anacea Software won the OS/2 e-Zine! Readers' Choice award in 1996 for their HTML Studio web authoring software; due to this, there are likely to be large expectations placed on them in terms of software quality. That said, ProNews/2, fresh out of a long beta cycle, is beyond all expectations.
Installation is a snap; ProNews/2 doesn't use the IBM standard installer, but their own (GIF, 4.2K) is quite intuitive. You select a directory, whether to create program icons and install the spell-check dictionary, and click "Install." You can read the "Read Me" while it's unzipping itself.
When you first run the program, a simplified configuration dialog (GIF, 4.7K) prompts you to select your NNTP (news) and SMTP (e-mail) servers. Enter your e-mail address and an optional "real name" description, and select whether you want ProNews/2 to immediately download the full list of newsgroups available from your server. If you do not enter at least the news server address in this dialog, ProNews/2 will not perform any actions until you go into the Settings and enter it (sometimes convenient, depending on how you work.)
In the actual settings notebook (GIF, 8.1K), you'll find a plethora of options. There are a total of 27 pages under 14 tabs, and very little space is wasted. Everything from colors and fonts, to language codepages (including Russian KOI-8R), to the standard sort-order of article lists, is controlled from this one concise dialog. All changes take effect globally the instant you close the window.
Once you load the group list from the server, the complete list is available under the All Groups tab (GIF, 12K). By default, though, it's not a simple list like in most browsers. The group list is set up like the Tree view of a directory or folder: initially, you only see the top-level categories (alt, rec, comp, etc.); click the '+' beside each category, and it drops down to the next level, and so on. This can be changed in the settings dialog: you can set a maximum branching depth, or you can turn off the 'tree' entirely. Double-click a group from this list (which has full "Find" functionality), or just enter a group name manually, and you're subscribed. Depending on your configuration, ProNews/2 will automatically retrieve all article headers, and can be set to immediately download the body texts as well.
On the Subscriptions tab (GIF, 12K), you will find a list of all the groups you're currently subscribed to, as well as special groups for messages you've sent and messages you've saved. (Normally, messages are purged after they're no longer available on the server. This can also be disabled.) There are indicators for whether a group has any new messages in it and whether anything is currently in the process queue for each group.
Double-click any subscribed group and it will pop up in a group window (GIF, 26K). This is a combined article list and article reader. The articles in the list are sorted into subject threads and subthreads and placed in a tree like that used for the group list. ProNews/2 can often place an article in the proper subthread even if its subject line has been changed from the rest of the thread. I don't pretend to know what in the NNTP header format allows them to play this trick, but I've never seen it before and I like it very much.
Navigating the group window is quite easy. The tab key switches you between the article reader and the article list. In the list, the up and down arrows scroll to the next/previous article; Page Up/Down and Home/End work as expected. In the reader window the spacebar pages down the article body, and after it reaches the end, jumps to the next unread article.
MIME attachments and regular UUEncoded or Base64 attachments found in an article body can be, at your option, automatically decoded and placed in a directory of your choosing. ProNews/2 does an excellent job of handling large, multipart binaries: select any single part (for instance, 11 of 30) for decoding, and it will locate the other 29 parts, download them in order, and decode them as a single article. ProNews/2 will warn you if all the parts are not available, and give you the option of manually decoding what you can.
ProNews/2 has a very good highlighting scheme for article text. URLs, e-mail addresses, quoted text (in replies) and quotations (inside quotes) can all be assigned a different color. URLs and addresses can be clicked on, launching Netscape (or sending the URL to the currently running copy of Netscape) or composing an e-mail from within ProNews/2. Occasionally a weird reply-quoting format (like AOL's) will be missed, and 'smilies' sitting alone on a line are usually colored as quotes (because they start with a colon -- the second most common quoting character), and anything with an @ in it is thought to be an e-mail address. Otherwise I find the coloration quite useful. And like 99% of the program, they can be turned off if you don't like them.
When posting a new article or a reply, via newsgroup or e-mail, the same message editor (GIF, 23K) is used. If you have a signature configured for attachment to all messages, it will already be shown in this window, below any quoted reply text. You can select any number of newsgroups and e-mail addresses to send your message to, and you can edit all of the user-defined header information with the Options button. The Attachments button allows you to add multiple files to one article or to split a file into several posts.
There is also a quick, efficient spell checker (GIF, 6.2K) called Spell Guard included for use in the message editor. One thing I quickly discovered is that this is not a typo checker; I tested it on one of the most common typos, "teh" instead of "the," and it replied with "teach," "teeth," and "tenth" as possible corrections. Also, the included dictionary doesn't have things like "http" or "www" in it, which for this particular application is a rather annoying oversight. This is the only portion of the program that wasn't included in the beta tests, and unfortunately it shows.
No newsreader would be complete without a filtering system. Too many newsgroups, especially in the alt.* hierarchy, are rife with get-rich-quick and buy-my-porn spam, of which most people just don't want to deal with. ProNews/2, however, takes filters a step beyond. Using the filter wizard (GIF, 10K), you can not only specify a multitude of criteria for each filter, but you can also select from a wide range of actions, from the standard Hide and Delete to things like Highlight, Copy to saved, and Mark as unread.
Most applications these days have a button bar across the top of the window. ProNews/2 is no exception, and its toolbars have the added bonus of being fully configurable. There is a wide list of options available for any given button, and the selection changes depending on the window type you're creating the button for. Also, you're not limited to the built-in set of icons: a .bmp file of your own design can be used for any button.
One of the truly unique things about this program is that you have full control of the process queue. The Queue tab (GIF, 15K) lets you move any given task up or down, to the top or bottom, suspend or kill it completely. Also, tasks are divided into four categories: Article, Binary, Miscellaneous, and Post. ProNews/2 will make multiple simultaneous connections for each category automatically, up to limits set by you, and optionally break those connections as soon as the current task is finished. The connections tab allows you to monitor and kill active connections. Plus, new connections can be made manually (regardless of limits you have set). This management is useful should you want to download an article immediately while all of the Article connections are still busy getting the headers for other newsgroups.
Important to note is that, for the average user, one does not need to worry about the queue or connections control tabs. Knowledge of their use is not necessary to enjoy the program.
As far as I'm concerned, only two major things are missing from ProNews/2. The first is seamless support for multiple servers: there are small, private servers that only carry their own hierarchies and it would be nice to have groups from those available alongside the regular Usenet groups. Second, is POP3 (e-mail fetching) support. Add an "e-mail" group, have mail threaded the same way as news articles, and I could get rid of my old e-mail client. Also nice would be the ability to create multiple user-titled "Saved Messages" groups.
With ProNews/2, Panacea Software has achieved that oft-strived-for state of software Zen which combines all the best features of Unix and Macintosh. It is both end-user-friendly and power-user-friendly; intuitive and configurable. And in the full spirit of shareware, the first 45 days of usage are nag-free and completely uncrippled. (But I don't see why anyone would wait a whole 45 days.)
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