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LAN Suite 2004 Sharpens Its Tools

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LAN Suite 2004: Secure mail server with firewall, proxy, and fax

The recent release of this Swiss Army Knife of mail servers addresses major shortcomings found in previous versions and enhances the suite’s usefulness, creating a sharper and more polished product.

Our review of the 2003 edition of Software602’s LAN Suite described the product as a “Swiss Army Knife”; it bundled a number of semi-related features into one package to produce a good value but brought with it a number of shortcomings. With the 2004 release of LAN Suite, Software602 has polished the product and sharpened its tools.

Like the 2003 release, LAN Suite 2004 is Windows-based software built around a secure e-mail server that also provides fax server capabilities, a firewall, and Internet-sharing and cache services.

Software602 has bundled all of this functionality into a reasonable 17 MB download that expands to 27 MB when installed. Of course, the mail server component stores messages, at least temporarily, and therefore its consumption of disk space is dependent on user and traffic volume. The InstallShield Wizard is as routine as usual. Upon the first launch of the suite, it is followed by LAN Suite’s own configuration wizard. The wizard walks through a simple setup of the NAT and proxy services, firewall security level, Web service, user accounts, and fax server. Configuration is thus simple and straightforward, an admirable feat when strung across so many disparate services.

LAN Suite’s e-mail server has been improved considerably in this release. We had noted that the 2003 editing lacked content-based anti-spam filtering, and Software602 has wisely added Bayesian filtering, a learning-based algorithm effective for catching spam when provided with a sufficient learning corpus of messages. The filter can delete the message outright or mark the header or subject line of the e-mail, leaving it up to the end user to decide how to process it within his or her own e-mail software (such as LAN Suite’s own Web-based e-mail client). In addition to Bayesian filtering, LAN Suite features new blacklist and whitelist support and can access DNS blacklist databases.

LAN Suite continues to support anti-virus filtering that can tag, trash, or quarantine messages known to contain spam attachments. Again it is a premium feature included only with versions of LAN Suite licensed for this module. In general, this license costs approximately 40 percent more than the equivalent user license without anti-virus support. Given the prevalence of viruses transmitted via e-mail and the destructive effects they can have, some kind of anti-virus support, whether at the e-mail server level or at the desktop level, is critical.

Administrators without the anti-virus license can still take advantage of the new attachment filter. The filter can be configured to automatically remove e-mail attachments that end with specified extensions. While better than nothing, this is a coarse way to defend against viruses, and those who use it run the risk that legitimate attachments will be removed.

Another shortcoming of the 2003 release was its lack of NAT support for Internet connection sharing. That product offered sharing only by proxy support which, except for special circumstances, is more cumbersome than NAT support combined with firewall protection. Both of these options are available in LAN Suite 2004. The new NAT support allows all machines on a LAN to share a single public IP address. DHCP support allows the NAT service to assign IP leases dynamically; so, for example, portable devices can be brought into the LAN without any special configuration.

These improvements to LAN Suite 2004 bring along a small increase in license pricing. The product remains a good value considering the range of features it offers. Software602 has admirably addressed the 2003 edition’s major shortcomings and significantly enhanced the suite’s usefulness.

Pros: Easy to install and configure; Major improvements in anti-spam filtering and connection sharing; Good value for the dollar.
Cons: Still somewhat haphazard administration GUI; Separate anti-virus support.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 6/2/2004
Original Review Version: 2004

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