Free Agent newsreader

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If you have got to this page then hopefully you will have already read my page on newsgroups here. If you haven't then I suggest that you read it now. Then the following will make more sense to you. Getting going with Free Agent is a fairly simple process. It is only three steps ;

(i) Downloading the Free Agent program.

(ii) Installing Free Agent.

(iii) Configuring Free Agent.

As with many things however everything is not initially as obvious as one might like. What might very quickly become "easy" might at first may seem "hard". With this in mind I have made this "how to". For people who are new to newsgroups, and the programs that download posts to/from them (newsreaders).

While I am doing that I am also suggesting changes to what is the standard "default" installation settings. I will also explain why I am making these suggestions. Naturally, you are free to leave your original installation unchanged if you prefer.

(i) Downloading the Free Agent program.

You can get Forté Free Agent from here. The name of the file is fa32-121.exe. You can no longer get it from the Forté site. You can however get Agent from their site here. This way you have the use of the "extra" items in the commercial program for 30 days. Good if you want to know whether to pay for the better program but not so good after 30 days if you decide not to, as certain items will no longer be available.


(ii) Installing Free Agent.

Before you start this exercise you should get some "settings" that are required from your ISP. If you cannot find them on their web site then I suggest that you phone them up to get them. They are ;

NNTP settings : Eg. news.optus.com.au
SNTP settings : Eg. mail.optusnet.com.au
Email address  : Eg. bg@optusnet.com.au

Okay, now we are ready to start. I am leaving "click forward" or "click okay" instructions out, as that should be obvious and will save space here.

(1) When you double click the Free Agent file you will start the installation process. The first screen you will see is the "Welcome screen" asking you whether you want a "New Install or Upgrade ?". Assuming that the first applies select that.
(2) Select where you want the program to go on your computer. The Default suggestion of C:\Program Files\Agent should be fine.
(3) You are then asked whether you want to create shortcuts. You might as well say "yes" as they are easily deleted later if you don't want them.
(4) Select the Start Menu Folder. The Default is Forté Agent. There is no point changing that.
(5) You are then asked whether you are "Ready to install ?" Check your choices and, if correct, continue.
(6) As soon as the installation is complete you will be asked "Do you want to run FreeAgent now ?"
(7) Read the Forté Free Agent Licence Agreement, and if okay then accept it.

(iii) Configuring Free Agent.

(8) You will now be asked whether you want to setup Free Agent. Say "Okay"
(9) Go ahead and if you are connected to the internet then go online.
(10) You should now see the program get a list of all the newsgroups that your ISP gets. Select the  newsgroups that interest you. I have some listed here in case your interests are the same as mine and that is of help.

If nobody has suggested any newsgroups that might interest you then make sure that your "focus" is in the first pane. There should be a blue triangle in the top left hand corner of the pane (window) that you are in. If you don't see "All Groups" on the grey bar at the top of that window then click it until it appears. You should now be seeing a list of every newsgroup your ISP gets. Like here.

Now go to EDIT - find and put in whatever subject that interests you eg. "paranormal". If you want to see messages in a particular newsgroup then once you have it's name highlighted you go GROUP - Subscribe or click the subscribe button on the toolbar. Otherwise, ignore the highlighted group name. Continue with "find next" until you are told that there are no more newsgroups with that word in. Repeat the process for any other words/topics that interest you.

Once you have subscribed to all the newsgroups that might interest you you can click on the "All Groups" bar until it changes to "Subscribed Groups". Things should now look something like this.

At this point one would normally go ONLINE - Get new headers in Subscribed Groups. Or if you selected a particular newsgroup ONLINE - Get new headers in Selected Groups. (Or clicked the first or second button on the toolbar.) This will result in you getting the headers (titles) of the messages that have been made in that/those newsgroup(s). The idea being that once you see the "title" of a post that interests you you can download the contents of that post (the body). Either immediately, or later.

The purpose of this two step process is so that people who pay for the data they download can avoid downloading a lot of posts that don't interest them. I find however that most people do not pay for what they download so I suggest that you change these two steps to one. Go GROUP - Default Properties and click on the Retrieving tab. Tick the first box "Retrieve bodies for all new messages".

While we are changing the "standard" Free Agent settings I suggest we make a few more. Unless you are online all day (eg. cable), or do all your newsgroup reading/posting while online, then set things for "Offline" mode. This stops the program trying to connect to the internet to retrieve the message bodies of messages that don't have them, and are being viewed. It also stops the program from disconnecting you from the internet after 300 seconds of no activity. The setting for this is OPTIONS - General Preferences - Online tab. Click "Offline defaults".

The next "standard" setting that you might want to change is the purging of messages. By "default" Free Agent deletes old messages when it gets new ones. That means that if you download daily then when you get today's posts everthing received yesterday is deleted. This makes it hard to follow a discussion. I suggest changing this. Go GROUP - Default Properties - When To Purge tab and un-tick that first box. If you check your other tab there "What To Purge" then you will see that purging will continue BUT only for messages that are older than 30 days. You can of course change the number of days to something like seven days if you prefer.

If you ever accidently delete messages then if they are still on your ISPs news server then you can go ONLINE - Get All Headers In Selected Groups. Then everything available is downloaded to your computer again. Don't worry that you will get any messages twice. That will not happen.

If you downloaded messages now then they would look something like this. Notice how the second pane has the titles of the messages listed and a number ? The number represents the number of posts on the "thread" being discussed. The "Learning" thread for example is 14 posts long so far. To see all the posts in any thread one simply clicks on the right pointing triangle. I personally find that this method can be tedious and have gone to OPTIONS - General Preferences - Message List tab -  and un-ticked "Show threads initially collapsed". Also tick "Automatically expand threads containing new messages." OR you may prefer to do the latter without the former.

Lastly, by "default" you will notice that you need to click on the content of a post (the bottom pane) to have it recorded as "read". You might want to think about saying yourself this bother by going to OPTIONS - General Preferences and selecting the Navigation tab - Automatically mark messages read - Whenever the message body is visible in the message pane.

If you have done all the above and you are thinking things look a bit of a mess in your message list then don't be concerned. Some of the list headers will be in black (read) and others (red) unread. You can move from one unread message to the next (skipping all the read ones) by pressing the "N" key on your keyboard.

Hope the above is of help. Let me know if you have any feedback and/or want help with anything above.


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