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The Slacker's Guide - The Best Mail Filter Available: SpamSieve

by Chris Barylick
February 24th, 2006

It's never going to stop.

That's the simplest truth of the matter.

Despite what any e-mail client or Internet service provider may have to say or efforts they undertake to protect their clients' identities, there's no guaranteed way to stem the tide of spam e-mail. And as fondly as we may remember the early days of widespread Internet use eight or nine years ago when an unsolicited message would come in only every few days -- as opposed to the literally dozens that bomb your e-mail's inbox at midnight -- there's no fighting a marketing scheme that allows literally millions of people to be reached with a message for almost no money.

Of course, some solutions are more effective than others.

Enter SpamSieve, a shareware e-mail filtering program by Michael Tsai that's proven itself to be about the most useful program available for almost every e-mail client that runs on Mac OS X. Compatible with Apple's Email, Emailer, Eudora, GyazMail, Mailsmith, Outlook Express and PowerMail, the program is geared towards as wide a user base as possible.

Setting up mail filtering rules in SpamSieve.

Centered on Bayesian filtering and rule sets, SpamSieve attacks spam mail from two simultaneous approaches. Bayesian filters, which pick out words or character strings from an e-mail's body, metadata, implanted HTML code and header information that helps describe the message, weigh the words and character strings as desirable or undesirable. Once a decision has been reached, SpamSieve will either sort it to a standard inbox or file it away to a junk folder. Taking the whole task of sorting and filtering e-mail on its shoulders, the user assigns a simple rule to bypass the e-mail client's built in filtering protocol and route all e-mail through SpamSieve for analysis.

Once installed, SpamSieve can be customized to match a user's needs. If a questionable but valid e-mail comes through the door, the user can train SpamSieve to recognize similar messages as valid. Strange at first, after a week of consistent training and reinforcement, the program's valid e-mail recognition rate becomes admirable.

A 3.5 megabyte download, SpamSieve is dragged to the applications folder. Once there, the user opens their e-mail program of choice, moves into the preference settings that determine rules, disables the program's junk and spam mail filtering and creates a rule to have SpamSieve handle the task. While this is a little tricky at first, be sure to read the help manual that comes with the download. Categories have been determined based on the e-mail program and situation. Step by step instructions explain what to do, and an electronic format makes navigation that much easier.

SpamSieve is available for a $25 registration fee and will tend to nag the user until registered. The program also offers tip screens which can be disabled. The program occupies 9.3 megabytes of disk space and requires Mac OS X 10.2.6 or later to run.

Truly excellent applications are few and far between -- in the shareware realm, or any other -- and Michael Tsai has done his homework, consistently updating the program and responding to feedback as time goes on. The program has been ported over to a Universal Binary format, and can be cleanly run without emulation on Intel-based Mac hardware.

The spam mail may never stop, but SpamSieve is perhaps the best way to pin it down into a background annoyance on the Mac. If the day ever comes where it becomes legal to chase down the heads of electronic bulk mail firms in the street, I'll be the one handing out pitch forks, blunt weapons and torches to make things that much more interesting.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,


Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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