While some would say there is no such thing as a free lunch, if by "lunch" they mean canned spam, they're wrong. A free application called SpamPal will toss your junk mail in the can quietly, efficiently, and accurately. Oh, and did we mention that it's free?
SpamPal sits between your e-mail program and your mailbox, checking e-mail as it arrives. Anything identified as spam gets tagged with a special header. Configure your e-mail client to filter anything with this header into a separate folder, and the software whisks away spam simply and efficiently. You can review the folder's contents at will or simply dump the stuff unread.
SpamPal does its filtering in a number of ways. In general the software works by referring to DNSBL lists. These lists contain addresses and information for machines throughout the Internet that are known sources of spam. Many but not all Internet service providers already block mail based on these lists. By using SpamPal as a buffer, however, you're assured that all such mail is blocked.
Optional features extend the blocking even further. For example, SpamPal lets you block e-mail from entire countries, especially those that are most often abused by spammers, such as China, Korea, and Taiwan. And optional plug-ins like the Bayesian filter (more on this feature later) add enhanced spam protection.
SpamPal isn't for everyone, though. While it supports standard e-mail programs such as Outlook, Outlook Express or Eudora, it won't work with Internet-based e-mail services like AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo. It also requires more configuration to work with Outlook Express and Outlook than install-and-run spam tools like Qurb, Norton AntiSpam, and Cloudmark SafetyBar. It also lacks user-friendly features such as approve/block buttons that reside in these mail clients' toolbars.
Still, that leaves many people who can make use of SpamPal, and for them, the tool offers a number of helpful features to ensure smooth operation.
|SpamPal tracks filtering operations and spam database queries and reports the activity in summary form.|
Whitelists, Blacklists, Bayesian Technology, and More
One of the biggest complaints we have regarding spam blockers is that they sometimes send real mail into the junk box. This is more than just a nuisance it can be a serious interruption to your business. SpamPal addresses this in several ways, with the primary tool being whitelists, filters designed to allow mail from certain senders to pass through unquestioned.
You can whitelist family, friends, or business associates so that their mail is never tagged as spam. You can also disagree with a DNSBL list, whitelisting that entire block as true mail. In addition, individuals and mail servers with whom you correspond frequently are automatically whitelisted.
On the flip side, you can manually blacklist e-mail addresses or an entire block of senders as spammers.
Open Source Plug-Ins
In addition to being free, SpamPal is also open source, which means the code is available to anyone who wants it. Developers have been busy adding their own plug-ins to this already versatile software. One function, for example, lets you filter by URLs (Web links) contained within the body of a message body. Spammers can disguise their addresses all they like, but if the link within the message leads to an ad for enlarging body-parts, that mail is going in the trash.
Another powerful plug-in is the Bayesian filter. Rather than relying on lists of reported spammers, Bayesian techniques use sophisticated algorithms to process statistical data in order to ferret out the junk mail. So if you find that SpamPal's default anti-spam techniques aren't quite measuring up, you can install the Bayesian plug-in to give SpamPal an additional level of spam detection.
Here's one more caveat: SpamPal can often have a bumpy time interacting with Outlook and Outlook Express. Some people have found that the spam-trap folder disappears every time they boot up. There is an easy fix for this one, though simply create the folder at the root of the tree or within a folder other than deleted items (as opposed to creating it as a sub-folder of the deleted items folder). An easy fix, but you'll need the FAQ to walk you through it.
Overall, is SpamPal worth these small inconveniences? We think so, for a number of reasons.
First, SpamPal works, canning well over 90 percent of all junk and rarely sending any real mail to the scrap heap. Note: people report that false positives appear more often with the Bayesian plug-in installed.
Second, it's free have we mentioned yet that it's completely free? With few genuinely free anti-spam alternatives available, SpamPal stands out primarily on this point alone.
Third, unlike most alternative freeware applications, this one does not serve up any adware or spyware.
Pros: This effective and free application stomps on nearly all incoming spam
Cons: Requires more tweaking to work with Outlook/Outlook Express than competing tools. Lacks approve/reject message buttons in Outlook/Outlook Express toolbars; there can be a few small hiccups in the Outlook interface; difficult to fine tune spam filtering control
Adam Stone writes extensively on business and technology issues. He makes his virtual residence at email@example.com and his physical home in Annapolis, Md.
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