ServersDoes Exchange Alternative Surpass the Competition?

Does Exchange Alternative Surpass the Competition?

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MDaemon: Complete mail server with anti-spam and groupware features

Alt-N’s MDaemon mail server has long been the leader of the non-Exchange-server pack. Will the anti-spam and groupware features in its most recent version further secure its place?

Alt-N’s MDaemon mail server has long been the front-runner in the pack of non-Exchange servers. With its most recent upgrade to version 8, Alt-N aims to stay ahead of the competition with enhanced anti-spam and groupware features — the two major growth segments in e-mail management.

The MDaemon server itself is slightly more than 25 MB to download and consumes nearly 50 MB when installed. Alt-N offers a collection of add-ons to the base MDaemon server, ranging from anti-virus support ($115 to $1,640), an LDAP server, a Web-based administration server, a fax relay ($180-$2,300), and an Outlook connector that brings groupware features without the need for Microsoft Exchange Server ($120-$6,400). All priced add-ons require a licenses separate from the base MDaemon server.

Alt-N has honed the MDaemon installation process so that it is nearly frictionless. Considering how complex a mail server configuration can be, Alt-N deserves credit for providing user prompts with clearly worded essentials in some case and, in other cases, defaulting to intelligent, secure choices. Administration is available through the included Windows client or remotely through the browser-based WebAdmin (a free but separate download). The WebAdmin interface is clean and simple to follow, perhaps even more so than the Windows client. In both cases, MDaemon admirably balances a thorough feature set with reasonably intuitive administration.

MDaemon 8 Pro is one of the most compelling mail servers on the market, with a cutting-edge, abundant feature set and well-designed administration and end-user tools.

Several of the upgrades in version 8.10 add to the administrator’s anti-spam defense arsenal. Alt-N is one of the first mail servers to include support for DKIM, a new anti-spam protocol based on a combination of Yahoo!’s DomainKeys and Cisco’s Identified Internet Mail. While retaining maximum compatibility with DomainKeys support, DKIM relies on a DNS-based public cryptographic key and a server-based private key to authenticate the origin of an e-mail message with a digital signature. Like the Sender Framework Policy (SPF) protocol, which MDaemon also supports, these technologies aim to combat spam and phishing attacks sent with fraudulent e-mail headers.

Some analysts caution, however, that DKIM has its limitations — an increasing amount of malicious e-mail is now sent through infected clients known as “zombies,” from which originating e-mail will appear as authentic. Spammers are generally among the first to adopt these anti-spam signatures to hide their messages in a cloak of legitimacy.

MDaemon 8 supports the less well-known HashCash protocol, which is designed to combat the zombie problem as well. Yet another anti-spam defense, HashCash calculates a unique signature for each message. The calculation itself requires more processing time than the average message, alone, but it is designed to impose a minimal impact on the average e-mail user while having a maximum impact on the spammer who must send hundreds or thousands of messages per minute. Alt-N has also upgraded the built-in Spam Assassin to version 3, which itself offers a phalanx of defenses, including Bayesian scoring. In fact, the one downside to the abundance of anti-spam defenses in MDaemon may be coordinating them all.

Alt-N’s other major contribution to MDaemon 8 is the completely new Outlook Connector. MDaemon supports groupware features (i.e., shared calendaring, tasks, contacts, and folders) through its Web-based WorldClient and Microsoft Outlook via the Outlook Connector. The Outlook Connector must be installed at the individual Outlook user’s machine, however, which could translate into extra work for large organizations looking to bypass Microsoft Exchange server. The WorldClient browser interface is slick and even includes a default theme, called “LookOut,” which closely emulates the familiar Outlook layout. Groupware data is available seamlessly between WorldClient and Outlook, as well as the Outlook Connector interfaces.

For developers, MDaemon 8 includes a new plug-in interface that integrates third-party software into the message processing chain and the administration interface. The typical MDaemon customer will probably not code his or her own plug-ins, but opening up MDaemon may create a market of additional third-party functionality.

All of these new features are actually limited to the “Pro” version. “Standard” MDaemon 8 users will benefit only from new message queue management tools and multiple LDAP configuration — both of which, frankly, are not a compelling reason for Standard users to upgrade.

At the lowest license level, the Pro version of MDaemon 8 can cost nearly twice as much as Standard. But the gap shrinks as the seat numbers increase, and the extra cost is worth it — MDaemon 8 Pro is one of the most compelling mail servers on the market, with a cutting-edge, abundant feature set and well-designed administration and end-user tools.

Pros: Vast arsenal of leading-edge anti-spam defenses; Well-designed interfaces; Reasonable pricing for Pro version.
Cons: Limited to Windows platform; Standard version too limited; Outlook Connector deployed on a per-end-user basis.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 8/31/2005
Original Review Version: 8.0

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