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hMailServer: Free open-source SMTP/POP3 email for Windows

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Many people who use Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 are dismayed by the lack of a SMTP/POP3 server in the standard edition. If they want full email functionality, they have to install Exchange Server, which is a lot more than many shops need if they're managing just a few basic mailboxes.

I've looked at some simple free/open-source SMTP/POP3 solutions for Windows in the past. Among them was XMail, but I became very discouraged after working with it, because it was difficult to configure and manage.

A much better, more polished and Windows-specific implementation of a no-cost email server is hMailServer 4.2. In addition to being free and open-source, it's easy to set up and work with, and presents users with a GUI-based manager (as opposed to XMail's plethora of configuration files).

hMailServer stores all email data in a database, and can work with either MySQL or Microsoft SQL Server. If you're using SBS 2003 with SQL Server, you can make use of your existing SQL Server installation. If you're using anything else (including non-server operating systems like Windows XP Professional or even Windows XP Home), you can opt for MySQL, which is fairly lightweight and has no licensing restrictions.

The vast majority of commonly-needed email features are supported, including:

  • Antispam via tarpitting
  • DNS blacklisting
  • SPF
  • DNS MX checking
  • Antivirus integration
  • External accounts
  • Mail processing rules
  • Multihoming/mirroring/load-balancing support
  • Mail name aliases
  • Distribution lists
  • Support for multiple languages in the administrative interface

Also included with hMailServer is the Web-based mail package SquirrelMail (written in PHP5), which is used by many ISPs to provide Web mail for their customers. Finally, the package includes a COM library that lets programmers access hMailServer through scripts or standalone applications.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.


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"Many people who use Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 are dismayed by the lack of a SMTP/POP3 server in the standard edition. If they want full email functionality, they have to install Exchange Server, which is a lot more than many shops need if they're managing just a few basic mailboxes."

I have Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 Standard running at customer sites with as few as four mailboxes. The installation of Exchange 2003 is performed as part of SBS 2003's integrated Setup.

The setup is easy (and I am neither an MCSE nor an Exchange MVP). It is more trouble to *not* install Exchange than it is to let integrated Setup install it since other SBS 2003 capabilities, like management reporting and Outlook Web Access, depend on Exchange. The Server Management Wizards (Configure E-mail and Internet Connection Wizard, Add a User Wizard, etc.) work extremely well and hide 95% of the complexity associated with managing Exchange in a non-SBS environment.

Once setup is complete, one has an integrated suite of products which is reliable, performs well, and is well-supported by Microsoft and dozens of SBS MVPs.

hMailServer sounds like it might be a great solution for some of my customers who use Windows XP Pro peer networks, but I see absolutely no reason to install it on SBS 2003.
—Owen W.

******************************************

There are three points I'd like to make:

  1. You have Exchange, why not use it? It isn't that difficult to manage.
  2. You lose SECURE remote email access (unless you want the difficult process of securing it).
  3. Too complex to setup Exchange, but you have to setup SQL Server???

—Kevin K.


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Related information from SearchExchange.com:

  • Tip: Microsoft Outlook without Exchange Server -- an option for small businesses
  • Our SearchExchange.com experts' favorite freeware
  • FAQ: Exchange and Small Business Server issues
  • Reference Center: Exchange Server administration tools

    This was first published in May 2006

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