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Advice on free mail server for complete novice

Posted on 2006-07-18
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Last Modified: 2008-02-20
Hello..

Our current setup in this company is pop3 mail hosted by an external provider, which is obviously less than ideal as once the email is on the local pc, it isn't backed up, etc etc.  I'd like to implement a mail server, but the IT budget is stretched to the point of breaking.   I'm not sure if what I'm asking is reasonable or possible, so don't be afraid to tell me I'm an idiot, I already know that ;)  Basically I'm looking for a free mail service which will run on a windows 2000 pc.  

It MUST have the following:
1. Unlimited (or at least up to 100) users.
2. A centralised storage space (mail stored on server, not on local machines).
3. The ability to backup this storage (I don't expect the software to provide me with a backup method, but I'd like to be able to write a script that will take the mail folder and back it up).
4. The ability to set an out of office message for an individual.  
5. A good GUI - I need this to be so simple to set up and maintain that a monkey (me) can do it.  

It would be ideal if it could do the following as well, but it isn't essential.
1. The ability to restore mails that the user has deleted, ie, they delete it from their view but not from the server.
2. The ability for the user to set their own out of office message instead of me having to do it for them.
3. The ability to set a mailbox size limit.
4. A spam filter, or a way for me to set rules that filters out junk mail.

Don't ask much, do I???  Sorry, I'm a complete and total novice to this, so think of me as technologically clueless when you're answering.  And remember, I won't be offended if you tell me I'm a moron living in a little idealistic world of my own!  

Thanks!
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Question by:GlobexCorp
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Expert Comment

by:upul007
ID: 17130219
I think that what you need is possible using sendmail. But the os is linux. Other than that what you seek may be possible with www.alt-n.com software MDeamon. Though the latter carries a price tag.
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by:PsiCop
PsiCop earned 100 total points
ID: 17130628
sendmail is not a mailserver such as the Asker is looking for. It's a Mail Transfer Agent, responsible for moving E-Mail between mail servers. It does NOT support client access to mailboxes via POP or IMAP.

If you're going to lock yourself into Windoze, you'll find your choices of free mail hosting solutions (that's what you want - to do your own mail hosting) to be either very limited or non-existent. You're asking a lot, especially from the management perspective (e.g. ability to restore deleted mails, enforcing size limits, integrated SPAM filtering).

E-Mail is essential for most modern companies. You're already paying a hosting provider - doing your own mail hosting is going to cost you a reasonable fraction of what you're currently paying the external provider. You can keep these costs low by avoiding expensive, proprietary platforms (like Windoze), but you don't sound willing to do that.

Also, doing you own hosting *right* takes a certain measure of technical skill, which you've indicated you don't have at your disposal. If you're unwilling to obtain or develop that needed skills, then I'd suggest that your current arrangements are probably safer for your company, if not the most cost effective.
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by:GlobexCorp
ID: 17130872
I'd be willing to use one of the free unix OS's but it would mean learning two things at once - I'm not really familiar with any of them.  If the package is something that would be far better, I'll do that.  Like I said, though, the management functions are more of a bonus than a necessity - I'm willing to let go of that dream, too!  I do have a *certain* measure of technical skill, it just usually takes me a while to find my way around things..  I used to work supporting Lotus Notes, so if I was able for that, I'd be able to find my way (eventually) around other packages - I am willing to try, anyway.  If there was something that had a reasonably clear set of directions or a good forum, that would be ok.  So bearing that in mind, is there anything out there on any platform which will do the first five things I listed?

Thanks for the help, folks.
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by:rid
rid earned 100 total points
ID: 17131554
Take a look at Mercury (www.pmail.com). If you set all clients to run IMAP, the messages would be on the server and a backup scheme should pe possible to implement. This goes also for most Linux distributions, but then you'd use something like Postfix for MTA and an IMAP daemon for the user-interface part. The theory is the same, of course: messages and "directory structure" of users' mailboxes are on the server and can be backed up.

Normally, I advice against using e-mail as some kind of arciving system. It is much better in the long run if people learn to save the important messages themselves, as text documents (or even hardcopy), and the attachments as files of the proper type on their hard drives or centralised storage space (which, naturally, is being taken regular backups of...). They'd also kinda learn to trash all but the important things, probably.
/RID
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by:GlobexCorp
ID: 17131606
Thanks!  I'll take a look at all suggestions.

rid, in an ideal world, that would be what happens, but no matter how much I ask them to, most people are not filing their e-mails accordingly.  The official line will still be that all mails are stored with the relevant jobs (same as all other docs on our filing system), but I need a redundancy in place because I just know that isn't happening :)
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Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 17131662
OK, tell me about it.... :) I suppose IMAP should do the trick. The system/protocol is platform-independent, so the problem is to find suitable software. Mercury is still a suggestion (possibly some limitation on user number) or most any Linux distro, as they usually come with daemons for POP and IMAP and some kind of MTA (Postfix is a bit easier to handle, IMHO, than sendmail).
/RID
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by:RPPreacher
ID: 17131763
I use gmail for domains.
https://www.google.com/hosted

It provides antispam/antivirus, a GUI, calendar, web access, out of office, and google "archives" your email so it is "perpetually backed up" (in effect).
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by:PsiCop
ID: 17131872
I caution you to check the Terms of Service (ToS) of "free" services like GMail. If your goal is to provide E-mail services for a company, and that company could live or die by E-Mail, then be very, very careful about using something like GMail. This is not a knock against Google or their competition, but a careful reading of their ToS should give pause to anyone looking to have their corporate E-mail hosted at such a service.

In a nutshell, Google's ToS (like practically every other such "free" service) allows them to suspend any or all of your services, at any time, without explanation or recourse by you. They aren't liable for any data loss, recovery of E-Mail, or much of anything else. You use their services at your own risk, and if all your E-Mail vanishes into the Great Bit Bucket In the Sky one day, tough.

If those risks are acceptable to your business enterprise, well and good, sign right up. But make sure you understand those risks.
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by:slyong
ID: 17135595
XMail (http://www.xmailserver.org/) does most of what you required.  Have a check on that
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Accepted Solution

by:
slyong earned 300 total points
ID: 17135653
> It MUST have the following:
> 1. Unlimited (or at least up to 100) users.
Definately and it is free

> 2. A centralised storage space (mail stored on server, not on local machines).
As previously posted suggestion, use IMAP

> 3. The ability to backup this storage (I don't expect the software to provide me with a backup method, but I'd like to be able to write a script that will take the mail folder and back it up).
This should be no problem

> 4. The ability to set an out of office message for an individual.  
http://xmail.thbird.org/ (but you have to have Perl on Windows)

> 5. A good GUI - I need this to be so simple to set up and maintain that a monkey (me) can do it.
http://www.encenia.com/ , http://www.webifi.com/xmail/

> It would be ideal if it could do the following as well, but it isn't essential.
> 1. The ability to restore mails that the user has deleted, ie, they delete it from their view but not from the server.
This is a bit hard unless you always route a piece of email to another user.. not sure

> 2. The ability for the user to set their own out of office message instead of me having to do it for them.
hmm... not sure too

> 3. The ability to set a mailbox size limit.
There is a quota monitor software http://xmail.eye-catcher.com/products/XMQuotaMonitor/ but the website is having some problem.

> 4. A spam filter, or a way for me to set rules that filters out junk mail.
http://www.ellingson.com/xmail/ AntiVirus and Spam protection :)
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Author Comment

by:GlobexCorp
ID: 17137406
Thank you folks, definitely enough information to be moving along with.  I think I'll give xmail a shot.  
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