Reviewed and rated: the best Linux newsreaders

5. KNode

You may never have guessed it, but KNode is the Usenet client of KDE. It takes advantage of all the foundations available in KDE and it shows. KNode has lots of useful features and configuration options to put at your service. Maybe this is the reason why, the first time we started it, it was so slow to retrieve and show the list of newsgroups available on the server – we seriously thought that our version was severely broken: it just lay there in the middle of the screen, without any error or progress message. After a few minutes, however, it woke up and gave us a list of newsgroups. After that we never had any other performance problem.

That's define

KNode is a powerful newsreader. It can handle an unlimited number of NNTP servers and it lets you define a different default identity and policy for article retention (which KNode calls cleanup) for each identity.

After you've subscribed to a newsgroup, you can override those default values with more appropriate ones if necessary. Just remember that, unlike Pan and other programs discussed in these pages, when you start using it KNode doesn't ask you to define at least one server to connect to. It just sits happily in its window until you configure at least one account and tell it to go get the news.

Eventually, when you select a group you can only choose to download all new articles, without limiting it to those newer than N days. One of the biggest, if not the main strength of KNode is its scoring capabilities. Don't get confused by the several KNode entries about scoring, watching or ignoring threads. In practice, they are always the same feature. More exactly, you can assign to a thread scores from -10,000 to +10,000: 'Watch' is a shortcut to set the score of the selected thread to 100, 'Ignore' to -100.

The Scoring Rule Editor is accessible from the top menu (Scoring > Edit Scoring Rules) after giving the rule a name. Next, you can enter all the newsgroups for which that rule is valid. After that, you can define as many conditions as you wish. There are several types of conditions: you can tell KNode to look for plain strings or regular expressions in the subject, author or Message-IDs headers.

Alternatively, you may look for articles posted before or after a given date, or whose references or line number exceed some threshold. When you're done, you realise that 'Scoring' is a deceptive name for this function. 'Adjust Score' is, in fact, just one of the actions that KNode can perform when all the conditions match. The others are colouring the article subject in the article list, opening it in a separate window or marking it as read.

You can 'copy' existing rules, that is, use it as a base for a similar one with another name, instead of typing everything again. The rule list in the left-hand pane of the Rule editor has buttons to alter the order in which they are applied.

Work to rule

Mastering the Rule Editor is essential if you plan to use KNode, also because it's the only way to get the KNode version of a traditional killfile. If you don't want to read any message from 'Joe Troll' you need to give a negative score to his messages, then click on the funnel button and activate the 'Watched' filter.

Of course, KNode isn't just scoring and searching. It also lets you use an external editor, add or verify digital signatures and cancel, or supersede, articles that you already posted (if the server supports such functions).

Finally, we like its article pane, which shows very clearly the newsgroups to which an article was posted, the value of the 'Follow-up To' header and links to all the articles referenced by the current one.

Verdict: KNode has one of the best article scoring interfaces around.
Rating: 7/10

6. Pan

Pan is a fast, lightweight but very complete Usenet client originally developed for the Gnome desktop but now also available for Windows and Mac. There's nothing special to report about the look and feel of the user interface, but don't take this as a liability: Pan keeps everything you need in sight, without making a big deal of it or getting in the way. Almost all menus and functions are usable without the mouse.

The toolbar has two search boxes: one is for newsgroups on the server and the other is to find, inside the current newsgroup, all articles with a given string in the author or subject. The right half of the toolbar hosts several buttons to only view articles that are, for example, complete or already cached. During general configuration you can declare as many servers as you like and set the maximum number of simultaneous connections both on a per-server and on a per-session basis.

To make heavy Usenet surfing even more efficient, Pan has a download task manager. This is a panel that appears when you click on the button in the bottom-left corner of the Pan window. Inside the manager you can cancel, pause or restart any ongoing task at will. You can even assign different priorities to each task and change them while the tasks are still running. As a result, you can read text articles as quickly as possible even while you're downloading binaries from half the Usenet. With one exception, scoring is pretty flexible.

As in KNode, 'Watch' and 'Ignore' are just synonyms for 'give a particularly high or low score to this thread': the only difference is that Pan uses higher values for these two functions, namely -9,999 and +9,999. In all other other cases, you have plenty of matching criteria and scoring actions and can set the duration of a rule.

What's the score?

If you need scoring to happen when subject or author of the article match some pattern, Pan understands regular expressions. Alternatively, you can tell Pan to score according to article size, line count, age in days, references or number of newsgroups to which the article itself was posted. Once you're done defining the rule, you can add it to the list for later use or immediately 'rescore' all the articles in the newsgroup.

Only two things are missing from Pan's scoring system: you can't name your rules, and you can't have more than one condition in each rule. All the other features you may probably need in a newsgroup client are present. Each subscribed newsgroup can have a different character encoding and directory for saving attachments.

Pan supports every encoding scheme Usenet can throw at you and knows how to deal with multi-part articles. Graphics attachments show up scaled in the article pane: displaying them in their actual size takes only one click. One irritation concerns the search function: imagine you want to have a look inside linux.kernel for the subject 'Debian' – just enter that string in the search box. But this filter remains active even if you move to an unrelated group, so you find yourself staring at an empty window until you end the search.

Apart from that minor oddity, however, Pan has one of the most complete feature sets around and is a pleasure to use.

Verdict: Excellent binary support, scoring system and a friendly interface.
Rating: 8/10

The verdict

We know that we've already said this, but Usenet is a weird world with services and architecture different from that of email, file sharing or any other corner of cyberspace. If you only use newsgroups for writing and reading text articles, Usenet becomes little more than an alternative to mailing lists or web forums, albeit with more spam and background noise.

If this is the case, or if you're only interested in one or two text newsgroups, then you probably don't need a separate newsreader; not if you're already using Thunderbird, for sure, or any other good email client. In the same scenario, Gnus is perfect if you already live in Emacs, especially if you have invested lots of energies in customising the editor.

SLRN is the way to go if you can only access the Usenet or some private newsgroup through accounts on remote servers, and the possibility to play with macros makes it very interesting for aspiring geeks. Ditto for XPN if you grok Python: it's a nice program with lots of features, but a code base that's small enough to make hacking XPN an interesting project.

XPN and Thunderbird are also the two most portable clients. They will work if you set them up properly together with a Python interpreter and the right libraries for XPN, even if you carry them around on a USB stick to plug into whatever computer is available.

Komplete news

Knode is very complete and has probably the most flexible scoring system of any app in this Roundup, with XPN coming a close second. Because of this KNode may be the best solution if you follow several text-only newsgroups. Another advantage of KNode is that it lets you share address books and other email-related settings with KMail or the rest of the Kontact PIM, the KDE personal information manager.

Then again, Usenet isn't just text, is it? Yes, it's an immense repository of warez, adult material and other stuff that your mother wouldn't want you to download, but it also stores lots of interesting material, from historical photos to projects from woodcraft to electronics.

Pan is better for binaries, so we declare it to be the winner of this roundup. As already noted, its scoring system isn't as flexible as the one in Knode, but it's quite good anyway. Therefore, we consider Pan the best overall solution for heavy users of all the Usenet, be it text or not.


From Linux Format issue 117

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