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MDaemon: Complete mail server with emphasis on anti-spam and security features

Except when it’s spam. And the latest release of MDaemon, in addition to offering a sophisticated feature set within a stable and reliable product, emphasizes its capability to keep spam at bay.

Mail, mail, we all love mail. E-mail, especially — when it’s not spam, that is. What isn’t always so enjoyable is running mail servers, which is not only complex and esoteric to configure but also a big responsibility.

MDaemon from Alt-N Technologies is a long-running player in the mail server game. Now in version 6.8.4, it continues to offer an accessible architecture and feature-rich amenities.

The MDaemon server itself is just over 15 MB to download and consumes 30 MB when installed. To fully enjoy the latest batch of enhancements, however, one must also download the modular add-ons Alt-N is pushing. These consume additional space and in most cases carry a separate licensing fee.

For example, AntiVirus add-on is another 5 MB to download and is licensed separately (prices range from $100 to $1,250 depending on the number of seats sought). The Groupware add-on, which allows MDaemon to interoperate with Microsoft Outlook without the need for Microsoft Exchange Server, is also a separate download (a lightweight 1.8 MB) and license (ranging from $130 to more than $18,000). The WebAdmin add-on for Web-based remote administrator of MDaemon servers, although an extra download (1.8 MB), is free. A variety of other add-ons, such as LDaemon and RelayFax, are also available. Some have free licenses; some do not. Of course, disk space consumption could grow considerably, depending on the volume of mail and the number of users the MDaemon installation supports.

Installing MDaemon is extremely straightforward, which is a credit to Alt-N. Despite the complex scenarios that can be involved in initially setting up a mail server, Alt-N simplified the choices to those most vital and uses intelligent defaults otherwise.

The user interface can be launched from either an “Easy” or “Advanced” mode, the former of which features a streamlined and economical display. However, this “Easy” mode does not offer access to the Anti-Spam feature, which we believe will be a major draw for the product.

The Advanced mode interface is certainly more complex, but understandably so, given the amount of information and the number of options it must present. After all, e-mail is a complex thing.

Our one gripe with the MDaemon GUI in either mode is its lack of context-sensitive help. When faced with a window with many options, it would be nice to click the “?” icon and hover over an option to read an in-depth description. Although MDaemon features the standard Windows “?” icon, it does nothing when used. While a thorough Windows Help file is accessible from the Help menu, it would be convenient to see this context-sensitive help inside the GUI itself.

Of course, MDaemon’s feature list is enormous and alone would consume this entire review. With this release, Alt-N is placing particular emphasis on MDaemon’s integrated anti-spam technology. The product takes a two-pronged attack against spam via its Spam Blocker and Spam Filter.

The Spam Blocker can flag, file, or reject messages based on origin or routing information as determined by centralized blacklist databases. These databases are used to collect known information about spam messages, thus potentially rejecting them before ever reaching a user’s mailbox. Unfortunately, this blacklist approach to spam blocking can be overly aggressive, blocking legitimate messages because they originate from a blacklisted source. This problem is not unique to MDaemon, but to the concept of blacklisting itself.

More effective is MDaemon’s Spam Filter, which can flag, file, or reject messages based on patterns inherent in them. The Filter takes advantage of Bayesian analysis, the latest and greatest trend in spam filtering. Using Bayesian principles, the filter “learns” to recognize spam and to distinguish it from non-spam based on statistical samples. These samples must be provided by the administrator, who classifies samples into two folders: one for known spam, and one for known non-spam. The more samples provided over time, the “smarter” the Bayesian filter becomes. This kind of filtering has been the most successful anti-spam technology to date, but it does require vigilance on the part of the administrator to keep feeding the filter samples from which it can learn.

With its Bayesian Spam Filter, we believe MDaemon remains at the cutting-edge of mail server technology.

Another attribute that keeps MDaemon in a top spot are its support for encrypted SSL, which makes it difficult to intercept communication between clients and the server. Although few e-mail users use secure mail clients, those that do, or who use MDaemon’s WorldClient interface to read e-mail, can be assured that their communications are secure.

MDaemon also supports a wide array of advanced features, such as LDAP for access to user accounts, bandwidth throttling, IP shielding, and an e-mail listserv management, as well as both POP and IMAP clients.

MDaemon is available in Standard and Pro versions and is priced based on both flavor and the number of supported users. (Although once an organization grows beyond 50-users, only the Pro version is available.) The Standard version omits quite a few features, notably the Bayesian Anti-Spam Filter, SSL support, and LDAP support. The Pro version runs nearly twice the price of the Standard version, but this gap shrinks as the number of supported users increases.

Also important to keep in mind is that although Alt-N cites anti-virus and groupware support with MDaemon, both of are found in add-on modules that must be purchased separately.

Pros: Sophisticated feature set; slick and efficient GUI; stable and reliable product
Cons: Limited to Windows platform; lack of context-sensitive help in GUI; slightly misleading citation of anti-virus and groupware support

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 7/25/2003
Original Review Version: 6.8.4

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