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"Newsgroups on the Go" 
  10/15/2001

There are thousands of newsgroups available covering almost any topic imaginable. Most
people view the newsgroups with software developed for their Mac, Linux or Widows PC or
notebook computers. While these options are all very well supported, there is an option for those individuals that use Windows CE based devices. With a newsreader application installed on the devices and Internet access, you can have a portable newsgroup reader wherever you are.

There are several companies that have released newsreaders for Windows CE based devices,
but probably the most popular is called News Force available from Ruksun Software Technologies (www.ruksun.com). Because it is being used on a Windows CE device, storage space is a premium. Therefore, for a newsreader to be useful, it needs to use minimal storage space. Fortunately, Ruksun’s News Force requires only 188 KB for the program itself with additional space being needed for the storage of the newsgroup messages. To use it, you also need an Internet connection, whether via a CompactFlash modem or a mobile phone.

The storage space is one important factor, but the usability of the program is also important. Again, News Force seems up to the challenge. It gives you all of the tools you need for using the newsgroups with the ability to download articles, handle threads, and send e-mail to the newsgroup directly or to an article author. It can be used either online, or if you choose to download the threads, you can use it offline as well.

The program is similar to most Windows CE based programs. The user interface is very simple, especially for those already familiar with other newsgroup readers. It displays messages in a set of rows and columns similar to a spreadsheet. The messages are downloaded and organized by threads. The threads can then be instantly sorted based on the date, subject or columns. When you double tap a header, the article is opened in a second window which allows you to read the article and offers additional options that allow you to instantly move to the next message in the thread, reply or forward the message.

While News Force is very good and would be recommended for users looking for simple solution, it's not perfect. There are a few features, and one in particular, that should be added to future versions. The lacking feature is the ability to synchronize Outlook Express newsgroups from a PC to your CE device. Instead, you have to connect your device to the Internet to access the newsgroups. It's not a big problem, but CE based devices generally connect with relatively slow speeds, a problem that is especially noticeable if you compare it to high speed internet access such as satellite, cable or DSL.

Another noticeable problem is that certain functions are not labeled so that you know exactly what they accomplish. For instance, you can select disconnect from the File menu, and by doing so, you would expect that you would be disconnected from the internet. Instead, it only disconnects from the newsgroup, leaving you connected to the Internet. Again, this is not a big problem, as you can still disconnect, but if you didn't realize it, you would be tying up a phone line or using up valuable connection times.

There is a trial version of the program available from Ruksun's web site. You should take the time to look it over. It's a great way to access the enormous amount of information available in the newsgroups with a CE based device.

 - by Clayton Crooks

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