Getting Started with ListServ 16.0

By Joseph Moran (Send Email)
Posted Mar 2, 2010

In this era of plentiful outsourced technical services, there are many of options for firms that want to manage mailing lists but not deal with the underlying infrastructure. For those that want to keep things in house, either for maximum control or to avoid having costs tied to volume, L-Soft's ListServ has long been a popular choice.

L-Soft's Listserv has been providing email list management to enterprises nearly as long as Windows has been an OS. Despite a complicated setup and configuration, for organizations looking for mailing list power and flexibility, Listserv is one for the short list.

The latest version of Listserv, 16.0, is available on a host of operating systems, including Windows (7/Vista/XP, plus Server 2008 and 2003) Mac OS X, various Linux and Unix flavors, and more. Listserv 16.0 supports all mailing list varieties — newsletters, announcements, discussion groups and more — and includes a number of improvements for server administrators, list owners and subscribers alike.

Listserv's system requirements are such that unless you must manage lists with a hefty number of subscribers, the software can run on pretty unremarkable hardware, like a sub-1-GHz-Pentium-class CPU, with 512 MB RAM and ordinary EIDE/SATA disks. (Storage capacity required naturally varies depending on the number and size of lists and archives.) Listserv remains a single-threaded application so it can't take advantage of today's ubiquitous multi-core processors — something to keep in mind if planning to run it alongside other applications.

Listserv is available in three versions; the mainstream "Classic" (the Windows version of which we looked at here); a limited-feature, entry-level "Lite"; and "HPO", a high-performance version that L-Soft says provides more speed and scalability when dealing with extremely large loads.

Although the software can be administered old-school via an interactive command-line interface, when setting up Listserv you also have the option to enable a Web-based management console. Since Listserv lacks a built-in Web server, however, doing so requires a Web server, such as IIS, be running on the same system.

Listserv bundles access to F-Secure anti-virus software, but since it's not built into the product per se, it takes some doing to get it up and running. For starters, you must download and install the F-Secure software separately (at least in the case of Windows, there are different versions of AV software depending on whether you're using a desktop or server version of the OS), apply hotfixes and, to avoid potential performance problems, do some post-installation configuration tweaks to bring settings in line with L-Soft's recommendations.

Anti-virus requires a maintenance contract, and that isn't available with Listserv Lite. Maintenance also gets you access to an L-Soft-hosted spam filtering service based on the popular and open-source SpamAssasin. (Listserv allows the use of outside anti-virus and anti-spam products, but it doesn't integrate with them for logging and notification purposes.)

Listserv's administrative browser console isn't much to look at, but despite the lack of visual polish, it still manages to be quite usable, at least once you've become acclimated to it. A server dashboard gives admins status at a glance; a variety of server activity reports are available, and a tab-based control panel puts all site configuration options within easy reach.

(Previous versions of ListServ stored some configuration parameters in a text file, editable only through a Windows-based utility or a text editor like Notepad.) A particularly useful feature is Listserv's Deliverability Assessment, which checks server and DNS configurations against the gauntlet of authentication standards like DomainKeys, Sender ID and SPF that mail providers and ISPs typically use to filter potential spam and phishing messages.

List owners, editors and moderators get their own useful set of tools for list and subscriber management. List creation can be performed a number of different ways, including via a wizard, and new lists now automatically include and enable bottom banners with a signoff (unsubscribe ) link by default. Those that want to distribute HTML-based newsletters without coding (or at least keep it to a minimum) will appreciate Listserv's inclusion of about a dozen ready-made templates. Templates are also available to customize the look and feel of a list or the site overall

Subscribers have a number of ways to monitor and post to lists, including RSS and the Web-based Subscriber's Corner. New message-sending options in Listserv 16.0 include the ability to schedule message postings for later delivery. If L-Soft's spam filtering is implemented, use a content analysis button to determine whether recipient are likely to flag a post as spam.

L-Soft does tailored licensing for Listserv, so getting exact pricing requires obtaining a sales quote. The price range cited for Listserv Classic is wide — between $500 to $9400, while Lite rings in between $450 and $2800. You can download a 60-day eval copy of any Listserv version.

Listserv's been around for almost a15 years; nearly as long as the Windows operating system, which debuted in 1995, the year before Listserv. Although the initial setup and configuration can be somewhat involved, for organizations that want maximum mailing list power and flexibility, it remains a good choice.

Joseph Moran is co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 (friends of ED, 2009).

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