I have never been willing to spend a large sum of money to purchase a mobile MP3 player such as the IPOD or similar. But this past week I found a great deal on TigerDirect for a Sandisk Sansa 8GB player. My gracious wife made no objections to me getting it, so I happily placed the order. It arrived on my doorstep on Saturday afternoon in the mail, and I began goign through the options and setup. I can play video, music, photo slideshows, FM radio and even use it as a voice recorder. It works with Rhapsody which has recently become my favorite online music source. I like ITunes too, but I find I use it more for podcast subscriptions than music, only because I don’t have an IPOD so its not as useful for me. I spent a few hours this weekend searching for and adding new music to my new player. I know I am years behind and people have been doing this for quite a while, but having a mobile music player and being able to sync playlists and media and take them with me anywhere, is really cool!
I have tried several software packages to do screen recording, and I must say that my favorite by far is Camtasia studio by TechSmith. Their software is visually appealing with a modern and intuitive interface. It also outputs your projects in a variety of configurable formats and makes your work look very professional. Several neat features I enjoy are smart focus and a neat little mouse trick. With Smart focus, the video can zoom and pan as you move your mouse around while recording, this way the viewers get a close up view of what you are doing and you are not wasting as much viewing space with unused area on your desktop. I also like the feature of using the hotkeys to pause recording so you can make changes or do other tasks, and when you un-pause, the mouse is returned exactly to where it was when you paused the recording, eliminating the annoying mouse jumps you get in many other packages.
Its not free, and in fact is one of the most expensive solutions I looked at. But the user experience is ver good and the output is the best I’ve seen in screen recording packages. This is a great tool for many professions and specific tasks, but particularly useful in IT as you can record tutorials or how-to videos with ease, and make them very easily viewable and portable!
I have been a long time user of GFI software, relevant to this post is their Mail Essentials for Exchange package. I find it to be a very powerful and easily setup anti-spam system for Exchange. I have had very little trouble with it, and it is packed with useful features. However, recently I had some configuration issues with my spam setup, with rollernet really, not even an issue with Mail Essentials, but it got me thinking about my spam filtration system.
I am now on a quest to find an open source anti-spam solution for Exchange. I’m open to Linux based solutions as a gateway of sorts, but would prefer something that resides on the Exchange server running under Windows. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great respect for SpamAssassin and other gateway type spam fitlers, but it gives the end user a much better experience if the anti-spam software can interact with the user, especially if it integrates with Outlook.
Surely there must be some kind of solution out there I could try. At the very least I might install a few different packages under Linux and route incoming mail through them, and from there go to Exchange for evaluation. I can use server virtualization to allow for an easy evaluation of various types of configurations. ASSP I hear is very good and there was one other package that I found last night that sounds promising. I think it could be beneficial to have an additional layer of spam protection at the gateway level before GFI gets the messages and does its thing. My only concern is false positives. Lots of services and companies on the internet today do NOT have the proper DNS/MX confiugration and even at a more basic level don’t have their network setup right. All these network issues can have a major impact on e-mail deliverability. Its always a risk then when dealing with spam filters that you may block legitimate messages. I am always watching spam logs to ensure that I keep an eye on how the system is doing. If web services and companies would do a little work to get their sytems in compliance with RFS’s for SMTP and DNS, and setup the proper network configuration and mail server options, it would be a much better world for mail delivery without false positives.
Over the weekend I got an e-mail from Dennis Heidner who wrote SPAMLOGS for NoSpamToday. In version 3 of NST, the log parser “spamlogs” quit outputting the subject line of messages in the parsed log output. Dennis has corrected this in an updated version which should be available soon on the byteplant contributions area on their website. I have tested the new version and found that it fixes the problem. Dennis has also added some functionality to check for AUTH Attacks. SPAMLOGS conveniently checks for AUTH attacks and outputs the number of attacks per IP at the end (last column) of the spamlogs csv output.
SPAMLOGS is a must have for parsing the NST spamassassin log file, it turns the jumbled and confusing log file output from NST/SA into a readable and useful .CSV format. Combine his software with the automation utility or scheduled task, and it makes managing the mail logs much easier.
I previously mentioned that I’ve been trying to get the new Sunbelt Exchange Archiver installed for an evaluation and I’ve also mentioned the old “IHateSpam” product and the predecessor “Ninja” in previous blog posts. Here is an update on my status…
Sunbelt Exchange Archiver:
I am still unable to get the archiver to work, my issues at this point are with the database connection. No matter what I try, I can’t get the database connection to function. I finally did get the product to install but now you have to configure everything before it can start the services. As usual the Sunbelt documentation is sub-par and contradicts what support tells you. I will probably have to get a support rep on the phone and do a remote install session just to get the product running.
I upgraded my Exchange servers in my company to the latest build of Ninja which includes their new “STAR” engine. This replaces the old Sunbelt heuristic filter with a definition based system like the cloudmark engine. I was told by Sunbelt that their new engine “does not cause false positives” before I did the upgrade. Pre-upgrade testing showed no problems with system resources such as CPU utilization and spam catch rates were the same as previous tests on the old version. The problem comes in when deploying in production. I found soon after enabling the new engine that we were having problems with lots of false positives and even some internal mail was being filtered and going to user’s quarantine. I ended up having to disable their new engine and things are working much better now. I also resolved an issue with the anti-spoofing feature that was marking lots of external mail as spoofed.
I think in general Sunbelt Software is on the weak side in the following areas:
1. Documentation, frequently I find their documentation is incomplete, does not answer questions users would have upon installing, and contradicts other documentation related to steps in the process and also their support staff directly.
2. Internal testing, I know they test their products before releasing to the general public. However its been my experience that there are always unexpected issues when installing or upgrading any of the three Sunbelt Products I’ve used. Like with Ninja and their STAR engine causing false positives, and marking internal mail as spam when its not supposed to. Not to mention the default configuration causes high CPU utilization on the host server.
Unfortunately there are not many other alternatives to do the job that Sunbelt’s software does. I know there is no perfect software, and with software comes its share of bugs. One last complaint would be in diagnosing errors. I know that in Ninja when we would turn logging to high in order to diagnose problems (and you have to turn logging to high as the system logs only useless information in the low setting), the extra disk activity is a huge drain on system performance. This alone is enough to make users complain. But in order to get any useful information from the software, you have to perform this step. Also, the queue folders often start to build as mail backs up into the queue. Most of the time I am certain this is caused by Ninja or more specifically the SMTP event sink it uses. Mail backs up into the SMTP queue folder and before you know it, you’ve got hundreds of messages stuck and not being delivered. Of course you restart the services and try to clear the queue since its obviously a big deal, but then you don’t get any logging as to what caused the problem. Support has no idea, and tells you to run a snapshot which is useless unless your logging level is set to high.
Ninja also accounts for a large boost in disk activity, and shows a marked increase in the disk queue when viewed in perfmon. This causes general GUI slowness and delays when opening MMC consoles.
I will say that when Ninja works, it works well, but the slightest problem or glitch and your entire mail flow system can be affected. I suppose this is a risk with any spam filter, but we’ve had a long history with Sunbelt products and it seems that the core issues we had with previous version of their spam filter have carried over into Ninja in one form or another.
I am evaluating Sunbelt’s Exchange Archiver and have to say that I’m initially very impressed. I just watched a webcast where they did a product walk-through and discussed all the various features of the product. It appears to be very robust with several useful options many other archiving solutions do not have. For my company, I think this could be a great addition to our infrastructure to help reduce storage of messages on the Exchange server and help reduce backup times. It also makes archiving a back-end process eliminating quotas and manual archive methods and taking the responsability off the end user. I am working on getting a demo of the software to try out in real life and may evaluate it on my own person Exchange system. According to the website the archiver will be available for download on November 19th.
I recently stumbled across this awesome free beta of Microsoft Shared View. This reminds me a lot of the Windows Live Meeting client, it has the same basic look to it, same type of toolbar at the top of the screen, but its a more cut down version that seems easier to use. It does NOT have as many advanced features, but would be very handy for a variety of uses. Right now its in a free beta stage, and hopefully it will remain a free service.
My wife does digitial photograpgy, so this could be extremely useful for her when doing photo demo’s for clients. With this application she could share a folder of pictures or her graphics programs and let customers see real time what she is doing. This opens up a whole range of options for her for allowing clients to see what she is working on for them, and to interact more with them in deciding in exactly what they might want without having a need for a physical presence.
I haven’t made a significant post to my blog in a while now (not counting podcasts). I’ve been very busy lately and just haven’t had time to put my thoughts together and post anything useful. We are going to keep posting audio podcasts to my blog for friends and family to enjoy. Hopefully I’ll find some time in the near future to post some updates.
I have some really big plans for my blog in the coming weeks. I am going to separate the personal from the professional/technical and re-arrange things a little better. Also, I am going to be posting more useful tech content here. I have several big ideas of things I could do with my website, blog and even a few new avenues. Its exciting, now I just need to find time to work on all this stuff.