ThreeWave This page lists hints, tips, and guidelines for using the USENET newsgroups.



Introduction To Newsgroups

Newsgroups, provided by an internet service called USENET and NNTP (Network News Transport Protocol), are a sort of public bulletin board. There are tens of thousands of newsgroups covering every conceivable topic. Any user anywhere in the world can post a question to a newsgroup and anyone else anywhere in the world can reply with an answer to the original message. On Microsoft's NNTP server, there are groups for every product in the Microsoft fleet, and many programs have multiple newgroups, each specializing in one aspect of using the program. Typically, you use a newsgroup reader program such as Outlook Express or Windows Mail (provided with Windows XP and Windows Vista, respectively), but there are many freeware/shareward readers available. Some companies have created an HTML/Web front end for the newsgroups and refer to the newsgroups as "communities" or "forums". The truth is, thouugh, most of these communities simply sit on top of the basic NNTP service.

Unlike some newsgroups, the Microsoft newsgroups are not moderated. That means that there is no human being allowing or rejecting messages. Microsoft does filter the groups for spam messages ("Get Viagra Now"), but doesn't filter on content that may not be in Microsoft's best interest.


Connection To Newgroups

The first thing you need to use newsgroups is a newsgroup reader, often called the "news client". Windows XP and earlier contain "Outlook Express" which a a general purpose email and news program. In Windows Vista, this same program is called "Windows Mail". Open Outlook Express or Windows Mail, and go to the Tools menu and choose Accounts. There, click "Add". In that dialog, click "Newsgroup Account" and click "Next". Fill out the required fields on the subsequent dialogs. For the "News (NNTP) Server" item, enter Leave the "My new server requres me to log in" unchecked. Click Finish to return to the main accounts screen. When you close this dialog, a message will appear asking you if you want to view a list of available newsgroups. Click "Yes" to view the available newsgroups. From the list that follows, select the newsgroups you want to connect to (called "subscribing" to a newsgroup). You can pick newsgroups directly from the list or you can filter the list by entering a term in the "Display newsgroups that contain:" text box. To view the Excel groups, enter 'Excel' in the filter box. To subscribe to a newsgroup, select it in the list and click the "Subscribe" button. Repeat this process for each newsgroup to which you want to subscribe.


Newsgroups And Communities And Forums

USENET, or just News, has been one of the services provided across the Internet long before HTML and the Web. In short, a USENET group (and there are tens of thousands of groups) is dedicated to a single topic and acts something like a public bulletin board. With the popularity of HTML/HTTP/Web, many providers have web-based interfaces that sit on top of the NNTP (USENET) protocol. These web-based services are often called "Communities" or "Forums", but really they are just web based front ends to the basic NNTP service.

There are tens of thousands of newgroups covering every imaginable (and some unimaginal) topic. For support of Excel, there are three primary newsgroups: microsoft.public.excel.misc for miscellaneous questions, microsoft.public.excel.programming for questions related to VB/VBA programming, and microsoft.public.worksheet.functions, which concentrates on formulas in worksheet cells. While there are a few other Excel-related newsgroups, the vast majority of questions and answers are in one of these three groups.

A newsgroup is open to all internet users around the world. Anyone can post a question and anyone else in the world can reply to that question with an answer. Newsgroups are an exceptionally efficient way to get answers to your questions. Often, you'll have a reply within minutes. In order to keep the newsgroups operating smoothly and efficiently, it is helpful to follow some guidelines. These are not hard and fast rules and no one enforces them; they are merely suggestions based on the decades of collective experience by long-time newsgroup users. Taken together as a group, the regular contributors and the Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) have posted literaly millions of replies.


Suggestions For Proper NewsGroup Usage

  • Post your question to only one newsgroup. There is rarely a need to post the question to more than one newsgroups. Those people who spend a lot of time answering the questions review all the relevant newsgroups, so posting to more than one group is of minimal benefit.

  • Post to the most appropriate group. If you question is regarding worksheet formulas, post in the formulas group, not the programming group. If you are unsure or which group to post to, post to the miscellaneous group.

  • Write clearly. If your post is too long, poorly written, ambiguous, or just badly written, there is a good chance that no one will take the time to reply with a response. At a bare minimum, run the message through a spell-checker.

  • Be nice. Those of us who answer the questions (many of us have individually racked up well over 30,000 replies over the years) do not work for Microsoft. We are simply individual users who enjoy helping others and tackling the complicated problems that sometimes arise in a newsgroup post. We don't work for Microsoft and we can't change Microsoft's policies. We're merely helpful civilians. Don't compain about Microsoft software. Microsoft doesn't read these newsgroups and there is nothing we can do to change Microsft's software.

  • Economize your question. Before posting a message, break your code down into logical units and find the code that is causing the problem. If you post perhaps a dozen lines of code, you'll likely get an answer. If you post a hundred or more lines of code, you won't get an answer. Post the least amount of code that illustrates the problem.

  • Post code that can be copied and pasted from the newsgroup message into a VBA module. If a responder has to spend a lot of time just to get your code to compile, you will likely not get an answer.

  • Remember that we don't know your business or your lingo and slang, or your abbreviations. Don't assume that we know what you are writing about. Explain your terms.

  • Don't post attachment files. While it may be so that an attachment can clarify a question, we don't know who you are and thus we cannot trust that your attached code won't start deleting all the files on the hard drive.

  • Be polite. Nothing destroys a newsgroup conversation faster than personal attacks. Often, when I see a conversation leading toward personal confrontation, I mark the conversion as read so it will be ignored. Among the various Microsoft newsgrops, the Excel groups are the most cordial and polite. We want to keep them that way. Personal attacks contribute nothing the newsgroups and are a sure fire way to have your post ignored.

  • Top Posting Or Bottom Posting: This is a debate that has been going on since the earliest days of USENET. When replying to a message, you can put your reply before and above the original message. This is top posting. Bottom posting is when you put your response at the end of the message, after all of the original text. This debate raises suprisingly strong conflict -- some people take top posting as a cardinal sin. Over the years, the Microsoft newsgroups have informally adopted the top posting model. You should adpot it, too.

  • International Issues: Because USENET spans the world, not everyone speaks the same language or expresses values in the same manner. For example, in some countries, the date 04-09-2008 indicates the 9th day of April, 2008. In other locales, the same string indicates the 4th day of September, 2008. When working with dates, express them in an unambiguous format, such as 9-April-2008.

  • We don't know your abbreviations. Before using an abbreviation, spell it out in the full words, and explain what it means. Many of us are generalist programmers, developing applications for a wide variety of industries and we cannot be expected to understand some abbreviation used within your industry.

  • Always indicate what version of Office and Windows you are using. A solution that may work in Excel 2003 may not work in Excel 2002.

  • Use a meaningful subject line. A subject like "Help Me" or "Urgent" will not garner much support. Instead, briefly state the problem in the subject line. For example, "Trouble With Filters In Excel 2003". By the same token, don't explain everything in the subject line and leave the body of the message empty. Use the body of the message to explain the detals of the problem.

  • Tell us what you have tried, the data you used, the results that came back, and the results you actually want. This will make debugging the problem much easier. Isolate the problem to as few lines as possible and post only those lines. Don't expect us to spend 45 minutes to just configure a workbook before getting to the actual testing.

  • Be very specific with error messages. If the code displays a message box, include the exact text of the message. Do not say just, "It doesn't work".

  • Wait for your question to be answered. While some messages are answered with hours, even minutes, others aren't answered for a day. If you don't receive an anser after a day passes, don't just repost the question. Rewrite the question, omitting irrelvent details and clarifying the problem. Many posts go unanswered because the responder has no idea what you are attempting to do.

  • Provide technical documentatin about your system. Inclue the manufacturer name, the model name, the operating system you are using, the version of Office (including what Server Packs are installed -- available from the "About" item on the "Help" menu), the amount of RAM you have installed, and other technical details.

  • USENET was originally and still is primarily a text-based system. Post your meesage in plain text format, not HTML. Don't try to format the text for bold or italics. Plain text should suffice.

  • The Excel newsgroups are not "I hate Microsoft" newgroups. There are plenty of other venues for this sort of commentary. Honest and sincere critcism does have a place here, but generic rants about Microsoft are strongly frowned upon.

  • Microsoft employees do not read these newsgroups. These are not the forums to complain about existing features or to suggest new features. New feature requests can be sent to

Note that everything you post to a public newgroups is visible by anyone anywhere in the world. Proof read your message before sending them to ensure they are grammatically correct, polite, and do not contain any private information.

This page last updated: 15-Sept-2008