GuidesLISTSERV -- the most popular mailing-list management software on the market

LISTSERV — the most popular mailing-list management software on the market




The creators of LISTSERV proudly proclaim on their Web site that e-mail generated from their software constitutes over half of the electronic mailing list messages routed through the Internet at any given time.
This may not exactly be a boasting point for those who feel overwhelmed by e-mail and the idea of setting up mailing lists, but in the world of mailing-list management such a market share is a major selling point for anyone needing to reach large numbers of users via electronic mail.

LISTSERV is the most popular mailing-list management software on the Internet today. (Note that we refer to “mailing-list management software”, which is not the same as spam-generation software — a distinction we’ll discuss in a bit more detail later in this review.) Once installed, LISTSERV is actually fairly simple: it sends out electronic mail to e-mail addresses on a mailing list. The mailing list can be altered by the general public or by a specific set of users who have the power to add and delete names.
This may not exactly be a boasting point for those who feel overwhelmed by e-mail and the idea of setting up mailing lists, but in the world of mailing-list management such a market share is a major selling point for anyone needing to reach large numbers of users via electronic mail.

Public users are able to run only a limited set of commands on a LISTSERV server by sending e-mail to the server. One of the bad things about LISTSERV is that these commands tend to the obscure, and users usually need to jump through a few hoops in order to implement them. It probably won’t take long for your users to realize that LISTSERV is software implemented to make the lives of sysadmins easier, not the lives of users.

The purpose behind giving users this power is self-evident — administrators don’t have the time to manually add and delete records for large (potentially millions and millions of users) mailing lists, so by letting users do some of the work, huge mailing lists can be managed without a huge drain on funds. And, given the widespread use of LISTSERV, this approach definitely seems to work.

Installing LISTSERV is relatively simple (we installed the free version on both Windows NT and Linux servers). On the Unix side, you can download a precompiled binary for your particular UNIX variant and install that directory. (Or, if you’re familiar with UNIX system administration, you can run the make command to compile the included source code after editing makefiles to specify directory locations and data-file locations.)

With both the Windows NT version and the shareware Windows 95 release, all you need to do in order to get up and running with the server is run an installation program and then specify a few directory locations and data-file locations. Configuring the server requires setting up a LISTSERV administrator name, creating some file and directory permissions, and adding the LISTSERV address that will pass along some LISTSERV usernames to subscriber’s e-mail addresses. Typically, this will be something like [email protected].

While these steps may be somewhat daunting for someone not familiar with UNIX system administration, the installation notes are clear and easy to follow. Similarly, while LISTSERV installation on Windows NT follows some UNIX conventions, anyone with NT and Internet experience will be able to set up their own LISTSERV server with a minimum of effort.

The enterprise-level release of LISTSERV, dubbed the “classic” version by L-Soft, is meant for large-scale mailing lists; larger sites like C|NET (which manages over 4 million users on 23 LISTSERV lists) and the University of Arizona (which manages 1,934 lists on a single RS/6000 server) use LISTSERV Classic. If you’re not planning on supporting millions of users, you’ll want to check out the classic version’s sibling, LISTSERV Lite, as well.

Sensitive to complaints from Internet users, the LISTSERV programmers have added a number of anti-spam tools within LISTSERV that discourage its usage as a spam-mail generator. These tools attempt to stop spam via proprietary tools. And while the server still isn’t perfect — users could have a much easier time of managing their participation in mailing lists — on the whole LISTSERV is a powerful, reliable, and low-maintenance list server. And if it works for the big boys, chances are good that it will work for you, too.

Pros: Proven performer in high-traffic situations, Most popular list-management software on the market, Low maintenance required after installation, Extremely reliable

Cons: Installation can be somewhat tricky for those without sysadmin experience, The server can also be difficult for end users with little or no LISTSERV experience, Expensive for those with low-end needs

New: Web archive interface, Improved spam detector and spam counter-measures, New database functions, “Super-lists” support, Per-subscriber daily message quota; Release Notes


Upgrade Meter:
5

Version Reviewed: 1.8d

Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 3/1/99

Date of Original Review: 7/7/98

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