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"So, what's up with this 'Usenet' or 'newsgroup' business that I keep hearing about in passing", you've probably wondered. Well, considering that it has been around since the 1980s, it's probably time that someone cleared that question up for you. Traditionally, it was a way of storing articles, posts, and, well, news in a sequential method across a wide array of servers. Specific categories, such as "sci.physics" or "talk.politics" could be given their own group designations on specific servers, wherein the servers are then linked into a larger, vast network. A user, with a subscription to a collection of Usenet servers and a reader, can then have the individual, 7-bit ASCII encoded, files re-assembled into a readable, threaded BBS-like, email-esque article aggregator. A few new questions arise like, "what does this have to do with downloading Linux distributions"? Well, thanks to the "magic" of what is known as "yEnc", a normal, binary file (like an ISO or a RAR file) can be converted to multiple 7-bit ASCII files. Essentially, "Fedora7.ISO" is now twenty, garbled text equivalent files. If you've ever downloaded a large file via a peer-networked torrent, you might notice that it is split into 30 or so annoying RAR files - that's a file that was taken from a Usenet binary network and seeded to the torrent hive. With Usenet, using a downloading application that can reassemble the yEnc files, you're essentially downloading a very large sequence of text files from what is equivalent to a regular HTTP server.
What does this mean security wise - will I be throttled by my ISP and watched by copyright agencies? Is my information safe!? These are important questions (note the interrobang-lite at the end of the last one) that, thanks to most Usenet providers, can be simply and pleasurably answered. Since the traffic is often sent via encrypted SSL and acts just like any other normal packet, it would be an almost impossible, immeasurable amount of work to determine what the data you are actually receiving is. Thus, it's just not feasible to throttle it. This means, if your Usenet provider is respectable, you should be able to constantly max out your connection. Yes, that's correct, downloads of an ISO file in just a few minutes. You also have to remember that copyright agencies can and only will (under the DMCA) trap and prosecute individuals who share files. Because you are downloading seemingly random packets from a regular but encrypted set of servers, you never actually share anything (you can learn how to upload to a newsgroup yourself, it's a bit of work, but still relatively safe - I won't go into details here). With a Torrent network, you're directly connected to peers and forced to both share and download from users - some of them are often even fake "honeypot" users that are actually a RIAA/MPAA trap to prosecute you. That's the nature of a Torrent network.
Using a good, reliable Usenet provider means that they never store anything besides server logs and provide header encryption. This means that, unless you determine how to be a content uploader, there is absolutely no way to associate your credentials and information (including your IP address, et cetera) to a specific file. Even if there was, no one would care! Usenet servers are protected under the "DMCA Safe Harbor regulations" and are so impossible to crack, the RIAA/MPAA has given up. That's why you've never heard of Usenet - they don't want you to! For more information about the technology at hand, please check these links: Usenet, yEnc. Now to the fun part - getting Usenet purchased, configured, and setup!
Now that you've purchased an account, you'll want to get a file searching website and a file downloading program. Firstly, login to this Astraweb site and keep the window with "Setup Instructions" open (it has port information that is important). Next, download my favorite, Python-tastic, downloader, SABnzbd. It's a bit odd, because it runs like a webscript. Nonetheless, launch SABnzbd and click "Config" then "Servers". Use the following settings (set your username and password to the details you registered with on the Astraweb site) and click "Add Server".
Next, if you'd like to configure custom folders for your files (under "Folders"), here's an example of how to enter your directories - click "Save changes" at the bottom to set.
There's nothing else you need to configure here, unless you want to set scheduling options (which I find very helpful to prevent bandwidth issues). You can click "shutdown" to exit (it may take a few seconds) - now let's go over file searching information.
My favorite searching website is http://nzbs.org. Unfortunately, they aren't currently accepting registrations, so I recommend using http://nzbindex.nl/ or http://binsearch.info/. There are also communities like Merlin's portal, but those store data like a forum does, so I would steer clear of them. If you're willing to pay a small fee, http://www.nzbsrus.com/ is also solid. All you need to do now, is download the compiled newsbin file and launch it to start SABnzbd! But, be sure to remember to check file sizes and use your common sense when starting a download - you don't want to download rubbish.