A Dancer's Review of Spamnix & Spamkiller

Software for Blocking Junk E-Mail

As dancers, we frequently publish our e-mail addresses on our web sites or give them to vendors when we order products. We want prospective students, customers, and the vendors who are processing our orders to be able to contact us easily.

Unfortunately, making ourselves easily available to the people we want to reach also makes us available to horrid people who want to send us junk e-mails. These advertisers discover our addresses and start sending us rubbish advertising pills, pornography, devices to enlarge the penis, mortgages, gambling web sites, and many other products we don't want. Even fellow dancers can engage in this offensive practice, sending us e-mailed announcements about their weekly beginner classes 1,000 miles away from us. They don't stop to think about whether I'll want to climb on an airplane every Wednesday to attend their weekly 1-hour class...

Many software products have been created to fight this scourge of the Internet. I don't know why, but Internet junk e-mail has become known as "spam". The company of Hormel, who makes the canned meat product called Spam, has made numerous attempts to persuade the technology community to choose a different term, but it has stuck.

Even though I work in the computer industry for my day job, I really don't want to spend a lot of time fussing with software trying to make it do what I want. I'd rather dance! Or add a new song translation to my web site. Or watch a great video of an Egyptian dance star. So I wanted something that would protect me from all this annoying spam without my having to spend too much time making it work. I'm sure many of my fellow dancers share my feelings about this!

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McAfee Spamkiller

The first anti-spam software I tried was McAfee Spamkiller. This product works on Windows machines, with e-mail accounts that use a technology known as "pop3". The way this software works is that first you use it to access your mailbox and check the pending messages. It retrieves the messages and examines their content to determine which are spam and which are not. It removes the ones it believes are spam from your online mailbox, and leaves the others there. You can then run your normal e-mail software, such as Microsoft Outlook or Eudora to pick up the remaining messages.

I was disappointed with this product, for several reasons:

  • I encountered many software defects of features that didn't work properly. McAfee software in general seems to suffer from poor quality assurance practices, and I have discontinued use of all McAfee products because of it. It didn't used to be that way when John McAfee still ran the company (I met him many times), but after he left the suits who took over seemed to have other priorities that took precedence over quality.
  • The feature that allows you to create your own rules for identifying a message as spam sometimes doesn't work. I created many rules which were ignored.
  • The feature for creating your own rules is very limited in what it can do. There were many rules I wanted to create but was prevented from doing due to lack of features in the software.
  • The documentation was poorly written. Even though I am a computer professional, I had difficulty figuring out how to use some features.
  • After I was out of town for a week, I found the software to be painfully, dreadfully slow at processing a mailbox with a large number of pending messages that accumulated while I was gone. After I returned from one trip, the software sat there for 8 hours without completing its check. Another time, it ran overnight without completing.
  • The software chews up large amounts of memory, slowing all other operations while it is running. For example, I could not productively work on my web site while it was running. And of course, I needed to wait until it had completed before I could check my emails.
  • It requires you to pay for a yearly subscription if you want to receive updates capable of trapping new spam techniques. This costs almost as much as purchasing the initial product.
  • It runs separately from your usual mail software. This means that if you run your normal e-mail program when you turn on your computer in the morning, without first waiting an hour for Spamkiller to process the garbage that arrived overnight, you'll find your mailbox full of spam.

However, in fairness to the product, I should point out that there are some things I like about it:

  • It doesn't matter what software you are using on your Windows machine: Outlook, Eudora, or anything else. As long as the remote computer uses "pop3" technology, Spamkiller is able to filter messages before you pick up your mail.
  • Messages that it identifies as spam are stored in a folder on your computer. That way, you can examine the things it rejected and determine whether it discarded something you wanted to keep.

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Because of the things I complained about above, when I bought a new laptop computer I decided I would not buy a second McAfee license for that computer. Instead, I decided to try something else.

I looked at several products, and decided to try Spamnix, which requires the computer it's on to have Eudora software. It works on both Windows machines and Macintoshes, but people who don't use Eudora won't be able to use Spamnix. I use Eudora instead of Outlook to manage my e-mail because Microsoft products are leaky sieves when it comes to being vulnerable to viruses and other security risks, so this meant that Spamnix would be able to work on my machine.

I found that I much preferred Spamnix over McAfee Spamkiller, for these reasons:

  • It was very easy to figure out how to use it.
  • It works as a plug-in to Eudora, meaning that every time I retrieve e-mail from within Eudora, Spamnix takes action. I don't need to run two separate programs - every time I open Eudora, Spamnix is ready for action.
  • Its performance is much faster than that of McAfee Spamkiller. When I had several hundred messages pending in my mailbox after being away from my e-mail for a week, Spamnix processed them all within 15-20 minutes, whereas Spamkiller would have taken several hours.
  • Although Spamnix provides a way for me to define my own rules for identifying spam, I've found that I haven't needed to use this feature. This is because it has another feature called "learning" in which I tell it a message that it missed contains spam and it automatically figures out a rule to apply. I have had excellent results with this feature.
  • The price for purchasing Spamnix is lower than the price for purchasing Spamkiller. I love it when the better product is also the one that costs less money!
  • It places messages suspected of containing spam into a folder in Eudora, allowing me to easily move messages that it falsely thought were spam into my "In Box". Although Spamkiller also has a way to rescue messages, it's more awkward to use than Spamnix's feature.
  • It gives you a 30-day free trial in which you can use the full functionality of the software and make up your mind whether you want to pay for it or not.
  • Even while Spamnix and Eudora are retrieving and filtering messages, I can easily use my computer for other things with no noticeable performance degradation.

Of course, no product is perfect. Here are the disadvantages I have seen with Spamnix:

  • It can only be used on computers that run Eudora. Most people don't use Eudora, and therefore can't use Spamnix. This is okay for me, because I use Eudora, but it limits who else I can recommend it to.
  • It does still slow the performance of checking e-mail. It's much better than Spamkiller, but it still makes the process noticeably slower.

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