The state of WinXP spam filters for Outlook

There’s no way most folks can manage email without a spam filter. This was a no-brainer when my Mac was my primary email-checking computer 2 years ago: SpamSieve. Works with most Mac email clients, and was as close to perfection as you can get. Trained quickly and then you forgot it was there. For me at least, near perfect accuracy.

For the most part, I’m very happy getting my email through MS Outlook. It syncs with my Windows Mobile PDA, I can share/send appointments and tasks with co-workers without worrying about compatibility. I can sync my work contact list with our central source on WebOffice. I love the Getting Things Done Outlook add-in.

But I miss SpamSieve and I’ve been struggling to find an anti-spam solution for Outlook that comes close. I’ve been using my primary email address since 1998 and it gets a lot of spam. I’d say I’m averaging at least 300 junk messages a day.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Quick training. It has to learn as it goes.
  • Whitelist anyone in my address book but don’t rely on blacklisting based on email address.
  • Mark as read and move spam to a folder that can be cleared out on a schedule (in other words, give me a day or two to scan for false positives but other than that, don’t accumulate). I want as little interaction as I can get with my spam. A quick scan of a folder once or twice a day and that’s it. I don’t want to have to manually mark spam as read and I want a low enough false positive rate that I’m not worrying about “real” email being lost.
  • Minimal noticeable drag on email download/processing time and email client performance.
  • No challenge/response…this is my problem, I won’t put the burden on the folks sending me legitimate email to help me filter out my spam. No requiring me to log in to a server to check for junk mail.

Here’s a rundown on what I’ve tried over the past 2 years:

Built-in junk mail filter in Outlook

Not very accurate, doesn’t train well. Next.

Norton AntiSpam

I already have Norton Internet Security and I’m pleased with the AntiVirus and Firewall features, but AntiSpam is a dog. Not much better than the built-in junk mail filter. Next.

SpamBayes

I used this for quite some time and was satisfied with it. Unfortunately, it started losing its effectiveness over time and no amount of fiddling with the settings would get it to work as well as it once did. Too many false negatives. Next.

MailFrontier Desktop

This one got very good reviews in the PC press, and while it’s better than Norton or the built-in, I wasn’t all that impressed. If you read the user reviews (as opposed to the journalist reviews) it doesn’t live up to its hype. So-so accuracy. Like others, it uses an “aggressiveness slider” which is difficult to control. Set it in one spot and you get false positives, one click down and you get false negatives. I don’t want an “aggressiveness slider.” I want all my spam in a spam folder and I want my real email in my inbox. Do whatever you have to do to make that happen. Block lists based on email address are useless. Everyone knows if you get 100 pieces of spam chances are you have 100 unique “from” email addresses. Useless feature, no spam filter worth its salt should bother with it. Next.

Mailshell/Allume SpamCatcher

I was able to get this for free through a promotion of the TechSoup stock program (connects nonprofit organizations with vendors who provide donated products). I have a 5 user license but I wanted to try it first before sharing it with others at C3. Ugh. A total and complete mess. Slowed Outlook to a crawl and at best had 60% accuracy after training. Relies on allowed/blocked lists way too often and we all know how that works out. 

This is a good example of “what happens when a good software product is handled by the wrong vendor.” It appears that this product was purchased by Aladdin/Allume who are happy to sell you the software but don’t appear to be the least bit interested in enhancing or supporting it. Next. Big time.

Cloudmark Desktop

The current contender. This isn’t my first go around with Cloudmark. I used this for quite some time until suddenly it stopped communicating with the network and I couldn’t get it to work properly. Tech support couldn’t diagnose the problem so I moved on (to SpamBayes at that time). I’m trying again with version 4 and so far so good (even have another month left on my yearly subscription to test it without laying out more $$). Cloudmark gets an A++ when the network is up, and it’s useless when the network is down or you can’t connect for whatever reason. Cloudmark doesn’t have any built-in filtering other than a simple whitelist/blacklist feature.

Cloudmark operates on the assumption that no spam is an island. If you got this offer or phish, then so did a few thousand (or million) others. Spam to them is probably spam to you so if the message has already been reported as spam by someone else, then it is automatically blocked. The only false positives should be in newsletters that other users are reporting as spam when it really isn’t. The only false negatives are in brand new spam that you’re the first to catch.

The current version is quite improved over the last one I tried. For starters, it’s fast. I didn’t realize how much my other spam add-ins were dragging things down until I switched to Cloudmark. In the very short time I’ve been using it again it has been running at 100% accuracy.

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One thought on “The state of WinXP spam filters for Outlook

  1. I have to say that I’ve been having good luck with SpamBayes for quite some time.

    I’ve got one account that 1 in 50 messages is good and that one always remains in my inbox.

    One thing I’ve done (learned the hard way many moons ago) is keep the spam that comes in in the spam folder, or offload it to it’s own PST if you need to. This reserve is handy for training/re-training. With the volume you get, you could probably get away with not keeping it as long as I have, maybe setting an auto-purge in the folder properties for 30-60-90 days, as appropriate.

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