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CommuniGate Pro — An advanced mail server geared for a multiplatform enterprise setup

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With tongues planted firmly in cheek, the creators of CommuniGate Pro advertise their mail server as being “buzzword-compliant.” While it’s debatable whether buzzwords play an important role when companies choose a messaging solution — sendmail, for instance, is notably devoid of any devotion to buzzwords whatsoever — the unfortunately monikered Stalker Software certainly has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink in order to please potential users.

For basic sites, there’s a POP3 server. For more adventurous sites, there’s an IMAP 4 server for IMAP-based e-mail packages. For ISPs that support remote users, there’s an HTTP (Web) server that allows users to access their mailbox from a Web browser and support for multiple domains. For corporate sites, there’s an LDAP server that end users can access. And for everyone, there’s an ACAP module (used for mailbox management) and a poppwd server, which lets users change their account passwords using certain POP and IMAP mail clients.
With tongues planted firmly in cheek, the creators of CommuniGate Pro advertise their mail server as being “buzzword-compliant.” While it’s debatable whether buzzwords play an important role when companies choose a messaging solution, the unfortunately monikered Stalker Software certainly has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink in order to please potential users.

We installed CommuniGate Pro 2.9 on Windows NT and Slackware Linux mail servers. While the installation procedures were specific to operating systems (on Windows NT, CommuniGate Pro is installed as a mail service, while on UNIX and Linux systems CommuniGate Pro must be configured as the default message handler — a process that is managed for the most part by CommuniGate Pro). After installation of the base files, you perform more advanced configuration via a Web browser connecting to a HTML front end. This browser-based administration — especially amongst the UNIX versions — is noteworthy. (For those used to a stripped-down approach, CommuniGate Pro does support a command-line interface to administration tools.)

Within the administration tool, settings are divided into four groups (or realms, in CommuniGate Pro parlance). The postmaster (usually the super user or root user) has access to all four groups by default. In addition, more users can be granted access rights on a group-by-group basis. Three of the realms — Settings, Master and Accounts — will be used to configure the system, grant permissions and add user accounts upon installation, while the Monitors section will be used on a daily basis, as it monitors overall server performance and provides access to the Server Logs.

You must add users individually; there’s no way to add users from a Windows NT user directory, a UNIX user database, or an LDAP directory. (This is definitely a drag for enterprises.) Once added, however, a user authentication method can be set up to use the operating-system password and not a password specified by CommuniGate Pro. (With Windows NT, this would be the domain authentication system, while on UNIX/Linux/FreeBSD systems, this would be the passwd and shadow authentication mechanisms.) This isn’t the best solution — some sort of direct support for an authorization tool like RADIUS would be preferable — and better support for operating-system user databases should be a priority in future product development. (Alas, this is a feature that can’t be summed up in a buzzword!)

One additional feature that can be summed up in a buzzword is clustering, which also distinguishes CommuniGate Pro from the competition. Meant for installations with 100,000+ users or where a lot of traffic is expected from users using a Web interface, clustering is a very attractive proposition for ISPs or corporations. While we did not test clustering, the documentation does a good job of explaining clusters for each major operating system and what sort of resources are required for a cluster of CommuniGate Pro servers.
There is also a more advanced version, CommuniGate Pro 3.0, available for the new MacOS X Server operating system, that we did not review.

Once set up, CommuniGate Pro offers a slew of useful services for users. There’s the obligatory mailing-list manager with automatic bounce processing and a Web interface. CommuniGate Pro can be set up to manage personal Web sites for businesses — again, a feature that should appeal to ISPs who want to centralize user-tool management. Aliases can be set up for every account as well. Mailboxes can be set up in the legacy BSD mailbox .mbox format or as file directories in the .mdir format. CommuniGate Pro also supports the standard anti-spam measures currently in vogue in the messaging arena: restricted relaying; blacklisted IP addresses, domains and individual accounts; and return-path verification.

You can download a fully functional version from the Stalker Software Web site; this version adds a one-line banner to the bottom of every message, but this banner disappears when you spring for a fully licensed version. Doing so will require some serious dollars: the pricing for a large ISP with a unlimited amount of user accounts is $29,999, while pricing for an ISP with 30,000 accounts is $4,999. More affordable packages are available, ranging from the Professional version ($499 for 50 user accounts and five mailing lists) to the Enterprise version (1,000 accounts and 100 mailing lists for $1,999). These are on the high side for messaging-software pricing, especially when many of the basic tools for messaging (such as sendmail) are included free of charge with every Linux and FreeBSD distribution.

Buzzwords aside, CommuniGate Pro is a messaging tool worth checking out. At its best, CommuniGate Pro is a great cross-platform messaging agent that’s easy to install and administer. While there are a few drawbacks to it — namely, authentication and pricing issues — CommuniGate Pro has the advanced features needed by ISPs and larger corporations, and the ease of use needed for smaller companies.

Pros: Easy to install and configure; excellent online documentation; excellent cross-platform support; Web-based administration tools are well organized

Cons: No links to operating-system user databases or authentication tools

New in v2.9: Clustering support, ACAP module (with DataSet manager), server-wide rules, SASL Authentication methods, BSDI BSD/OS version released, WebAdmin enhancements, a variety of bug fixes and minor feature additions; Release Notes

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New in v3.2b2:
Account Management: storing Account Settings in Central Directory database is implemented –
Cluster: frontend-backend Clustering for SSL/TLS connections is implemented –
Cluster: the Directory-based Cluster Routing is implemente –
RPOP: the Leave on Server option is implemente –
LDAP: array-type database data elements can be returned now (as multi-value LDAP SET elements –
DataBase: TextManager (.tdb) databases now support complex (array, dictionary) data element –
DataBase: LDAPManager (.ldb) databases now support array-type (multi-value) data element;
Release Notes

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New in v3.3b5:
Mailbox Aliases are implemented and can be used to provide access to foreign mailboxes for IMAP clients that cannot process foreign mailbox names in the Mailbox Subscription lists; Account Template page now includes the Initial Mailbox Aliases panel; Remove and Relocate Storage Unit operations have been implemented; Output buffering method has been changed; Generate Index option is implemented and can be used to decrease the restart time for domains with more than 100,000 accounts; Current Day conditions are implemented; no longer crashes if the Send Encrypted to Domains setting contains an empty list;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4:
Directory integration (the mail attribute processing can be fine-tuned now);
StatReset keys added to the Domain and Account Statistics data;
implemented the CREATEWEBUSERSESSION command;
addresses without ‘@’ and ‘%’ symbols are qualified using the forwarder Domain name;
“Print-friendly” message link is implemented; “MessageHeaderEnd” string has been modified;
fixed a bug in MAILBOXes that first appeared in 3.4b9 “rollbacking” the target mailbox after failed copying operation could crash the server;
all special symbols in mailbox names are properly URL-encoded;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4.2:
Dynamic Cluster Monitor page added to the WebAdmin Interface;
crypt password encoding now works on AS/400 and BeOS platforms;
improved the Dynamic Cluster Controller fail-over algorithm;
fixed bug in License Keys;
cluster fix to correct the problem that occurred when one attempted to rename or remove an account in a shared Domain after a Controller fail-over could crash the new Controller;
RenameDomain command fixed;
“open counter” bug fixed;
the text/alternative Posting Format restriction option now correctly checks the message structure;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4.5:
CGStarter application accepts and remembers parameters set in the services control panel;
secure connections can now be used to connect to backup (ETRN/ATRN) servers;
HELO and Return-Path parameters are not verified for connections coming from Dynamic Cluster members;
on MS Windows platforms, NICs with more than 30 network aliases (IP addresses) are now supported;
“Send Encrypted” option now works for messages that must be sent via a specific Local IP address;
fixed the Send Encrypted feature so that it re-sends the EHLO command and no longer causes problems for some freeware MTAs;
DSN parameters are now correctly used when sending messages with empty return paths;
account import function now checks the domain administrator’s access rights;
fixed memory leak caused by external filtering;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4.6:
OS User Names that contain the “%” sign can now be used to explicitly specify the Windows domain that should be used for authentication;
local units can now insert records that have multiple object classes specified (if one specified class is a child of all other specified classes);
local units now ignore spaces in the first parts of the DN elements;
fixed a cluster error whereby the incoming flow control operation could cause a crash of a back-end server;
FETCH BODY[] operation no longer returns message text without headers if the same FETCH operation included the BODYSTRUCTURE keyword;
fixed an SMTP failure that created an output stream that could destroy the SMTP module queue and crash the server;
each/any ROUTE conditions are now available on all OS platforms;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4.7:
Delivery is repeated in one minute if an external inbox is locked with another application;
Back-end local delivery checks the “Mail Disabled” and “Account is Full” conditions;
added the “Send as HTML” option to the Compose.html page;
converter now displays embedded objects in HTML messages [incorrectly] created with Lotus Notes;
the Drafts mailbox is auto-created during the “Save as Draft” operation;
“STARTTLS” EHLO response is presented only if the target domain has an active certificate;
updating mailbox ACLs from a non-owner account no longer inadvertently clears the ACL list;
process environment variables are now correctly passed to external programs;
the ATRN command is no longer issued instead of ETRN if the ATRN “loginname” is entered into the module settings;
large subject lines no longer result in the insertion of a header string with just one space symbol;
incorrect customization of the Compose page no longer causes the server to crash;
Release Notes

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New in v3.4.8:
Fixed bug in a cluster that resulted in certain Rule operations that could cause the local delivery protocol to de-synch and back-end crashes;
Release Notes

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New in v3.5b1:
Supports the SASL NTLM authentication method and the parameterless AUTH command;
Unix start-up scripts modified to support a custom file in the {Base} directory;
ATRN command is always accepted from non-client addresses;
garbage collector is activated during domain initialization;
all settings that should contain an A-record domain name can contain several explicitly specified IP addresses, separated with a comma;
supports Start TLS (RFC2830);
implemented LIST: RFC2919 (LIST-ID header field);
added the Date: header field to the Initial Message when it is stored in the INBOX of newly created accounts;
implemented LISTSUBSCRIBERS and WRITELOG commands;
“Trash” mailbox can be replaced with a mailbox alias;
“addMessages” operation now works correctly with Virtual Mailboxes;
Release Notes

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New in v3.5b3:
Changed many internal file-handling routines;
Log settings can now be changed only if the administrator has the CanModifySettings Server Access rights;
“Leave On Server” option works with any types of UIDs remote servers present, and the list of retrieved UIDs is preserved between Server restarts;
APOP option added to individual RPOP records;
test header field now works with the Local Delivery module, and messages with that field are not stored in the Account mailboxes;
forwarders and groups processing algorithms have been changed;
groups are now supported;
added mailListSettings and groupOptions attributes to the default Directory Schema;
supports custom WebUser and WebAdmin interfaces;
fileData attribute and the CommuniGateWebInterface objectClass added to the default Directory Schema;
added mailListSettings and groupOptions attributes to the Directory Schema;
implemented a workaround for sending mail to buggy firewall relays;
added a “Hide From Address” option;
Release Notes

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New in v3.5b5:
Added a “Wake up Now” button to the SMTP Settings WebAdmin page;
new custom setting allows an administrator to specify DNS server addresses;
preferences now work for secondary domain administrators;
added the charset parameter to administrator preferences;
alerts can now be stored using the UTF-8 charset;
spaces around the comma signs are removed from the DN strings;
when archive mailboxes are swapped, the newly created archive mailbox get the ACLs of the old archive mailbox;
“Redirected” message status is implemented;
non-ASCII “real names”, “custom attributes”, and mailbox names are supported now;
the “Redirected” message status is set when a message is redirected or forwarded;
can rename and remove mailboxes when the “Show Subscribed” option is enabled;
composer encodes non-ASCII attachment file names;
“Save Sent Messages” mailbox sets correctly;
non-cluster License Master Keys process correctly;
mailbox renaming for non-top-level mailboxes now works with the “rename Submailboxes” option;
Release Notes

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New in v3.5b7:
Implemented the WebAdmin Monitor interface to SNMP data;
“total number of jobs”-type parameters now have the Counter data type;
added HTTP monitoring elements;
implemented the Force AUTH option;
changed admin account preferences processor;
“search”-type operations now enter the subtrees stored on different units;
implemented Cluster-Wide rules;
Cluster-Wide Router Table is implemented;
[GET|UPDATE|SET][ACCOUNT|DOMAIN] commands have been renamed into the [GET|UPDATE|SET][ACCOUNT|DOMAIN]SETTINGS commands (old names also continue to work);
EQUALS operation with a quoted-string argument is implemented;
changed the MoveAccounts program and its parameters;
modifyDN “newRDN” parameter now process correctly;
modified build parameters to support 6,000+ threads;
the number of selected messages for the mailbox.wssp page was calculated incorrectly;
Directory: Remote Units: the Search operation no longer returns “unstripped” DNs when the “Server Base” setting isn’t empty;
Release Notes

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Version Reviewed: 2.9

Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 4/8/02

Date of Original Review: 4/21/99

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