Email for the Small Business

Avoid pitfalls in Windows NT and Windows 95

In the real world, few people run Windows NT alone. With it, they run Macintoshes, DOS, Windows 3.x, UNIX, and others, and need for these operating systems to communicate with each other. Nowhere is that fact so evident as in small businesses, which often have PCs running three or four versions of Windows (3.1, Workgroups, 95, and NT) and don't have the money or management talents to standardize. Such a business can have NT on its server and one or more NT workstations or on a single workstation that doubles as a server.

Pity such a shop's poor systems administrator who's learning NT between getting the everyday job done and dealing with screaming users. They want email so they can communicate with each other and with the outside world. And the boss doesn't want to spend any money.

So what can the harried systems administrator do? With nothing but what Microsoft provides, you and your users can communicate inside your mixed network. This substitute may not work as well as the expensive spread, but what you have may be good enough. Just be aware of potential problems.

Free Internal Email
Ahh, email. How did we live without it? Well, most people don't live without it. People often have two or three personal addresses through America Online (AOL), CompuServe, and a local Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Email provides an inexpensive, fast, and efficient way to conduct business. However, many small companies don't have internal email or a corporate Internet connection.

Internal email is a good first step toward connecting small companies to the Internet. NT 3.51 comes with a mail system, MSMAIL32, that is functionally identical to the mail client in Windows 3.11. Be warned: MSMAIL32 is cantankerous, crotchety, and high maintenance. It's not well documented, either online or in the big Administering NT books. MSMAIL32 is not secure: The data files live in a shared directory that anyone can mess with. (MSMAIL32 does offer simple encryption, but no protection against someone, say, deleting all the mail files.) But the price is right, and as a step toward getting your company on the Net, MSMAIL32 can do the job.

Setting up MSMAIL in NT 3.51 isn't hard, but you'll run into enough pitfalls that working through the prescribed steps is worthwhile. The first step is to log in to your NT server and find MSMAIL; by default, it's in the Main group. Run the MSMAIL program, and create your post office on a machine that remains on your server, for example. Put the post office in a directory you plan to share, a top-level directory (e.g., d:\wgpo) to avoid confusion. Then use the Administration function to create accounts that include the names of the users, their account names, and their passwords. Nope. Sorry. You can't copy accounts from the NT user list; you have to administer mail accounts separately. (In such management matters, NetWare Directory Services--NDS--still has it all over NT: NDS allows centralized management of most network functions, which saves time, and has only one tree of usernames, which NDS-savvy programs such as GroupWise can access.)

Be careful when you choose passwords. MSMAIL's rules are different from NT's. MSMAIL considers characters such as apostrophes illegal in passwords, but these characters are fine in NT passwords. This difference means that MSMAIL's administrator will let you type won'ttell as a password but will silently throw out the apostrophe. Then when you try to enter the password you typed, instead of ignoring the apostrophe, MSMAIL will reject it. And because you can't see what a password is--only type in a new one--you end up starting over in frustration. This misfeature perplexed me for an hour.

This password caveat goes double for the administrator's password. You have to be utterly sure you keep it in mind or on paper--as with NT, an MSMAIL password appears as asterisks. If you forget it, you can't retrieve it--yep, I forgot the admin password. Worse, MSMAIL gives you no easy way to nuke the existing post office directory and start over. I'm not sure where the pointer to the directory lives, and I can't find anybody who knows. It's not in an .ini file, and it doesn't seem to be in the Registry. I finally started over by deleting everything that seemed connected to MSMAIL and restarting the computer.

Once you finish adding users, go into File Manager and share the directory. wgpo is a good share name. Make sure everyone can read and write to the directory; otherwise, MSMAIL won't work on the client PCs.

If you're using only NT, you're set. Go to a workstation, map a drive letter to the post office directory, run MSMAIL, and point it at the post office. Mail can flow between any connected machines, even via dial-up: The remote user dials up through Remote Access Service (RAS), connects a drive letter to the post office, and clicks on View and New Messages.

Win95 uses Exchange, the universal inbox program that combines the separate mail and fax clients from Windows 3.11. (My brother, Rich, claims that the lights dim when you load Exchange; certainly a program that takes a good 20 seconds to load on a Pentium/100 is big.) Fire Exchange up on a Win95 PC by clicking the Inbox icon on the desktop. If Exchange isn't set up for mail, you have to enable it. Point it at the shared directory you previously set up, and enter your username.

Before you run Exchange, download the updated Win95 version from EXUPDUSA.EXE (US users only; other updates are on the way). This version purports to be twice as fast as the one that ships with Win95. The download is more than 3MB, so obtaining and propagating it can take a while. Stick it on your network, and copy it to each client. Oh--you probably need to put an alias to Exchange in the Startup group for each PC so the users can't forget to start Exchange.

Picking a Nit
You might as well get used to Exchange. NT 4.0 uses it instead of MSMAIL. (Rumors say NT Exchange fax support will ship with an NT 4.0 service pack any time now.) But for me, daily use has bred frustration with some features of Exchange.

For instance, Exchange doesn't use the server's list of email names. Exchange keeps its own list because clients can be used offline. For speed of delivery, that approach is OK. But each user must manually cause Exchange to update the local list when it changes. This isn't OK. Updating a Microsoft mail database can take a few seconds in a small company but ages in a large one. Many big companies have resorted to DaVinci or other email software because of such management concerns.

I also don't like Exchange on a high-resolution monitor. On a 1024 * 768 resolution or higher monitor, the icons and default text are too small to see comfortably. If Exchange has a way to use larger fonts, I haven't found it.

Exchange Client can work independently of Exchange Server. Small office users can just use Exchange Client, but please don't confuse it with Exchange Server. The client PC must initiate every action. If someone on one client sends mail to another client, Exchange saves the mail in the post office. Only when the other client polls for mail does Exchange transfer the message. Within Exchange, you can set the polling interval, but it's clumsy, especially if you're used to interrupt-based email systems such as Notework, where mail delivery can take half a second.

Nor do I like Exchange's user interface. Maybe, like a duckling, I imprinted on QUALCOMM's Eudora, a great mail program that millions use on the Internet. Eudora Pro can have multiple folders and messages open, has a simple address book, and runs like a deer. Unfortunately, the Pro version isn't freeware, and no version of Eudora will work without TCP/IP. (Oh, by the way, Eudora users can look for a true 32-bit multithreaded version of Eudora Pro soon. Finally, you will be able to simultaneously send messages while composing one.)

But the positive side of Exchange is its convenience. You can't beat the availability of the email that comes with Windows--or its price. For some companies, free email is enough reason to put up with Exchange.

Next time I'll explain how freeware can let you dial out to your ISP. Meanwhile, please email your comments and suggestions.

On Technology
DaVinci SMTP eMAIL * 800-767-6683
Notework Electronic Mail
* 800-767-6683
Eudora * 800-238-3672
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