At a Glance
No one disagrees that spam is the scourge of the Internet, but what can the innocent spam victim do? One option is to use your e-mail program's rules or filters to identify spam, but spending endless hours refining them is no fun. And if your ISP combs through your e-mail for you, it might block items you want. Matterform Media's Spamfire 1.2 puts both general spam-fighting filters and highly configurable individual settings into the hands of the person who best knows your e-mail--you. Spamfire works with any e-mail program, but to do its job, Spamfire must download the spam to examine it, and the program may not be flexible enough for some power users.
The $29 Pro version of Spamfire supports multiple accounts and includes 12 months of filter updates via the Internet. The $19 Lite version supports a single account and doesn't include online filter updates.
Spamfire works by checking your e-mail before your e-mail program does; it logs in to your POP mailbox and screens any waiting messages. (Spamfire 1.2 does not support IMAP accounts, AOL, Hotmail, or Web-based e-mail services, but support for IMAP should be available in the near future.) If a message looks like spam, Spamfire downloads it so you can review it later and then deletes it from your server. When Spamfire finishes, it activates your e-mail program and delivers your "good" messages to your in-box.
Spamfire applies its entire rule set to each message, and each match adds points to what Spamfire calls the message's "spam score." You set Spamfire's threshold between 0 and 100 points for each account: a low threshold means more mail is blocked; a high threshold means more mail gets through. You can enable or disable any of Spamfire's filters and create your own. Spamfire also has a Friends List that can be imported from your e-mail program's address book, and it always accepts messages from addresses on that list.
In our tests, Spamfire did a good job, typically identifying correctly more than 80 percent of the spam it encountered. Messages identified as spam are added to Spamfire's Spam List. If you see a message Spamfire shouldn't have blocked, you can rescue the message so that it's sent back to your e-mail program. Unfortunately, though, Spamfire does not indicate which messages you've already rescued; this can be confusing.
Spamfire's effectiveness varies with the nature of the e-mail you receive, along with the number of accounts and addresses you manage. Spamfire will often block messages from mailing lists, but many lists can't be placed on the Friends List because messages come from hundreds of people. Instead, you must create filters that give negative spam scores to mailing lists, offsetting points added by the other filters.
Another problem is that after Spamfire's initial screening, new messages may appear in your e-mail program as already read. (To counter this, you may be able to tell your e-mail program to mark all incoming mail as unread.) Finally, Spamfire checks all accounts on one schedule, which may be a problem if you need to check some accounts more or less often.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Spamfire is an easy-to-use way to add sophisticated, configurable, rule-based filtering to your e-mail. It can't spare you the bandwidth of downloading spam in the first place, and users with several accounts on different schedules may chafe at some of its limitations, but if you have a handful of accounts, Spamfire is a very good program at a bargain price.
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