ServersMailtraq Keeps Budgets, Features on Track

Mailtraq Keeps Budgets, Features on Track

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Mailtraq: Budget friendly alternative to Microsoft Exchange.

Budget friendly and feature-rich is often an oxymoron strike in the mail server space. Mailtraq finds a balance — with some caveats.

Sometimes it is difficult to do complex things because complex things are difficult to do.

If that sounds like a riddle, it’s also an apt description of many mail servers on the market. All too often, a mail server that is simple to administer is that way because it is a simple product, with limited features. And, even more often, powerful mail servers are complex to configure and manage.

Mailtraq, developed by Fastraq and distributed by Connecticut-based Enstar, situates itself in the sparsely populated center: It is a mail server powerful enough to compete as a replacement for Microsoft Exchange, while accessible enough to be managed by a variety of administrators.

Unlike its competitors, which are highly modular and involve “Chinese take-out menu” style licenses that separately license features like anti-spam defenses at annual rates, Mailtraq is basically a single turnkey bundle, with a single one-time license that includes virtually all functionality. One exception to this is the proxy server which, inexplicably, is the only feature offered as a separately licensed bolt-on ($70-$399).

The slim 6 MB installer expands to nearly 20 MB when installed. Messages are stored in either the included Firebird RDBMS or plain text files. Both methods result in the consumption of additional disk space. The optional configuration wizard streamlines the install process and is designed to get the mail server up and running within minutes. Most of the mail server’s configuration is initially set to defaults which, although functional, could be described as conservative. For example, by default, new user accounts do not have Web mail access. Local user accounts can be automatically generated and mirror the local NT user database, but Mailtraq is primarily a self-contained system with limited features for leveraging enterprise Windows environments.

The good news, particularly for administrators looking for a ready-set-go mail server, is that Mailtraq is self-contained. The administrative console runs locally on the server and is clearly laid out. Considering the rat’s nest that describes some mail server configuration interfaces, it is refreshingly intuitive. A Web-based remote administration interface offers limited control, primarily over Web mail behavior, compared to the local management console.

SMTP features cover a relatively comprehensive set of safeguards, including abuse and access control mechanisms (e.g., SMTP-AUTH CRAM-MD5 and POP-before-SMTP). Tarpitting, explicit black and white lists, and support for SPF help admins manage unsolicited messages and denial of service attacks. Although both Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys are competing in the marketplace as message-origin verification systems, only SPF support is currently included in Mailtraq.

Mailtraq’s included Webmail interface is powerful and well-laid out. Users can access, manage, filter, and search e-mail, as well as use collaboration features, including tasks and calendaring, with Mailtraq Professional. The interface is slick and functional out of the box. Little or no customization is required. User privilege controls in the administration console enable semi-granular control over which Webmail features users can customize on their own.

In addition to its mail server functionality, Mailtraq includes a Web server that can host users’ Web documents, an FTP server, and an instant messaging server that works with the included Mailtraq Assistant client software. The Assistant software also functions as a bridge to synchronize Mailtraq calendars with Microsoft Outlook. Consequently, Mailtraq’s integration with Outlook is indirect but functional, so long as the Assistant is running and automatically synchronizing on users’ machines.

Mailtraq includes anti-spam defenses, such as real-time blacklisting (RBL), that consult third-party databases for known spam senders. Bayesian spam controls analyze patterns in message content and can learn as spam messages change, either in combination with RBL or fixed-pattern content blocking. A developer’s plug-in interface supports third-party or custom content filters.

Unlike its anti-spam defense, Mailtraq’s anti-virus control relies on third-party virus scanners, such as Grisoft AVG, Command Anti-Virus, Symantec Anti-Virus Scan Engine, and Sophos. Mailtraq does not offer or license these products itself, so they must be obtained separately to provide anti-virus support to Mailtraq.

The “Professional” and “Essential” versions of Mailtraq differ in both pricing and features. The limited Essential version includes the core mail server but excludes anti-spam and collaboration features (i.e., calendaring, tasks, and Outlook synchronization). It does, however, include instant messaging. The Professional versions include anti-spam controls, all collaboration features, as well as archiving and LDAP directory services.

All in all, Mailtraq is easy to deploy and feature-rich, albeit with some enterprise limitations that the more-complex Exchange competitors overcome.

Pros: Administration and resource-friendly; Wide feature set of very accessible software.
Cons:Cons: Lack of DomainKey support and transparent integration with Outlook; No comprehensive remote administration.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 02/08/2006
Original Review Version: 2.7

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