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Outlook Express

Net Notes
Published April 1999

Choosing the news server in Outlook Express.Choosing the news server in Outlook Express.

Newsgroups are one of the most valuable, yet one of the most neglected features of the Internet — indeed, many people don't even know of their existence. Kevin Perry explains how to access them and what benefits they offer for musicians.

When people talk about using the Internet, they almost always mention surfing the Web and using email. Newsgroups, which can be one of the more useful resources for musicians, usually don't get a mention. So what are newsgroups, why do I consider them to be so useful, and how do you find the interesting ones?

Essentially, a newsgroup can be considered a themed, threaded discussion forum. They're themed, because each newsgroup has a subject (for example, alt.os.windows95.crash.crash.crash deals, somewhat predictably, with Windows 95 problems) which is usually relatively self‑explanatory from the newsgroup name (although what the wonderfully named alt.2eggs.sausage.beans.tomatoes.2toast.largetea.cheerslove deals with is beyond me, and I don't have the heart to visit it and dispel any illusions I might have). They're threaded, because posts covering particular topics are grouped together (although the way that news items are labelled means that you may see a news item in a thread with a different title to the original posting). They're discussion forums because, well, they provide a forum for discussion! In other words, newsgroups offer an electronic way for people with similar interests to discuss their chosen specialised subject.

This, of course, is why they're so useful: rather than spending ages trawling through the output from search engines looking for the answer to a problem, or hunting round a manufacturer's site for some obscure tidbit of information, take a trip to a relevant newsgroup, where people with similar interests will visit, pose your question, and within a short space of time (sometimes even minutes), someone is likely to have responded with the answer! The converse also applies, of course: if you happen to be able to answer someone's problem, then reply — the value of a newsgroup is directly related to how many people bother to pass on the knowledge that they have. Newsgroups are also good places to find URLs of interest and to discover how to join various useful Internet mailing lists. Given that a news reader comes as standard with the common browsers (one is integral to Netscape, while Internet Explorer comes with the separate Outlook Express, and there are also stand‑alone news‑reading programs), what more could you possibly want?


Outlook Express displaying a list of newsgroups with 'audio' somewhere in the title.Outlook Express displaying a list of newsgroups with 'audio' somewhere in the title.

It's very easy, given the relative anonymity of newsgroups, to speak your mind without thinking of the consequences. While there aren't (yet) any laws for dealing with slander or defamation on the Internet, common sense and decency dictates that you shouldn't go around insulting ('flaming' in Net‑speak) other people. In extreme cases, when someone continues to be offensive, their ISP (Internet Service Provider) has been contacted by other users of the newsgroup (newsgroupies?) and their account terminated: alas, there's nothing to stop them signing up with another ISP, rejoining the newsgroup and continuing where they left off.

It's also considered bad taste to bring one's political, racial or religious views into a discussion (unless the newsgroup is about one of these subjects, of course!); wandering a little off topic is generally acceptable, although it is good manners to preface the title of an off‑topic post with the abbreviation 'OT' to let others know, and to allow newsgroup filters to do their job properly. Although not essential, a lot of newsgroups prefer you to use your own name rather than some obscure pseudonym (although other newsgroups seem to thrive on these nicknames — besides, who could resist reading posts from someone who calls themselves 'The Girl Who Wanted To Be God'?).

There are two things you do have to watch out for, though. Spammers are those who deliberately post off‑topic material, which wastes your time and the newsgroup provider's bandwidth and disk space. Like the excessive flamers above, these are often pursued back to their ISP. Secondly, if you post frequently on some newsgroups, you may start to find that you receive more junk email than before, brought about by programs automatically scanning through newsgroups and sending email to the posters. A common way to avoid this is to post to newsgroups using a 'junk' email address but to include your real email address as part of your signature, so that genuine newsgroup users can contact you by email if they need to.

Sniffing Out The News

There are basically two types of newsgroup: those that you gain access to through your ISP (more details later) and those that a specific company provides. Both of these can be useful to the musician, but in different ways. The ISP‑provided newsgroups are more likely to cover a wide‑ranging topic (for example, home recording) than a company's newsgroup (which is likely to cover their product or service), although there are a host of standard newsgroups dedicated to specific bands, for example.

When you first sign up with your ISP, you will be told what address to use for your news server: Virgin Net, which I use, uses the logical address of, and other ISPs are likely to use similar names for their news servers. You will need to enter this in your newsreader application (the screenshot on page 240 shows the relevant page in Outlook Express). You will probably then be asked whether you want to download a list of newsgroups from this server. This can take some time (Virgin provided over 15,000 newsgroups when I last downloaded a complete list), so remember to do it after six o'clock!

If you choose to subscribe to a newsgroup, the messages that you download are stored on your hard drive for posterity (although you can manually delete messages, or automatically delete them after a given period of time). It is also possible to browse a newsgroup without subscribing, in which case messages are not stored: do remember that this is the case if you decide to post a message and then go back at a later date to see if there have been any replies.

Some companies, as mentioned earlier (and you may have noticed in the screenshot that Cakewalk has its own newsgroups), also provide newsgroups. Sometimes these will be monitored by their technical support staff, while others are just provided as an 'as is' forum for their users. Given that these newsgroups are very much oriented towards a given product (or product range), they are often one of the best places on the Internet to look for expert advice. Unfortunately, it's also all too easy to spend all your time ploughing through the newsgroup and no time using the program... such is life in the Internet world.

Newsgroups For The Discerning Musician

So you've got 15,000 (or more) newsgroups that your ISP has so kindly provided. And that's before you even think about looking to see whether the manufacturer of your favourite sequencer/synthesizer/sausage provides a newsgroup! So how do you find relevant newsgroups? Isn't it going to be as bad as visiting the various search engines and hoping that you enter the right phrase (as a case in point, and a dull way of spending a weekend, enter Microsoft into the Alta Vista search engine — — and try to find the one link out of the thousands or millions returned that is that of Microsoft's home page)?

Fortunately, things are not that bad. Firstly, the newsgroups are generally sensibly named, as mentioned earlier. So, for example, most newsgroups dedicated to a band have the word music in the title ( for example). Second, although the news readers may list the newsgroups provided by a given news server alphabetically, and most newsgroups start with anything other than a useful word (alt, news, fido or the like), if you enter a word that you think may be in the newsgroup name (such as 'music' for example), the news reader displays those newsgroups that contain that word in their title anywhere. The screenshot on page 240 shows Outlook Express displaying the top of the list of newsgroups containing the word 'audio'.

So what words are sensible to search for? Well, thinking like the average musician, I started off entering 'audio' (returning about 30 newsgroups), 'music' (returning hundreds) and 'sounds' (some newsgroups were returned more than once). In these newsgroup titles, I then noticed some other words that seemed sensible to look for: 'samples', 'bands' and 'MIDI', all of which provided me with more potentially relevant newsgroups to sift through. A list of a handful of newsgroups to start with are given in the box to the right.

Cakewalk are one music company that provide their own newsgroups (the server name is, with about a dozen newsgroups related to the Cakewalk family of sequencers, divided into specific topics (for example, there is cakewalk.studioware for Studioware discussion and for audio‑related Cakewalk matters). For those more involved with the web, or in the multimedia world, Macromedia (who produce Flash, amongst other things) have their own news server at (wait for it) In fact, if a company's web address is, it's sometimes worth trying as a news server address to see whether they do provide their own newsgroups.


No discussion of newsgroups would be complete without mentioning Dejanews ( The Dejanews web site acts as a repository for the contents of a large number of newsgroups, sorted by category rather than name (similar to the search engine Yahoo's categorisation) and providing search facilities. Not only does this allow you to search for a particular article or forum, but once you have found an article you are interested in, you will also then know the newsgroup it came from, which means that you can go back to your news reader and subscribe to the newsgroup. This may lead you into newsgroups that you may not otherwise have bothered with, so it's another good starting place to find newsgroups that are useful to you.


To misquote Douglas Adams, "The Internet is big, really big". Which means that for a single person to find what they're looking for can take too long. There are so many Internet users out there that it's almost certain that someone else has encountered the same (or at least a similar) problem to the one that you've got. Visiting a newsgroup that deals with that subject is one of the quickest ways of finding a solution. What's more, newsgroups are also an excellent way of putting something back in: pass on your own experiences or suggestions and lots of people all over the world will benefit. There is also something of a community spirit within some newsgroups. You get to recognise the characters and quirks of frequent posters, which somehow humanises the whole Internet experience. Some newsgroups even generate their own phrases or sayings: did you know that in certain circles a Pearlman refers to an overclocked Celeron?

Some Useful Newsgroups

Here is a list of some of the newsgroups that an ISP is likely to provide access to that may be of interest to Sound On Sound readers:

  • for general recording information (not to be confused with, which deals with hi‑fi).
  •‑net for 'musicans wanted' notices (although with a noticeably US bias when I last looked).
  • alt.steinberg.cubase for users of Cubase (strangely enough).
  • alt.comp.hardware.pc‑homebuilt for those with problems getting their home‑built PCs to work, or looking for advice on building one (not music specific but useful nonetheless).
  • for samples — but watch out for copyrights!
  • alt.emusic for a wide variety of electronic music themes.
  • for a source of MIDI files (again, watch the copyright).

Although it is on the Cakewalk news server (, the cakewalk.coffeehouse is a great forum for musicians to discuss any number of different topics (many of which are not strictly music related, but are fun anyway): it's also good to see a software house providing a service that isn't directly associated with its products.