There are a couple of things Windows does better than Linux. One of the reasons I occasionally still find myself using it is to access Internet news groups.
Some might say, “So what? The ultimate Internet news is Google Groups, with its massive archive going back more than a decade. If you have a web browser, you can access it, and it doesn’t matter what operating system you use.” Which would be a good point if all we were interested in was information. But Google Groups doesn’t carry the binary news groups.
Non-text files (binaries) can be attached to news group messages in much the same way attachments are made to email messages. The binary is converted to text characters, posted, and then decoded back into binary after downloading. With email, this has become so transparent to end users that most don’t even realize there’s no such thing as a literal “attachment” — email messages still contain only text characters.
While news groups aren’t as popular as they were back in the days before blogs, web forums, and message boards, those devoted to binaries contain more data than ever before. This is one of the reasons that not only Google but many ISP’s won’t carry them, if they offer news groups at all. The storage required is great and it just isn’t worth it when only a minority of subscribers use them.
The best thing about binary newsgroups is that they’re another place to look for files you can’t find via p2p file sharing, or torrent sites like mininova.org, thepiratebay.org, or isohunt.com. As a last resort, you can check binsearch.info and see if that impossible-to-find video or song or whatever is currently being carried by a news group.
You may even find things of interest you weren’t even looking for. I had nearly forgotten there’d ever been a TV show called “Petticoat Junction” until I saw it referred to on the alt.binaries.multimedia.vintage-tv group.
The reason I suggest binary news groups as a “last resort” is that binaries are a bit of a pain, typically chopped up into multiple parts, each one in its own post. This is where Windows shines over Linux. It doesn’t have anything to do with the operating system, but rather the applications available for it. There is arguably no better news reader than Forte’s Agent, and for managing files that have been chopped up into RAR files, WinRAR is a gem.
Those engaged in DIY Robin Hoodism who are assessing the risk may be reassured by the privacy policies of most commercial news servers, though bear in mind that everything on the Internet is logged, so absolute privacy can’t be guaranteed. However, a big difference from a legal standpoint between p2p file sharing and binary news groups is that when you download from a news group, you’re not sharing. You have downloaded a file for yourself, and that’s it, whereas p2p clients default to sharing files downloaded, as do torrent clients. If the MAFIAA want to come after you, your liability extends to one file, not who-knows-how-many copies you’ve shared with others. And because you’re not essentially hanging out a sign saying “files to share,” you’ll be harder to finger in the first place.
Binary news groups may not be the latest, greatest, most amazing source of files, but they still have something to offer the diehard downloader willing to shell out a few bucks a month for gigabytes worth of files.