Friday, January 15, 2010

Speaking of email... continued background book stuff

Hey everybody,

Speaking of the VMs and configuring them for the book, there is a pretty big shortcoming to using server 2008 R2 as the OS for the VMs-- No email services.  Yup, Server 2003 (and 2003 R2) had built-in SMTP and POP3 capabilities in the form of IIS and a POP3 service that could be enabled.

But with 2008 R2, POP3 support is no longer available. (you've gotta love upgrades that are not an improvement...)  Also, let's not forget, a built in email client isn't even supported in Windows 7...

Except I need to be able to demonstrate (and screenshot) alerts and incoming email (and if I do DMS, I need to be able to demo email there as well).  What will I do?

Well, I rebel against using anything that costs extra money on these little VMs.  They're just for demo purposes, so I don't want to pay for a full email server package when, after the book is done, the VMs are likely to be shutdown and archived, and not used again.  Not to mention that I won't really be sending email to anyone from the VMs, heck most of the accounts I create there won't be sending email either.  And let's not forget that, as a frugal admin, I already paid for a server.  I hesitate to spend more money after that, that's one of the reason's I like SharePoint Foundation (or WSS).

You might think that, because I do have TechNet and MSDN subscriptions, I could install Exchange on one of the VMs as well.  That would give me an email server.  But have you tried to conserve resources on a laptop running VMs and use Exchange on one of them?  Can you imagine how long it takes to start or shutdown a VM running Exchange? Not to mention the fact that, if I included any email server configuration, I'd be implying to the readers that Exchange might be required.  Which is exactly not what I want to do.

So, no Exchange. 

So, should I roll back to Server 2003?  Can't.  SPF will only install on Server 2008 or higher.  That means, exploring other options.

Free options.  Options that take very, very little storage space, RAM, or processor resources. And, they have to be easy to implement and manage-- because I don't have time to waste learning a one time, one use product.

I started with hMail Server (  It didn't work on my DC1 VM no matter what I tried.  I'm sure it was just a little configuration glitch that, if I'd had time, I could have fixed.  But, it just wasted too much of my time-- so hMail Server was out.

Then I tried SmarterMail, by smartertools (  It installed easily, was super easy to set up (once I figured out the obscure configuration button to add users), and it worked flawlessly.  No tweaking, no learning curve, no lengthy configuration, no fiddly install requirements.

But, poor SmarterMail is a memory hog.  It just kept taking more and more RAM for a server that was to be the leanest of the bunch, the domain controller.

So SmarterMail had to go too.

And then I stumbled up MailEnable, (  This little program does require some fiddly pre-install steps.  It was written more for 2003 than 2008 or later, so you have to add web server role, IIS 6 compatibility, and support, just to install properly, but that's it.

Once you have it up, it works.  It has a webmail interface that actually functions (well after I removed then reinstalled the webmail bits, a single button click btw, from the default web site in IIS, and then rebooted the server), and it even support Active Directory.

Yeah, it actually supports AD authentication and accounts.  Most of those free mail server say they do, but don't really work that smoothly with AD.  But imagine my surprise when it did actually create a new user in AD based on a user account that was created in the MailEnable admin console.  I was stunned, but there you go.

And best yet, MailEnable is taking up very little RAM or hard drive space so far.  So I think I found a winner.

And because you're reading this blog, and you're getting the behind the scenes info about the making of the Mastering SharePoint Foundation 2010 book, even if no screenshots are ever done of the email server on DC1, you will know that, in the background, the author was using MailEnable to do the email for the book. And if anything looks funny, you'll know why. ; P

Oh, and speaking of the screenshots for the book.  Anything email related will, more often than not, be shot from the client machine.  So what am I going to use for an email client if I like free things that don't take up many resources?

If you thought I was going to do live mail, well, you're out of luck.  Thunderbird?  Good idea, but it can be slow, clunky, and a bit of a resource hog for just getting and receiving a little email.

Now, a lot you know that I've been using portable apps ( since I started working with Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2.  Money's tight, so I had to make do with everything on one laptop.  That means that the machine I'm using for beta testing, presentations, and writing the book are all one machine.  If you've been reading my server edition blog, you know that my laptop is running Windows 7 with a 2008 R2 vhd boot. I'm actually writing this blog entry from the 2008 R2 vhd boot.  As a matter of fact, I'm spending most of my time on the 2008 R2 partition because it's where all my hyper-v VMs are.

But, that vhd has only about 25GB of storage.  That plus the fact that I need that OS to run lean, so all resources go to my VMs, means you can see why I am reluctant to install anything on the OS itself.

Therefore, to have my favorite amenities while I'm logged into the 2008 R2 VHD, I'd have to find them among the portable apps.  That and I need them to be free, of course.

To that end I'm running VLC and XMplay for my audio and video needs (and using my fave, Audacity, for recordings, portable version of course).  I can also run Firefox portable as well, but I've already got IE on the image, so it's not really a requirement.  I just use it for some sites and downloads.  I'm using Xnews for NNTP newsreading, but I'm not really crazy about it.  Using Lightscreen for screenshots-- that'll work until I actually have to edit them, then I'll probably have to install Snagit or something. Filezilla for FTPing files to and from the publisher for the book. Infrarecorder for burning DVDs (not super crazy about it), Foxit reader for PDFs, and pidgin for IMs (on the very rare occasion I use IM). I'm also experimenting with Open Office portable (particularly Writer) for writing the book.  Wiley has some OO templates that I could use, to avoid installing big, bloated, slow Word, but I am spoiled by some of the nice extras Word offers.  Darn you Word! ; P

I am using Thunderbird for email, portable version of course.  I was also using the calendaring and task support features (task integrated with remember the milk) in Thunderbird, but Thunderbird really, really, really lagged with the add-ons, so I just use it for email and a few newsgroups.  Instead, for calendar and tasks I use Rainlendar2.  It's a little quirky, but I really like the skins, countdowns, and weather widget.  I'll try to post screenshots of my desktop so you can see it-- very HUD (heads up display). All these apps are conveniently used from my portable apps popup menu, nice feature that.

Of course, that brings me back to trying to find a free, skinny email client for my Windows 7 VM for the book.  As you know, I've been using Thunderbird (version 3, still in beta but pretty sweet), and I've been trying to find something better than Thunderbird for simple email that is fast, dependable, and portable.  So far, my two big contenders are i.scribe (otherwise known as Scribe) and sylpheed. And honestly, I prefer iscribe, with it's pared down simplicity, but that's just personal preference.  But both are less heavy and slow than Thunderbird.

So the W7Client VM used for the book will probably have email screenshots from i.scribe. 

And now you know, and you know why.

A bit of an insider's view of the making of the Mastering SharePoint Foundation 2010 book. Just so you know.


Anonymous said...

Nice article but wanted to mention the following: I have a Windows Hosting company and use SmarterMail to manage thousands of domains for our shared customers and provide each VPS and dedicatd customer a copy SmarterMail. The reason I chose SmarterMail, is because it is built on the .NET framework and uses memory as it is avaliable and deallocates memory when the server is running low on resources (garbage collects). This is how it becomes efficent in not only low resource servers but also 64bit machines that have plenty of resources. A well built server application should be smart enough to operate in both modes to get the most out of the software and the server. In your tests, you should start consuming the extra memory etc. and watch how SmarterMail deallocates memory. SmarterMail has the web interface and one mailservice.exe and mailenable has like 7 or 8 separate windows services that grow over time but do not release resources. Providing mail services is one of our biggest support headaches and SmarterMail has made our life a lot easier and the reason for the biased opinion :)

Callahan said...

Thank you for your comment, annonymous person who has a Windows Hosting company.

To start, I appreciate your comment, because you're giving me an insight to products I am brand spanking new to. I am struggling with having to stop what I am really supposed to be doing and focusing on trying to find a decent free email server product so I can get back to do what I really need to do. Because of this, I can't spend the appropriate amount of time on researching products to find the right one-- leading me to rather haphazardly try something, find it not quite what I need, give up, try something else, etc.

This doesn't put me in an ideal place and leaves me in danger of hazards I wasn't expecting later. It's not where I want to be with this stuff, but I can't spend more time on it.

Therefore, your feedback is really pretty valuable to me-- even if it is biased, lol.

But, I have to say that I feel SmarterMail, despite it being such a great product, doesn't work for me.

The bottom line is, no matter how willing SmarterMail is to give up RAM when the server is struggling, I need a product that doesn't use much in the way of resources *from the start.* The VM that would be hosting the product has to be lean and fast, and SmarterMail isn't supposed to be its focus.

That said, I found MailEnable to be less obtrusive as far as resources. BUT-- I did find that you were absolutely right about there being so many services running for ME. It is true. But on my machine (wish I could insert a screenshot here), they are barely using 1MB of RAM apiece. However, I will definitely keep your comment about the fact that they don't *release* the RAM they take in mind. Thanks for the heads up on that. I'll have to stop and restart the services or maybe do a reboot (which I can on a little network of VMs).

I guess what I'm saying is, in my environment, when I am using email to send, at max, four to ten messages per the course of the book, SmarterMail was too much product for me. It was great, was super easy to set up, and simply just *worked* without any additional tweaking.

In addition, something that appealed to me with ME was the lack of a domain or user limit. With SmarterMail (the free version) I had to have only one domain, but in the book, I need two-- one for my main internal domain, which ends in lcl, and my email domain, which ends in com. ME can support that.

Thanks again though for the feedback, it was exactly the sort of information I need.

Hey, you wouldn't have any opinions about ESXi versus Xenserver, would you? ; P