Automate bulk email

Mailing lists are a popular form of communication over the Internet and are the email equivalent of a Usenet group. A mailing list lets you receive messages about specific topics in your mailbox, so you don't have to use a newsreader to access a server containing messages. ListCaster from Mustang Software is an automated management system that lets you establish a series of mailing lists for users to subscribe to.

Installing and setting up ListCaster is simple. I ran setup.exe and answered the questions. As you load the software, you need to supply several key ListCaster configuration values, so read the documentation before completing the installation. Fortunately, if you make a mistake, you can change your answer.

During installation, ListCaster requires you to select the type of database you will store the configuration information in. You can choose from SQL Server, Access, and FoxPro databases. I opted for the SQL Server database, and ListCaster's setup program created an Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) data source called ListCaster. The install program loads a file, schema.sql, which you need to run against a newly created database, ListCaster, using Interactive SQL (isql). This file contains isql commands to create table structures within your database, but does not include commands to create a database or log devices or the database.

After you complete installation, you need to configure the product with key information about the mailing lists you want the server to manage. For this configuration, I ran Setup, as shown in Screen 1. Setup lets you maintain all aspects of your ListCaster server. The program contains a series of index tabs: General, Mailing Lists, Users, Request Files, and Database. To manage an option, you select the applicable index tab.

ListCaster supports nearly everything you find on UNIX-based mailing list servers. The software lets you have moderated and unmoderated mailing lists. You can create private mailing lists by not allowing open subscription and allowing only approved subscribers to post. If you prefer a mailing list to be in digest format (where all messages to the list go out as part of one large email message), you can select the Digest option and limit the number of messages that will make up a single issue.

The product contains several user- and file-management features. For example, when a user subscribes to a list, you can edit that user's configuration. If you have problem users on your mailing list, you can shut off their posting privileges. For file management, you can place files on your mailing server for users to retrieve. This option is particularly useful if you want to make certain informational files available to all your mailing list users.

Users subscribe to a ListCaster-managed mailing list by sending a message to the server's control address. They also need to include the following command in the body of the message:

SUBSCRIBE <listname>

The message is delivered to the ListCaster Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server and into the ListCaster control mailbox, which processes the subscription request. The user then receives an email acknowledgement that the subscription request was successful.

A problem you might encounter when you use ListCaster is that it includes an SMTP/POP server. If you use Microsoft Exchange Server with Internet Mail Connector (IMC), you cannot use ListCaster on the same machine. Both products monitor TCP port 25 for inbound email connections, so one of the two subsystems will be nonfunctional (usually Exchange's Internet Mail link because ListCaster starts in the Startup program group).

ListCaster works well, but has some rough edges. For example, I could not address messages called nt-wizards to a mailing list I created, but I could address messages to ntwizards. In another instance, after I edited subscriber information, I could not select Subscribers without receiving an error message. With its list price of $299, however, I can overlook these minor idiosyncrasies.

Contact: Mustang Software 805-873-2500
Price: $299
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 with SP5, NT 4.0 with SP2 or Windows 95, Pentium, Pentium Pro or compatible, 24MB of RAM, 30MB of available hard disk space
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