The Usenet is just one of a range of news systems which exist worldwide. It networks a large number of news servers right across the world. Access to the Usenet is only possible via special software, so-called Newsreaders. These exchange data with the news servers and enable users to download articles or place articles on the servers themeselves.
Some Usenet-Newsreader also support the exchange of so-called binaries. This enables the downloading of files. Since this process takes place directly via the server of the relevant provider, rapid downloads which take full advantage of the user’s broadband speed are possible. The UseNeXT service is just such a Newsreader and is offered for download free of charge here.
Alternatively, the Usenet is also accessible via web interfaces (such as Google Groups). These, however, frequently offer only restricted functionality, whereas Newsreaders such as UseNeXT make it possible to undertake a simple search in the Usenet.
The term “Newsgroups” refers to the global discussion forums within the Usenet. These work in a similar way to the various other forums available on the Internet and make it possible for users to read articles on a certain topic or post their own articles. The administrator of a news server determines how long articles remain on the server (so-called retention time). Communication takes place as described above via the news servers and using Newsreader.
The various groups are divided into thematic hierarchies which provide information on the topics and files being debated. Most worldwide Newsgroups are subdivided into nine hierarchies. The main hierarchies to which this applies are the so-called Big Eight, namely comp.*, talk.*, soc.*, sci.*, humanities.*, misc.*, news.* and rec.*. By way of contrast, the other major hierarchy, alt.*, is not subject to any kind of monitoring and this contains a large number of different Newsgroups. The alt.binaries.* Newsgroups, which enable various files to be exchanged, also form part of the alt.* hierarchy.