What She Said

September 13, 2002
11:59 AM
Alright, so I'm really really liking Mozilla at the moment. Not that I'm switching to it, mind you, but I do like it a lot.

It's funny, I'm not some open source nut or some "down with Micro$oft!" loser who has tied their choice of operating system into their well being, but I do like the notion of a web browser that's not tied to an operating system and that is rising as a platform. I like the idea that concievably applications could be rolled into websites and you can reasonably point to one browser that's identical across all browsers and say "go use that one", something you can't do with IE, Netscape or Opera. You sure as hell can't do it with any of the other Linux browsers.

I also like all the development going on for Mozilla plugins. I'm writing this Blog post using MozBlog - blogging from within Mozilla. There's a spell checker as well but it keeps crashing on me. If you've ever played Neverwinter Nights then you'd probably like PieMenus. In any event, I'll use Mozilla as my second web browser. Netscape 7.0 uses Mozilla as its engine, but all it is basically is Mozilla with added AOL advertisements and the inablility to block pop-ups (another nice feature of Mozilla).

So I started to get annoyed by Spam in my email box. I'm sure everyone pretty much reaches this point at some point or another. My attitude about Spam was this - I can ignore it when it comes in my snail mail box, I can ignore it when it comes into my email box. However, it started to get not only out of hand but downright disgusting. My favorite has to be the one from "Google" entitled "Is this what you're searching for?" - another porn email. The address? google@hotmail.com. What's more surprising - that that particular Hotmail address hasn't been taken by someone else, or that Google didn't snatch it themselves? Since I have my email up at the top of this page I'm sure this is where everyone is getting it from but since I don't want to hide my email address in terror and it's too late to change addresses, I figured I would just put up with it, but get enough incest bestiality rape emails and you start to take action.

The first thing I tried a while back was to simply filter out anythhing that wasn't sent directly to my email address. Anything I was BCC'd on wouldn't make it across. However, not only did this miss a lot of Spam, it would inevitably filter out a number of "legitimate" messages. A few days back I tried a trial version of something called Inbox Protector, which by sheer Google presence seems to be the favorite commercial solution for spam filtering in Outlook. However, it also had the aforementioned problem of missing spam and filtering out legitimate messages, since like most of its kind it uses some internal AI to figure out what is and isn't spam. The flaw in that theory is the mouse/mousetrap idea - the mice just keep finding ways around the traps.

Then it occured to me - most of these messages are the same thing. Or the same sort of thing. Surely someone out there is taking programs and false email addresses and sending to everyone and everything they can. And I know other people get these exact same emails - my Wife is getting them, for example. So wouldn't it be nice if someone out there could just warn others about it?

Then it hit me - nix the AI that comes with products like Inbox Protector and replace it with a Peer-to-Peer network, like is found in Napster/KaZaA. With some work and cooperation we could filter almost all of the spam before it gets to us - whoever gets it first labels it as Spam and warns the others. P2P Spam protection! Hell, this idea might even get me a Slashdot story.

But then it occured to me that before I go reinventing wheels I should Google the idea. Sure enough, not only has someone already had this idea and implemented it, but it's one of the original Napster founders, as well! Cloudmark is the compay and the program is SpamNet. It's an Outlook 2000/XP plugin so far (Outlook Express is planned next) and it works like a charm (pretty much). You're kinda running against what the popular notion of Spam is, so if you get some Spam you "want", then you can filter it out on your own end (it will still be labeled as "Spam" in the Cloudmark servers) or signal to Cloudmark that it's not Spam (so that it will be not be filtered out on your end and Cloudmark gets your vote that its not Spam). There's a whole heirarchy in place, so that enough people have to say that something is or is not Spam before it gets labeled as such and there are people with "Trustworthyness Ratings" so that the Spam they list gets notified faster.

The only problems I have with it are what appears to be a recurring bug (the kind they keep fixing). When you exit Outlook, it sometimes keeps running as a process. Sometimes it's because Outlook just didn't unload yet, other times it doesn't unload at all. The surest sign of that latter happening is if, after not running it for a while, you see new email when you open it. The problem is that when you run Outlook again when it hasn't unloaded is that then SpamNet doesn't get loaded. The easiest way around this is close Outlook, wait a little bit (like 15 seconds) and then make sure OUTLOOK.EXE isn't running in Task Manager. If it is, kill it. Then re-run Outlook. I hope they hammer this out soon.

Other than that, SpamNet works like a charm. Not only is it better than Inbox Protector, but it's also free (IP is $30).Get it and help the Spam Cause.

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