Everything you ever wanted to know of Newsgroups and were afraid to ask

This is the last of the series of columns on ways to obtain computer help. This week we want to explore the Newsgroups.

For those not familiar with the Newsgroups, they comprise just another service available on the Internet. Their purpose is to have a place where interested users can "post" what amounts to email messages to others with similar interests and then get answers to their postings. They are very much like kiosks that you find on college campuses. People thumbtack, or post, messages on the kiosk where others can read them. Then one or more people will tack up their answer to the other person's message.

There are close to 30,000 of these newsgroups covering almost every conceivable topic. Each Newsgroup has an Internet address somewhat like a World Wide Web address. For instance, "" is the Newsgroup address for those interested in traveling in the Caribbean.

To reach the Newsgroups from your computer, connect to the Internet in your normal manner. Then, if you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, click on the Mail icon, and then click on Read News.

Using Netscape Navigator, click on Communicator and then click on Newsgroups. Finally, for AOL, click on Internet then click on Newsgroups.

Use the above procedures and you are taken to a special program inside your browser that works with the Newsgroups. This program is called a newsreader.

Personally, I use Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 which has an excellent newsreader that is easy to use and navigate.

Once you have accessed the Newsgroups you can search for topics. Entering the word "Microsoft" beings up literally hundreds of Newsgroups. Some disparage Microsoft. Others, like "microsoft.public.win98.gen_discussion" have over three thousand messages concerning general topics having to do with Windows 98.

If you were having a problem with your Windows 98 program, you could search through the 3000 messages, or postings, and probably find someone else with the same problem. If someone has answered the question, you might find your solution there.

If you don't find an answer to your particular question, you might "post" your own question and check in a day or so and see if someone has answered you.

Newsgroups are not for everyone. They still are a little "nerdy" to use and still have their own terminology, like "subscribing," and searching for particular things can be a chore. However, once you get used to how your particular Internet browser handles Newsgroups, you will find them very valuable. Unfortunately not every browser handles the Newsgroups in the same manner. You might have to experiment.

I don't do just "techy" things with the Newsgroups. Recently we were contemplating a cruise and I looked at the Newsgroup "" There were 5000 postings and I looked at those that had to do with the cruise line we were considering. After reading the postings and comments, we decided to look at another cruise company.

As explained earlier, the Newsgroups are toward the end of the "help" food chain, just before calling Technical Support. But many times I find that they are the perfect place to get an answer to a specific problem because almost certainly someone else in "computer space" is having the same problem and I can gain from their experiences. Give them a try and just browse through some of them because you will find interesting things there.

And, of course, if you can't find your answers in the Newsgroups, come to Coffee and Computers at the Tustin Area Senior Center any Friday morning between 9 and noon.

In the mean-time, keep the neurons happy, the synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

 Return to Doc's Home Page