Internet Tips: Block Spam for Free in the Mail App of Your Choice
Spam has evolved from a mere annoyance into a dangerous plague. The sheer volume of spam hurts your productivity, and spamlike messages often conceal threats to privacy and security in the form of browser hijackers, phishing exploits, and viruses. You and all other Internet users benefit when you deal swiftly and mercilessly with junk e-mail.
Luckily, whether you use Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird/Mozilla Mail & Newsgroups, Eudora, or Opera Mail, you have some very good, no-cost antispam tools to choose from. (Note: We excluded AOL Mail, MSN, and various Web mail systems from consideration.) Some spam blockers are even built into your e-mail reader. But not every e-mail program's junk filter is worth using. Here are the filters that work, and how to activate them.
Outlook/Outlook Express: Though Microsoft has added features to both its e-mail programs for improved protection from spam, Outlook is the only one of the two that has a junk mail filter; it works by moving suspected spam to a junk folder based on the sender's address and a static (and inaccessible) list of spammish words. Outlook 2003's filter is more trouble than it's worth: The relatively passive setting lets too much spam through, while the aggressive mode unwittingly snags too many legitimate messages. (To test it yourself, choose Tools,Options,Preferences, click the Junk E-mail button, select either Low or High, and click OK.) Instead, use SpamBayes, a free, open-source filter that uses statistical analysis of message contents to sort the good mail from the bad with high accuracy. SpamBayes plugs into Outlook seamlessly; it works as a proxy server with Outlook Express or any other Windows application that retrieves e-mail from a standard POP3 server.
Thunderbird/Mozilla Mail & Newsgroups: If you use one of these two programs, you are in luck: Both incorporate a statistical-analysis junk-mail filter comparable to SpamBayes. But both also need a jump-start of this feature for full functionality. Choose Tools,Junk Mail Controls, check the first two options under Handling to have messages suspected of being junk moved to the Junk folder, and click OK (see Figure 1
Eudora 6.2: Qualcomm's venerable mail program includes a spam filter that works much like the ones in Thunderbird/Mozilla and SpamBayes. Unfortunately, the filter works only in Eudora's Paid Mode ($50, or $40 to upgrade from an earlier paid version). If you prefer either Eudora's ad-supported Sponsored Mode or its more feature-limited Light Mode (both are free), you can still nuke spam by using SpamBayes as a proxy server.
Opera 7.54: Like Thunderbird or SpamBayes, this browser's integrated e-mail feature is supposed to learn from you what is spam and what isn't. If you have as little patience with Opera's slowness in learning as I do, you may want to use SpamBayes instead. (See "Inbox Tamers" from the May issue of PC World for extended reviews of e-mail programs.)