Escaping Microsoft’s Hotel California. For lack of any other available alternative, I started using Outlook Express for mail about 18 months ago. It’s a decent mail client, does most of what I want–I don’t want much–and doesn’t do too terribly many things I don’t want it to. But it’s Microsoft. It runs on Windows. Its file formats are proprietary. It forces me to read my mail with the same workstation all the time. Migration makes me leave the mail behind. Most of it I want to leave behind, but do I want to sort it? NO! OK then. What to do?
Make an IMAP-enabled mail server out of a deprecated old PC and move all that mail over to it, that’s what. I tried to do this with TurboLinux but none of my mail clients wanted to talk to it. Since all of the books I have talk about Red Hat, I went with it, and it worked.
Here’s what I did. Install basic Red Hat. Include sendmail, procmail, fetchmail, imap. I pulled out all the XFree86 stuff. GUIs are for workstations. Command lines are for servers (and for workstations where you expect to get any work done quickly). Actually, I also pulled out just about everything else it would allow. A secure installation is a minimalist installation. After installation, edit /etc/inetd.conf. Uncomment imap line, save and exit. (I like pico, but you can do it with vi if that’s all you’ve got–find the line, delete the comment character, then save by hitting ZZ.) Bounce inetd with /etc/rc.d/rc3.d/inet stop ; /etc/rc.d/rc3.d/inet start. Create a user account with adduser [name] ; passwd [password].
Connect to your new IMAP server. For now, just use your ISP’s existing mail server for outgoing mail; use your IMAP server for incoming. Your username and password are the name/password you just created. After a brief delay, you should see your empty inbox, and you can start dragging stuff to it.
It went great for me. I created a new IMAP folder, opened one of OE’s folders, dragged all the contents over to the IMAP folder, and bingo! They moved. Read status and date were preserved too. (I’ve seen IMAP servers that wouldn’t do that.) I switched to another PC that had OE loaded and connected to my new mail server via IMAP and read some messages. Fantabulous.
Theoretically, I can go to my DSL router and forward port 143 to my mail server and read my mail from the outside.
Now, if you want to actually use your mail server to send mail, that gets trickier–you’ve gotta configure sendmail for that. The out-of-box setup is too secure to just use. Open /etc/mail/access and add your LAN to it, like so:
Of greater interest is the fetchmail/procmail combo. You can use fetchmail to automatically go grab mail from the 47 mail accounts you have, then use procmail to sort it and filter out some spam.
To configure fetchmail, create the file /root/.fetchmailrc and chmod it to 0600. Here’s a very basic configuration:
with protocol pop3
username myname password mypassword is my_name_on_my_linux_box
And finally, what’s the point of running your own mail server if you don’t spam filter it? There are lots of ways to go about it. I’m experimenting with this method. It uses procmail, which is called by sendmail, which is called by fetchmail. See how all this works?
If you want to get really smooth, you can even block mail before you download it with a program called Mailfilter. You probably don’t want to get as fancy with Mailfilter as people do with procmail, but you can use Mailfilter to search for certain key words or phrases like (checking my spam folder) viagra, mortgage, “fire your boss,” “lose weight” and delete them before you waste time and bandwidth downloading them. I’ve read estimates that spam traffic costs ISPs an average of $3 per month per user. Mailfilter won’t save your ISP very much, since the mail’s already been routed through its network and is just on its very last leg of the trip, but it’ll save them a little, and it’ll save you some bandwidth and time, so it’s probably worth it.
So if you’re looking to leave Outlook and/or Outlook Express all behind, or at least give yourself the option to use a different client, here’s the way out. It’s not too terribly difficult. And you gain an awful lot in the process: mail in a standardized, open format; redundancy; ease and versatility of backup (just schedule a cron job that tars it up and does stuff with it); the ability to very, very quickly search all of your mail with the Unix grep command (just log in, type grep -r [search string] * | more, and find what you’re looking for instantly) and far, far better mail filtering options.
And it’s infinitely cheaper (and more secure) than Exchange.