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Running your own email server

I’ve used email for over 25 years, long before the web or the internet existed. Oh, there was this experimental thing called ARPAnet, but it seemed to be mostly educational and military, and I was in the commercial world.

The email that I used was provided with the RSTS/E operating system. It was very primitive by today’s standards. Simple commands like “send” and “read”, along with a line editor instead of the full screen editors that we take for granted these days. Messages were limited in size and the number of people that you could send to was very limited. However, it was great for leaving messages for clients and communicating with the boss and co-workers.

The email system we used had lots of bugs and I soon found myself trying to fix things and make it better. Not long afterwards, I became the unofficial “email manager”.

I soon grew bored with the email system and was more than happy to expand my horizons into other areas. Later, we upgraded to a VAX and I quite naturally was put in charge of that email system as well. A few years later, we hooked the VAX into a network (networks were very new and exciting at the time) and suddenly we could send mail between companies! Wow, that made everything exciting again.

As the years progressed, I continued to manage, install and even design and program email systems for larger systems and networks. I still didn’t have much to do with this thing called the “internet”, but I did begin using the email systems on CompuServe and America Online. In fact, I could not resist the temptation of those millions of floppy disks and wound up with my very own America Online account.

The first application that I learned about when I got onto America Online was email. That’s not unusual, as most people seem to head straight for their handy email program as soon as they learn how to get onto the internet.

In fact, I had a blast with America Online for years, still barely aware of the existence of the internet. Compared to today, it was very primitive, but at the time it seemed wonderful. I worked on a Macintosh Classic with a while megabyte of memory! I was in heaven – I had email and I could download new wonders such as fonts, graphics and documents.

Later, I moved up to the more standard email offered by my ISP. Combined with Outlook Express it was a vast improvement over America Online’s email. I experimented and learned all of the in’s and out’s of this new (to me) email system.

Since then, I’ve changed email clients a dozen times, and although I remain with the same ISP for my web browsing, I’ve long since moved my email account to a better place. However, I longed for the days when I ran my own servers. There is something about having complete control over my email that just, I don’t know, made me feel more in control of life and the environment.

One day a few months ago I decided it was time to get my own email server again. What happened is my web hosting company flaked out on me. Their servers went down for almost a week with no explanation: in fact, not even an acknowledgment of the problems.

This produced an emergency situation. I did not know if my hosting company (also hosting my email accounts) was out of business or had fled to parts unknown. I had no idea at all – the only thing that was clear was that I had to move my sites yet again.

This time I decided to set up my own web servers, and I spent a good solid week doing just that. I set up a Windows 2000 system, installed IIS and soon had all of my sites defined.

This left me trying to figure out what to do about email. I had over 300 autoresponders and a dozen other email accounts on various domains. All of this had to be handled somehow.

I suppose I had many choices. I could have continued maintaining my email on various commercial web servers. I could have found another hosting company and moved my email accounts there. I could have done any number of other things.

But I was getting so tired of email and web hosting companies. This was the twelfth company that I had used, and they were a huge disappoint to me. I expected more from them, as they seemed like very good people and their services were well priced, but in the end they turned out to be the worst of all of them.

Thus, I concluded that I was going to take the plunge and build my own email server. This was a big change, but somehow it seemed right. It seemed good, it felt good.

Before I started looking for an email server, I made a list of my requirements. They were simple and straightforward:

  • The email server must be very secure
  • It must have good protection against open relays (a way for someone to basically hijack an email server and use it for spamming).
  • It must allow an unlimited number of email accounts
  • It must allow an unlimited number of domains
  • The server must run on Windows 2000 Professional or Server.
  • It must be fast and efficient
  • Both SMTP and POP3 must be supported (I didn’t need IMAPI).
  • Reasonable spam filtering

I looked through the various options and finally settled on the ArgoSoft email server. This met all of the criteria and was actually very inexpensive (the professional version is less than a hundred bucks).

So now I have my own email server. One of the first barriers that I encountered was trying to figure out how to enter all of my autoresponders – over 300 of them! I certainly didn’t want to edit them by hand! I’d already done that a couple of times before when I switched hosts, and I didn’t want to do it again.

ArgoSoft has a very simple database structure, and this fact helped me here. It turns out that each domain is a folder, and each username on a domain is another folder. There are some files within the folder, and these files define such things as the autoresponder data.

Thus, I was able to write a script in under 10 minutes that created and populated over 300 user accounts, complete with autoresponder data! The script worked first time as well!

I was already discovering the beauty of having my own email server. I could do anything that I wanted without asking permission or getting the brush off. This was turning out great.

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