Finding a comprehensive mail handling package for Linux can be somewhat frustrating. The mysteries of sendmail and mmdf can drive newcomers to Linux running in circles, and packages with the capabilities of Microsoft’s Exchange server are either very expensive or not fully functional. 3Rsoft intends to offer a better way to handle mail with its MailStudio@Message package.

MailStudio@Message is an HTTP based e-mail package. From any machine with a Web browser, users can access their mailboxes based on a Linux machine. More than a simple mail handler, MailStudio@Message adds network storage access and a scheduling feature, all accessible through a browser. For those users who have favorite e-mail packages such as Outlook or Eudora, MailStudio@Message can integrate as a server to those readers as well. MailStudio@Message stores all the mail messages it handles on the Linux machine, instead of transferring them to the reader’s hard drive. This allows for more centralized backups and also permits the use of multiple machine (such as desktop and laptop) access without synchronization problems. Unfortunately, it also means a single point of failure and often large data files on the server. MailStudio@Message is designed for corporate environments, primarily those requiring many mailboxes, although any smaller company or even family-and-friend setups could easily use it.

The MailStudio@Message package consists of a CD-ROM with software for RedHat 6.x, TurboLinux 6.x, and a few UNIX variants (Solaris 2.5 and above, AIX 4.X, and Tru64 or OSF 5 compatible platforms). The software will run in demo mode unless a license key that hinges on a host ID is input. The software is accompanied by a single, relatively thin perfect bound GuideBook which steps you through the installation and configuration. The book is well written and illustrated. Installation of the software requires you to use tar or RPM to extract the CD-ROM contents, followed by an uncompression step. A script takes care of the installation and prompts for the few configuration parameters (host name, mail directories, and so on). The process takes only a few minutes.

The interface MailStudio@Message presents to the user can be changed from the default setup, and users can customize to some extent. The interface is clean and useful, and the reader and mail creation tool will require no training. It looks like any other GUI-based mail package in general use. The address book is well designed and allows for groups to be easily set up. There are several options for forwarding and automating mail checks, all of which the user will easily find and understand. The system administrator’s interface is just as easy to use, and allows system-wide settings of parameters such as maximum number of mail attachments and spam handling. There are quite a few parameters available for the system administrator to manage, but the interface makes working through the selections easy and fast.

There are several add-in packages for MailStudio@Message, none of which we tested, that could add useful features to some installations. An anti-virus package can check incoming and outgoing mail and attachments for viruses, although the recognized signatures do not seem to be updated as often as some other packages (such as MacAfee). Secure Webmail is designed to add SSL and S/MIME capabilities to MailStudio@Message to allow encrypted mail handling, especially useful when travelling or accessing mail from outside the corporate network. Digital signatures are also supported by the Secure package. For those with talented cellular phones, the WAP webmail plugin supports sending and receiving of e-mail via a cell phone with support for both WML and mHTML. Finally, Voice webmail adds real-time streaming voicemail with access to recorded messages from web browser with multimedia capabilities.

In our tests, we loaded MailStudio@Message on an 800MHz Pentium III server with 512 MB RAM, and over 100GB of hard drive. Running RedHat 6.2, we loaded and configured MailStudio@Message in about ten minutes. Since the demo version limits the number of users to 20, we simulated a load of 20 users accessing MailStudio@Message from clients of all types, all through Web browsers. With all 20 users simultaneously sending and reading e-mails with large attachments, the server took only a very small performance hit. A much slower Pentium system could easily handle the load for a 20-person office. A load sharing capability is built into MailStudio@Message but we could not test it with the demo version.

The other features of MailStudio@Message are interesting, but are flash to the basic e-mail package. The address book is useful and easy to work with, and integrates well with the e-mail composer. The file storage interface is essentially a front-end for FTP or Samba and allows remote creation of file and directory areas on the server (subject to system administration limits). The interface is good, but won’t replace some of the fancier drag-and-drop file transfer tools available for Windows and Linux. A neat feature of MailStudio@Message is a built-in BBS setup which allows for both public and closed user groups. This can be a friendlier interface to discussion groups than Usenet newsgroups as well as easier to manage. Finally, an instant messaging feature is acceptable but won’t rival some of the shareware messaging packages now appearing for Linux.

The strengths of MailStudio@Message are easy to see: server-based POP3 mail handler allowing access to mail boxes from any Web browser; easy installation and configuration; friendly user interface with zero learning curve, and good performance. If you are looking for a server-centric mail solution, 3Rsoft’s MailStudio@Message is a good place to start your search.

3Rsoft
MailStudio
50 user license: $495
2W Santa Clara St
3rd floor
San Jose
CA 95113
408-297-6594
209-882-6114 fax
http://www.3rsoft.com

Summary: Talented, easy to install server-centric POP3 mail handler with friendly user interface.