January 26, 2005

Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 3) - Free SMTP Servers

If you use a standalone e-mail program for your personal use, you may eventually encounter the need to turn your PC into your very own outgoing mail server -- without having to be a certified network engineer. This is useful if your ISP locks its outgoing e-mail server and you're trying to access it without being logged in their system. For example, you might be trying to send e-mail from within another network (Wi-Fi, hotel broadband provider, etc.) and denied access. Some ISPs do this to prevent spammers from accessing their e-mail servers from the outside and exploit them as open relays. Another reason could be that you need to do some mass-mailing of e-mail newsletters, and some systems put limits on the number of concurrent recipients per e-mail. I've even encountered SMTP access issues on my home PC with multiple ISPs.

Free SMTP Server and the freeware version of the PostCast Server will do the trick. Both are SMTP server programs for your PC, which means that you can send e-mails directly from your PC without needing to connect to your ISP's or web host's outgoing mail server. (SMTP = Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). After installation all you generally need to do is change a single setting in your desired e-mail program: Change the SMTP server name to "localhost" (without the quotes), and you're ready to go. Need to change it back? Just type back in the setting you used previously (usually something similar to smtp.yourispdomain.com). You'll want to keep track of the prior setting for this reason.

I've tried both Free SMTP Server and the free PostCast Server on my home PC. Free SMTP Server is tiny and basic, doesn't muck up system files, and works on all flavors of Windows (95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP). It only has two sets of options and you generally don't need to change either one (DNS server and SMTP port number). As such, it doesn't put any noticeable strain on the PC. It was drop-dead simple to use and it worked well. If you have a personal firewall, you may need to configure a very simple rule to let Free SMTP Server send data out port 25, the standard port used for sending e-mail. For security reasons, don't configure it to allow any incoming traffic -- you're sending e-mail out, not in.

However, you may have more sophisticated needs depending on the network you're using and your particular setup. In that case, the free PostCast Server may be worth a look. Like Free SMTP Server above, it runs on Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP. It is definitely more fully-featured and sports a familiar Outlook-style interface. However, I noticed it uses more CPU resources by comparison and its 15MB program download installs many Windows system files. But if you're looking for a free SMTP server option for your PC with some flexibility and muscle, you might just want to check it out.

For most users, I recommend trying Free SMTP Server first.

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat
Posted by Jeff Beard