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Following the news that Tesco and Which are closing their email services, and against the background of Big Corp sucking your data away for its own purposes, you may be wondering where on earth you can turn for free, secure email. The answer? Yourself.
Or, to be more precise, MailEnable. And with a heavy caveat that you’ll need to be pretty darn technical to make it work.
While MailEnable is overkill for personal email, if you’re in charge of email for your company and want to move away from Exchange, Office 365 or the mail service provided by your ISP, then it’s an excellent choice.
And even if you are doing it for you alone, then not only is it fun to take full control but an excellent introduction to how such services work.
MailEnable: Why is it so special?
MailEnable has actually been around for years, and while I wouldn’t be at all be surprised if readers have heard or even used it before, it’s hardly hit the mainstream. So why use it?
It’s Windows-based for starters, so you can configure the kid using a nice interface from the outset; no commands to learn and endless configuration files to edit.
And, best of all, the standard version is free, comes with a full POP3/IMAP server, a full SMTP mail transport agent and supports unlimited mailboxes, domain names, forwarders, auto-responders, and mailing lists.
Yes, that’s all free – usually, something reserved for *nix users. That’s great news for Windows users, who have always had to pay Microsoft for the privilege. Little wonder that MailEnable now claims it’s the world’s most popular mail server on Windows.
MailEnable: The downsides
There are a few drawbacks to MailEnable.
Firstly, it isn’t open source, so if you want complete control over how it does things, you can’t just modify a bit of code or add your own and recompile and away it goes. (Saying that, you can add additional third-party components to it on its message transfer agent (MTA) and it provides an extensive API with examples on how to do this.)
Secondly, if you want any of the really cool stuff, such as advanced spam filtering, MAPI integration into Outlook, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync or some advanced security features, then you need to splash the cash. MailEnable still claims this is much cheaper than buying Microsoft Exchange and learning this.
Thirdly, the configuration settings are held in a text file on the standard edition. Once you start adding lots of mailboxes, users and domain name mapping rules, opening up that text file will start to kill your mail server and is a considerable waste of resources.
Database integration into MySQL or Microsoft SQL is available in one of the paid-for versions, though, and will solve this issue quickly. There’s even a handy migration tool.
MailEnable: The upsides
There are several reasons why MailEnable shouldn’t be dismissed along the lines of, “Oh, it runs on Windows, it will just be awful”.
If you have your own server, and are fed up with the way your ISP is handling your mail, then there’s nothing stopping you setting up a VPS somewhere, even at home on the end of your broadband connection, and sticking something like MailEnable on it. Yet more so if you’re unfamiliar with Linux.
One caveat: you may need to speak to your ISP to ask whether running a mail server at the end of a broadband connection is against its acceptable use policy.
Want more upsides? For one, it’s secure out the box. For two, it has a full-blown API so you can plug in your application if you want to allow users the ability to add, delete or edit things without giving them access to the server itself.
Finally, MailEnable provides you with an excellent learning tool if you want to learn a bit more about mail servers, MX records, and mail handling in general. As someone who runs an ISP, namely CIX, I can also tell you it will give you a fair idea of what an ISP has to go through in order to get your mail from A to B!
Oh, and it won’t cost you a fortune to do so.
MailEnable: How do I use it?
On my own desktop, I have a virtual machine running under Hyper-V that runs MailEnable just for an SMTP outgoing mail transfer agent – more for the fun of it rather than anything else. It sits on a virtual machine running 2GB of RAM with a couple of processors allocated to it, and you wouldn’t even notice it’s there.
Other Windows servers that should receive a worthwhile mention are IceWarp (formally Marek), VPOP3 and BatPost. None of these, however, offer a completely free version, merely a 30-day trial.
If you’re looking for a free email solution to play around with, deliver a bit of mail, and don’t have time to learn *nix, then give MailEnable a try.