Product Review: GFI Software’s Mail essentials

Mail essentials 6, prices start at USD $350 for 10 users

My rating: 4.5 Green Guys

There a more than a handful of third-party add-on applications for Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2000.  The available products sometimes come as single purpose application and other times come as integrated packages that are designed to meet some, if not all, needs you may have above and beyond a base installation of Exchange Server.  These products cover a wide range of areas, from administration to content checking to virus scanning and POP3 retrieval.  While there are many excellent products on the market that expand Exchange Server’s abilities, I’ve found my ideal product in Mail essentials from GFI Software.

About Mail essentials
Mail essentials is very robust product that provides the following features to you:

  • Email content checking/filtering.  Mail essentials can check all inbound and outbound mail for objectionable content.  Mail essentials can check for:
    • Dangerous attachments, such as .exe and .vbs.  As these file types are likely to carry viruses or worms, it is best to quarantine them immediately before they get distributed to your users.  An administrator can review quarantined mail for further action, either approval or rejection.
    • Script code within the body of the message itself.
    • Offensive content or confidential content (by keyword).
    • Other attachments as you see fit, such as .mp3 or .mpg, which are space and bandwidth hogs.
  • Automatic removal of HTML scripts.  HTML mail is a real danger to your network.  It is possible for unscrupulous people to embed command in HTML mail that can cause damage your network clients.  Mail essentials can detect and remove these commands before the mail makes it into the network.
  • Automatic quarantining of Microsoft Word documents with macros.  Any Microsoft Word or Excel documents that cross into your network via incoming email will be scanned for macros.  If macros are found the message will be quarantined, awaiting administrative action.  This serves to protect you against all current and future macro viruses.
  • Virus checking.  Mail essentials features the enterprise level Norman anti-virus engine as an integral part of its system.  All messages coming to our leaving your network can have their attachments scanned for viruses, preventing the spread of viruses on your network and saving you the embarrassment of dealing with infections caused by your outgoing messages.  The virus definition files can even be automatically updated by Mail essentials, further increasing your level of safety and protection.
  • Rule-based configuration.  You can configure multiple content checking and file checking rules, which allow you complete control and flexibility in how you check message traffic coming into and going out of your network.
  • Control quarantined mail.  If you wind up with quarantined mail (and you will), you have two ways in which to deal with.  You can work with quarantined mail via an e-mail client, typically done by the administrator, or by using the Moderator Client.  Using the Moderator Client allows you to delegate this responsibility to other administrative personnel.
  • Detects attachment extension hiding.  Email attachments with scripts (for example *.vbs) can be disguised as *.txt files by using the CLSID of the extension instead of the actual file extension. Mail essentials detects this and quarantines script or executable files, even if they are disguised as *.txt files, for example.
  • Anti-spam.  Mail essentials uses a fairly smart anti-spam scanner to detect typical spam practices, such as incorrect Reply To addresses, From headers with incorrect domains, etc.  Because spam is stopped at the door, you save time and money.
  • Personalized server-based auto replies with tracking number.  When running on Windows 2000, Mail essentials can give more than just a standard “out of the office” reply.  Automatic replies can be assigned tracking numbers and contain custom text, letting your outside contacts know that their message was received and is traceable.
  • POP3 downloader.  Mail essentials can download, forward and distribute mail retrieved from Internet POP3 mailboxes to your Exchange Server mailboxes—something Exchange simply can’t do on its own.
  • Reporting.  You have the ability to create reports on just about all facets of Mail essentials operation, including:  daily statistics, detailed log of sent mail, reports per user, etc.  These can be used for costing or tracking as you see fit.
  • Automatic disclaimer text.  Because companies are seen as being responsible for the mail that employees generate, it can serve to protect the company by placing a disclaimer on all outgoing mail.  Additionally, you can place a standard footer on all outgoing mail, such as a slogan, location or public key.
  • Mail archiving to a database.  Although this will be viewed as a bad thing by some, Mail essentials allows you to archive all incoming and outgoing messages in an ODBC database of your choosing.  This can use to create an additional backup of the messages, for quality control or legal purposes.

Working with Mail essentials
Mail essentials provides just about everything I was looking for in an add-on to Exchange Server—and then some.  What I wanted to see was a product that would retrieve POP3 mail, scan for attachments and quarantine questionable ones and perform virus scanning of incoming and outgoing messages.  As embarrassing as it is to get a virus outbreak on your internal network, it’s even to more so embarrassing to be labeled as the cause of one on someone else’s network.  Mail essentials met all of my needs easily and then threw in a handful of other nifty things to further enhance Exchange Server.  Figure 1 shows how Mail essentials integrates into your Exchange implementation—with no changes required in the existing Exchange Server system.

Figure 1 – Mail essentials integrates easily into your existing Exchange Server implementation (courtesy of GFI Software).

I am not going to go into great detail here about how all of Mail Essential’s features work here, as I will do this in a later article.
The Interface
Mail essentials is easily configured from a familiar MMC style interface, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – The Mail essentials interface.

By clicking on any item in the left-hand side of the console window, the corresponding item will appear in the right-hand side of the console window.  You can then configure items by clicking on them or right-clicking and selecting Properties.  So far, no surprises.  For nodes that have no child objects pre-defined, the child objects can be created by right-clicking on the node and selecting New…  Again, no surprises.  It’s always nice when you don’t have to learn a new interface in order to get to work with a product.  I will be going into more details about working with each of the node items in the console in a later article, but for now it’s sufficient to say that you should have a fairly small learning curve when getting started with Mail essentials.  Should you have any troubles, the 100+ page manual, available for download from the Mail essentials Download page should get you on the right foot.

The Verdict
As you’ve already seen, I rated Mail essentials 4.5 Green Guys (out of 5 possible), so I thought it was fairly well put together application which provided an ideal amount of functionality.  The licensing prices are quite reasonable, and as you would expect get much lower as the quantity of licenses increases.  It’s well worth the additional money above what you’ve already got invested in your Windows 2000 / Exchange 2000 setup.  If you need help selling the product to your bean-counters, GFI has even put together a slick White Paper on why simply relying on a client-side anti-virus program is not enough to protect your network.  So, without further ado, let’s look at my list of good and bad about Mail essentials:


  • Easy to use interface
  • Full range of add-on features
  • Robust virus scanning features with automatic updates during term of service contract
  • Easy to install, configure and get to work with
  • Affordable licensing makes for attractive purchase
  • Effectively scans and isolates unwanted or potentially harmful attachments at the gateway to the enterprise


  • Could benefit from increased monitoring capabilities

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