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Thursday, August 23
Finally! A newsgroup reader for us Outlook users which doesn't totally suck!

Last year I rediscovered the fun of newsgroups, though more for binaries than for actual conversation - I was a child of the 90s so newsgroups were a thing of the past for me, I went straight to IM and forums (forae?) for my conversation fix. Anyway, recently I switched to Virgin Media for my broadband service and I knew that they have a fairly well-run newsgroups server which also has a load of Tech Support forums (which are all the more valuable now their telephone support costs 60p a minute from a BT phone and T-Mobile would charge me £1.25 per minute!) I experimented with a few NNTP clients like Forté Agent, XPN (a cross-platform client built in Python and using GTK for its GUI), plus the maybe more well-known clients like XNews.

I'm a hardcore Outlook fan though - I sync my phone via ActiveSync with Outlook, I read my emails from several email accounts in Outlook, I organise my life in Outlook. Outlook Express has an NNTP reader in it, but Outlook doesn't - one of life's cute little ironies. (If you manually add a News button to its menu, it just fires up Outlook Express. Hah.) A couple of the news clients were alright, and I've not uninstalled two of them, but I still wanted more integration. Integration is what I try to attain above all else, because you know if it's been integrated the UI is going to be (probably) streamlined to go with its parent program, and will be familiar in its implementation. A little while after doing some pointed Googlage to find peer reviews, it seemed that MAPILab's NNTP for Outlook add-on was near enough the only half-good NNTP interface for Outlook, so I decided to check out their site and give it a whirl.

Now, I'm the eternal cynicist: I never expect anything to work and I'm used to drawn-out installations and loads of tweaking afterwards to make it work. Prime example: any Windows installation. Ugh. However, the most difficult part of the installation for this piece of software was probably typing in the newsgroup server name - it was that simple. Installation was easy, just click and it goes. It told me how to set up an account using the MAPILab NNTP MAPI interface (you have to click on "Other account type" and it's the only choice in the list, unless you have other third party MAPI interfaces), and then the MAPILab dialogs come up and prompt you for your info.

Once they're set up, you just set up Outlook and choose your newsgroups like you would in any other NNTP client - but the beauty of it is that all the messages are accessible just like your emails, so you can filter, arrange, sort, forward, set up custom rules - all the good stuff us Outlook users are used to. The great thing about Outlook 2003 (and newer) is that you can arrange your messages in a hierarchical structure, but still have all of the Outlook functionality without having to export or convert, it's all just there, ready to go, and the NNTP account synchronises along with your other email accounts if you have Outlook set up to check your mail every x minutes. Another very cool feature.

The only downside is that it only has a 30 day trial - but MAPILab are currently offering a free copy of whatever software they choose to trial if you go and blog about it, which is a pretty cool thing! Generous software company = willing free promotion on my part! This'll probably attract the cry of "shill!" from my techy friends, but screw em, I don't get many freebies... And to be blunt, I'm too lazy to heap praise on every old thing which comes along. I was genuinely impressed by this software, its simplicity and its functionality, and if there's a chance to get this bit of software free then that's just a cool little advantage. (It's only $24, which works out to £12 given the exchange rates at the moment, so it's hardly expensive.)

I'd actually written this before I saw the promotion on the MAPILab web site (the first I read of the promotion was when I went onto the site to buy a key for it!) - one thing they do is keep quite quiet about their products, or if they do advertise, I've not seen any ads for their stuff. I guess it's primarily word of mouth which sustains products like this, but they also do a raft of other tools and bits and pieces for Windows software, including Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Microsoft Excel add-ons. I'm going to be a user for the foreseeable future, I really dig this piece of software! And if it helps me stay a little more organised, at least on my computer, that's got to be a good thing (I'm awfully messy in real life, if you ever saw my computer desktop you'd see I'm often fighting a losing battle with all my icons!)

So, in a word: really handy. Well, two words. Its key advantages:

  • Seamless Outlook integration
  • All of the same flexibility and functionality Outlook provides for emails (sorting, filtering etc) without having to muck about with exporting or importing CSV files etc
  • Cheap! (especially when you consider the ridiculous prices of some Windows software nowadays <COUGHVistaCOUGHOffice>
  • Uses the same interface and features for composing newsgroup messages as Outlook provides for emails (in fact, it IS the same interface, and the MAPILab MAPI interface handles all of the conversion and sending/receiving of new messages on the fly) so you can run with plaintext or richtext HTML messages, embedding of content, attachments, all that lovely stuff that newsgroups are useful for!

If you're a newsgroups user, and your communications already revolve around Outlook for your day to day operations, then I definitely suggest you give MAPILab's software a go and see if it helps you. It did for me. :)

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
into his blog at 8/23/2007 09:55:00 PM. Roughly.
Blog ID: 9033384800586461841·
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