seem to be a way of sharing signatures or filters between these group lists, or with PMMail. This could make it a real chore to copy a filter over from one group list to another if you wanted it to be truly global.
They say the best way to hide something is to make it as obvious as day, especially if people are used to searching hard to find it. That's the case with the newsgroup Filter/Search tool in PMINews. Right underneath the list of newsgroups in the left hand column is a text box for entering a search term or filter, such as "music" or "os2". This handy filter will then trim the list of newsgroups, from a monstrous 25,000 down to a manageable 10 or 20 containing your search term. Yet after the first release of PMINews there were an amazing number of first-time users who never noticed it and complained there was no search feature. Conditioned to looking through mazes of nested menus, they missed it time and time again. Well start de-conditioning yourself, because this is a great feature. SouthSoft have often come up with gems of user interface design and this is just one of them. I'd love to see this in more software like browsers and file managers.
Reading articles (GIF, 10K) is handled simply and elegantly. With buttons similar to the ones you'll find in PMMail, you can dedicate a single window to the job of reading article bodies and click backwards and forwards through them easily. When composing articles, PMINews offers its own spell checker and access to the Address Book it shares with PMMail -- should you also have that installed. Right-click over the body text area and you can get quick access to any canned replies you've set up.
In PMINews, filtering is both powerful and easy. In fact it had the most powerful filtering abilities of all the news readers we covered, extending far beyond the generic "killfile." While it didn't have the easy access and setup of the Filter Wizards in ProNews/2, it offered a complete Internet Communication Search Language (ICSL), identical to the one found in PMMail, in addition to a much simpler method for users not inclined to learn ICSL. This language, easy to learn but a bit heavy on the symbolic side, allows one to create complex filters that can search the header of an article. Once a result of "True" has been found (the article matches the filter's criteria), the user can then set the filter to perform a wide number of functions on it, anything from deleting it (like a killfile) to highlighting it with a color you drag-n-drop from one of Warp's floating color palettes.
PMINews actually builds ICSL filters for itself on the fly, which you can edit later, to handle the 'killfile' and track replies to your postings.
Rexx scripting is also supported, with "exit" hooks available after an article is downloaded from the server, before a new article is posted to the server, or when the program itself starts or exits. These could be used to append a tag-line to your posts, for example.
PMINews is also the best newsreader for multiple news server (GIF, 15K) support. Its support for any number of servers is nothing short of outstanding, giving you an easy way of tracking local, specialty and niche newsgroups that aren't carried by the greater Usenet conglomerate. Master newsgroup lists are kept separate for each server, yet within group lists you can seamlessly mix newsgroups from different servers together and not have to worry. PMINews will handle the task of connecting to the right server in the background.
Sadly, Southside have done nothing to improve the horrible binary decoding system. Suffice to say, this is not the newsreader you want if you enjoy surfing for files in the binary newsgroups (regardless of the legal or moral value of the files you surf for ;-) While it can elegantly decode single-part attachments and display them in a frame of the read-article window (the same way PMMail does it) it is nothing but backwards when it comes to handling multipart postings. Don't expect it to find all the parts in a posting for you, don't expect it to even get them the right way around (you'll have to spend a few minutes shuffling their order around with 'Up/Down' buttons if you want the file to decode in one piece at all), and don't expect it to manage the dozens of different batch-job windows it'll sprout up all over the place if you work on more than one set of files.
The performance of the database driving PMINews is questionable, and sometimes very problematic. In medium-high volume newsgroups like comp.os.os2.advocacy I noticed PMINews would freeze for a while and "think about" collapsing the tree for a long message thread in a newsgroup with lots of articles, sometimes taking as long as half a minute or more before responding to your mouse click (as an extreme example, on my K6-200 MHz machine with 1 meg of cache and 32 megs of 10 nanosecond Synchronous DRAM, it took PMINews 1 minute and 15 seconds to collapse a particularly long thread in this busy OS/2 newsgroup.)
Very high volume newsgroups are an even worse case. On my news server there is one newsgroup that can have as many as 20,000 articles in it when you first subscribe (alt.binaries.sounds.mp3). Since PMINews has no means of restricting how many headers you download at a time, the program rapidly broke down and thrashed uselessly in the face of such volume.
To confirm that these two problems were unique to PMINews and not a common problem with other readers, I went and tested the same load in ProNews/2 and Internet Adventurer 1.21 - both could collapse long threads in high-traffic newsgroups instantaneously, ProNews/2 handled the BIG newsgroups with remarkable ease, and while Internet Adventurer balked a bit, it recovered faster than PMINews and was able to display the article list. I really do not enjoy giving such a negative opinion, but after many hours of laborious testing and several reinstalls, I don't see how I could come to any other conclusion.
If you don't frequent such high-trafficked newsgroups, or your news server never holds that many messages before purging, it'd be safe to use PMINews reliably. Otherwise, I'd say the program's database cannot yet handle the initial surge of subscribing to LARGE newsgroups.
Revising the verdict I gave in the first review of PMINews when it was still at the 1.0 level, I feel the product is now ready for prime time, but only for the casual user - for which it serves its purpose beautifully. But keep in mind, if binary decoding prowess or agility in high-volume newsgroups is important to you, you may wish to try something else. I strongly feel that SouthSoft should really concentrate their efforts on tuning the database that drives PMINews and squeezing more performance and tolerance from it. A more user-friendly approach to binaries would be appreciated too.
Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.
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