The first in a series of articles about how to get the most out of your broadband ISP: learn how to take advantage of Internode's USENET server using free, open source software.
Updates: * 2008/04/07: Included information about adding Internode's Astraweb service into SABnzbd configuration.
* 2008/04/07: Updated link to more recent version of SABnzbd.
Early in 2006, Australian ISP Internode impressed users by launching a free premium USENET service. While many ISPs already offer some form of a USENET service, few (well, none) carry the binary newsgroups, so it was big news that Internode's service would actually have these groups.
The service was quite popular, but unfortunately was discontinued a little over a year later. A few months later though it was back, to the general delight of all.
Even more recently, Internode blew their customers [ed: you mean "away" though, right?] with the announcement that their USENET service would receive another boost with the addition of major USEnet services Giganews and Astraweb, offering much better covereage and massively increased retention (meaning improved access to a older content on USEnet).
One important thing to note: access to the service is still metered. The service itself is free to use if you're an Internode customer (if you wanted to use Giganews normally you're looking at between US$8 and US$25 a month for access).
Now, using Usenet for text-based content is a piece of cake. The built-in Windows email application Outlook Express (and the newer, flashier Windows Live Mail) has newsgroup functionality sufficient for reading and posting to text-based newsgroups.
However, as I previously alluded, the Big Thing for Usenet isn't the text-based groups. It's the binary groups. A binary group is really just a text group but it has binary files (which could be anything - images, movies, mp3s, applications, anything) encoded into a text format so that they can be posted and distributed.
To summarise - the basic idea is that you take a binary file (say, an image), encode it into a text format so it can be posted into the text-only medium that is Usenet, and then users can retrieve those files and then decode from the text format into the original binary format. Sounds easy, right?!
Well, no. The reality is that it is a bit of a pain in the ass. You can buy some software that'll make your life easier, but hey - let's see if we can do it for free.
Please note - this guide is a simple HOWTO. I don't go into the concepts; there's better guides out there that provide more details. This is just for people that want to know how to download things, not for people that want to, like, learn stuff.
How to download binary content from Usenet
Step 1: Find stuff to download
Visit your favourite binary newsgroup indexing website. Two good ones are binsearch.info and nzbindex.nl. I'll use binsearch.info as the basis for this example.
Search for the files you want, or just browse the newsgroups and look for interesting things. I like nice, pretty high resolution pictures of space things, so let's try alt.binaries.astronomy.
Select the file/files that you want and click 'Create NZB'. The site will generate a .nzb file and send it to you.
Save the generated .NZB file somewhere you can find it - your desktop, or My Documents.
Step 2: Get the software you need to use this NZB file.
Download SABnzbd, an open source application for Windows and Linux. We have a mirror of the installer to make this a little easier (v0.3.4 at the time of writing).
Install it. It's dead simple; just run the installer.
Start up SABnzbd by clicking the icon on the desktop, or from the Start Menu. Once it's started, you'll get a screen that looks like the following:
Now we need to configure it. Don't panic, this is easy.
Click 'Servers' in the new sub-menu that is opened.
Add a new server with information that looks like so:
UPDATE! As of the 4th March 2008, Internode have switched on their combo USEnet service, which includes not one but two premium USEnet providers - Astraweb and Giganews.
This means you can now have two servers in your configuration - simply click 'Add server' again and add a new entry for the server astraweb.internode.on.net.
Step 3: Load the .NZB file into SABnzbd
Now we need to feed the generated .NZB file we got from binsearch.info into SABnzbd.
Click the 'Home' link in SABnzbd's menu.
Load the .NZB file into SABnzb using the 'Add file' button. Just click 'browse', select the .NZB file you created in Step 2, and then hit 'Add'.
This will start the downloading process immediately! (Note: if you have paused SABnzbd or it starts in Pause mode, you might need to click 'Resume' directly underneath the 'Home' button.
Click the 'Queue' link to check the progress of your download. Press 'toggle verbosity' until you get something that looks like the below image:
This shows how much is left to download as well as how long the file has to download. To make sure it's all working as you'd expect, just check and see if 'Download speed' is positive - if it is, it's downloading and all is - hopefully - working well.
Step 4: Enjoy your downloaded files
The default location for SABnzbd's downloads is in 'My Documents', in a folder called download (if you get adventurous, you can change that). Open up the folder and look for your files - and you're done!
The resulting file for me was a much huger version of the below image, which I include just because it is awesome.