Product review: MailEssentials' new version tackles more than spam

Our reviewer finds GFI MailEssentials Version 10 offers features that improve filtering accuracy almost immediately, and discusses other product benefits beyond anti-spam features.

I have been using GFI's MailEssentials Version 9, for spam protection on my own network for about a year. Although MailEssentials is an antispam product, the antispam capabilities are only part of what initially attracted me to the product.

GFI recently released GFI MailEssentials for Exchange/SMTP 10, and since I have had such a good experience with version 9, I was eager to try the newest version.

First, I'd like to make a couple of points about how I discovered version 9. Since I am unable to get a static IP address where I live, I needed to have the company that hosts my Web site host my e-mail boxes as well. My mailbox was receiving more than 1,000 spam messages a day, forcing me to spend an astronomical amount of time deleting spam, and often deleting important messages by mistake. This is when I started using MailEssentials.

One useful aspect of this product is called POP2Exchange, a service that automatically downloads e-mail from an ISP and places it in a designated Exchange mailbox. When I started using the software, I set up an Exchange server and POP2Exchange to download mail from my ISP every two minutes and place the mail into the appropriate Exchange mailbox. It was nice to be able to use an Exchange server to handle my mail, but it was even nicer to be able to use a "real" spam filter.

Version 9 offers several methods for detecting spam, including blacklist /whitelist filtering, message header checking, keyword checking and Bayesian analysis (which is sort of like artificial intelligence). These detection and filtering methods work relatively well for filtering spam, but they are by no means perfect. While the amount of spam in my inbox dropped to maybe 10 a day, the software still occasionally snagged legitimate e-mail messages. For example, I have been trying to sell my speedboat and many of the messages from potential buyers have been deleted as spam.

Version 10 offers numerous new features that improve filtering accuracy almost immediately. One area in particular relates to the whitelist. In case you aren't familiar with the term, a whitelist is a list of users, domains or IP addresses from which mail should never be considered spam regardless of the content. The whitelist feature was already useful in version 9 since you could configure MailEssentials so that any time someone sent an e-mail message the recipient would be automatically added to the whitelist. That guaranteed that the reply to the message would never be flagged as spam.

With version 10, you can now create keyword whitelists. For example, I mentioned that I was trying to sell my speedboat. Since my boat is a Scarab, I put the word Scarab into the keyword whitelists so that all messages relating to my boat will come through. There are separate keyword whitelists for the message subject and for the message body.

I think that one of the best improvements with version 10 is how it handles mail: It archives mail to an SQL Server. Also, when version 9 detected spam, you basically had a choice of flagging the message as spam or deleting it. Now, you have the option of moving the spam to the user's Junk Mail folder (this requires the user to have Outlook 2003). This accomplishes two things. First, it means that users won't call to ask you to check the logs to see if a certain message was deleted. Second, it gives the users an easy way to recover deleted spam should a legitimate message been treated as spam. Did you catch that? It gives the users a way to recover mail themselves without calling you!

Another cool thing about GFI MailEssentials 10 is the way that it makes use of public folders. Users no longer need to call you to ask you to whitelist someone. They can just drag a message from the person that they want whitelisted to a special public folder and the name is automatically added to the whitelist. Similarly, the users can also help the Bayesian filter to become smarter. They can drag spam to a spam public folder or they can drag legitimate messages to a HAM public folder. In doing so, they will help the Bayesian filter to become more accurate.

I also really like all the extra features in the new version that have absolutely nothing to do with spam filtering. In addition to the POP2Exchange component, other features include a list serve and a disclaimer component that automatically appends disclaimers to the end of outbound e-mail messages. The list serve is used for sending out mass mailings. The software also includes a reporting engine, an auto reply feature and a component that lets you easily monitor a user's e-mail usage.

GFI MailEssentials 10 is a feature-packed product. The previous version has performed very well for me and I expect the new version to be even better.

You can read more about GFI MailEssentials 10 here.



Product Review

Product: GFI MailEssentials for Exchange/SMPT 10
Category: Server-based antispam tool
Vendor: GFI

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the chief information officer for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.

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