October 18, 2012, 8:00 AM — When you're looking to download a large file on the web, say an Ubuntu distribution, a common method of doing so is via BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a P2P file sharing protocol (popularized by Napster) that allows files to be transferred in pieces, spread across many users, each contributing to the whole of the file. It's a great way to reduce the bandwidth required to serve up a file and can result in high download speeds for the receiver as well, provided there are enough people seeding.
BitTorrent has several disadvantages however. One of particular concern is the crackdown on illegal file sharing which has resulted in some of the largest torrent directories being taken offline voluntarily which makes it harder to find the file you're looking for. Another problem is that all of the pieces of a file may not be available at the time of your request, which leaves you with a stalled download until someone begins seeding that piece. Additionally, without proper configuration, your torrent client will automatically seed files that you’re downloading, often consuming all of your available upload bandwidth, but also making you a sharing source of that file.
An alternative to BitTorrent comes in the form of a fairly old school technology, Usenets (aka NewsGroups). Usenets have existed for over 30 years and, traditionally, Usenets are used like a bulletin board system meant for public discussion. News threads are posted to to a topic and News Reader software allows you to subscribe and consume these threads. More recently, NewsGroups have been adapted to transport binary files between users, and it turns out that the technology is well suited for the task.
It takes a little bit of work (and potentially money) to get yourself set up on a binary Usenet, but once you have it configured there are several advantages over BitTorrents:
Files are hosted by fast, central servers. Your download speed is only limited by your bandwidth
Users do not share the files that they download
The connection is SSL encrypted and your IP address is not exposed, providing greater anonymity