Usenet has been available at universities and corporations since long before the internet was available to people in their homes. It has always been a great medium for sharing thoughts and ideas, and many of the earliest “open source” projects shared their software using the various comp.source.* newsgroups. Today, it has moved from it’s original discussion driven design to include all types of digital media, including various types of executables, videos, music and images which can usually be found in the alt.binaries.* groups. Using modern newsreader software and a good Usenet provider the Usenet provides excellent speed and reliability which is often missing from other file-sharing options, such as BitTorrent or LimeWire.
What is Usenet?
For a detailed history of Usenet I recommend that you got to Wikipedia. They have a very large, detailed and … well… boring explanation of the history of Usenet. Most people that are reading this posting really don’t care about the history, they want to know about what it is today.
Okay, maybe a little history is in order; the original design of Usenet was loosely based on the old Bulletin Board Systems of the late 70s and early 80s. One major difference between Usenet and a BBS is that instead of everyone connecting to a central computer via a modem to access data, Usenet systems each get a copy of the articles allowing users to read them locally. This design worked well for universities and corporations, and helped to reduce the cost of operating a Usenet server. Typical operation was to set up your server to call a couple of neighboring servers (hopefully local) and exchange whatever articles they had, those servers would talk to their neighbors. Eventually articles would get to someone with a hard-line to another city and the sharing would continue; many universities had permanent connections with other universities, and some large corporations had their offices inter-connected as well.
The Usenet still operates in this fashion, but the large inter-connected companies are now called ‘Tier-1 Providers”. There are anywhere from 4-10 of the Tier-1 providers, depending on whom you believe. Most the Tier-1 providers are increasing their storage so that their article retention and completion are nearly 100% for the last few years. The primary exception to this is articles which get removed in response to DMCA take down notices from copyright owners.
What can I do with Usenet
Usenet was originally designed for the sharing of ideas, and there are still many newsgroups that are dedicated to just that. Although their traffic is slowly dying off due to technologies such as forums, and blogs, many still have very lively conversations from time to time. Since the advent of the Internet, Usenet has become more of a file sharing medium, allowing users to post images, music, videos or executables for other users to enjoy.
Is Usenet legal
Most binaries posted are legal for you to download and use, but there are also some that are posted in violation of their copyright. Most people who use Usenet are smart enough to know that if you find a movie that was shown at the theater, it is almost certainly not legal to download. However, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out if an video, image or MP3 file are legal. Movie trailers are usually legal to download; many websites post some of their content as a teaser to get new members which is legal to download; some bands have privately published music which they allow people to download for free, these are legal; sometimes a user joins a website to download the content and post it to Usenet which is not legal. Regardless of how copyright material ends up on Usenet, when it happens, the copyright holder must send a “DMCA take down” message to the Usenet provider, and the Newsgroup server is legally obligated to remove those articles.