Manage E-mail and Combat Spam with Mailwasher

from the May 2002 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

Please note: The initiative for the following article was entirely mine, and this program has been featured out of genuine intent to be of benefit to Actrix customers. While the originator of the program is aware that this article has been produced, they have had no input into it whatsoever. Neither does Actrix benefit in any way from this article's inclusion. -Ed.

I've mentioned before that I have been plagued by a Spam problem for some time now, and I know that I am not the only one. Spam, if you're not sure, means unsolicited e-mail, generally advertising, that comes to your inbox persistently, and without having been requested. The Spam I was receiving all claimed to have come from some list I was supposed to have signed up though, or from an "affiliated company." Obviously, one of my e-mail addresses was on a Spam list that was being widely circulated. I was receiving several offers a day to re-finance my mortgage, or get cheap printer cartridges, or even to improve certain aspects of my body that you really don't want me to elaborate on. Filling out the little form at the bottom of these e-mails that was supposed to get me off the lists, achieved nothing of course (except to confirm to the Spammers that they had found a real e-mail address with a real person they could annoy).

I have another e-mail problem related mainly to the fact that because my e-mail address has found itself into so many people's address books, and because it is on several web pages, I receive between five and ten viruses a day. Viruses just love to send themselves out to all the people in your address book, or to every e-mail address they can find.

I think these are problems that I am going to have to learn to live with. One option would be to change all my e-mail addresses so that I don't get these problem e-mails anymore, and so that the Spammers receive bounce messages every time they try to e-mail their rubbish to me. Seriously, though, who wants to go through the bother of doing that?

Enter Mailwasher.

Mailwasher is a neat little program created by a Christchurch programmer named Nick Bolton. It lives up to its name by allowing you to "wash" your e-mail before it is downloaded to you. Once you've installed it, the idea is to open Mailwasher before you open your e-mail program. Mailwasher will connect to your e-mail account(s) just like your e-mail program will, but it will only download the mail headings to you. This way you get a nice little snapshot of exactly what is in your e-mail mailboxes. You get to see the title of the e-mail, who it was from, and how big the e-mail is in terms of kilobytes.

Next to the headings for each e-mail, there are two little tickboxes, one named Delete, and one named Bounce. If you put a tick in the Bounce box, Mailwasher will delete the e-mail from your mailbox and send a message back to the sending Spammer making it appear as if the e-mail he or she sent you has bounced. This sends the message back to the Spammer that your e-mail address is no longer valid. Of course the Spammer may or may not be paying any attention to bounces, but if they are, you should find that Spam from that source will dry up. This has been what has happened in my case, though whatever list I was on has been pretty heavily distributed, by the looks of things, and it is going to take some more time.

If you put a tick in the Delete box, Mailwasher will simply delete the mail from your mailbox so that you don't have to download it. This is ideal for when someone has sent you something that you don't really want to download or that is clogging up your ability to download other mail due to size, such as a whole pile of attached photos you aren't really interested in or whatever. It is also ideal for deleting e-mails that contain viruses so that you don't have to download them. It's gotten to the stage now where I have received so many that I can often spot them just by the listed file size, if not by the title.


There's a new magazine out in New Zealand especially dedicated to Macintosh Computers. It has a look and feel much like that of  NetGuide and  similar magazines. Macguide retails for around $4.95 which seems like good value. You can subscribe online at www.macguide.co.nz.

Once you've sorted through everything and ticked all the appropriate boxes, you can click on Process Mail, and Mailwasher will go ahead and do the bouncing and deleting. It will then automatically open your default e-mail program (e.g. Outlook Express). If you need to, while sorting, you can preview any message by double-clicking it. Mailwasher will then show you whatever text is in the e-mail (it can't show you what the pictures look like of there are any). At least this way you get to check that you're not about to delete something important by mistake, because once you hit the Process Mail button, anything you've marked for deletion is gone for good.

Mailwasher keeps what it calls a Blacklist. Any e-mail you tick for bouncing will automatically go into the blacklist so that next time an e-mail appears from that address, the bounce box will automatically be ticked. You can manually remove the tick, of course, and you can also manually edit the Blacklist if something got on there by mistake. Mailwasher will also try to be helpful by making an attempt to analyse the headers of the e-mail. If it thinks an e-mail might be a Spam or a chain letter, or whatever, it will alert you with a little coloured message.

One of the best things about Mailwasher is that it is so easy to use and install. Once you've downloaded and installed it, you can set up your account(s) just the way you would in your normal mail program (Tools/Accounts). If you have a lot of accounts to set up, or if you're not sure about how to set them up, just click Tools/Import and Mailwasher will find your current accounts as they are in your mail program and simply copy over the details.

Setting Up Mailwasher for Actrix

Easy as pie:

1. Click Tools in the main menu, and then Accounts in the grey dropdown box. An Accounts dialog box will pop up.
2. On the Accounts dialog box, click the Add button and an Account Details dialog box will pop up.
3. Fill in the fields as follows below, substituting your details for editor's:

Account Name: Editor
Email Address: editor@actrix.co.nz
SMTP Server Address: mail.actrix.co.nz
POP3 Server Address: pop.actrix.co.nz
User Name (POP3): editor
Password (POP3): Type in your password
Remember Password tick
Use Secure Authentication: do not tick
Include this account in default mail check: tick

4. Click the OK button and you're done. Repeat the process adding other accounts if you have more than one Actrix mailbox to check.

Getting Mailwasher

You can download the latest version of Mailwasher straight from the Actrix website just by clicking here (1.51 MB). Simply download it to your desktop and once you've done that, double click it to run the install. To download the program, click the link provided in this paragraph. When you're asked whether you want to Save the file or Run the file, choose the Save option. This will download the install program to wherever you specify (e.g. your desktop).

Once you install the program, Mailwasher will automatically create an icon on your desktop (similar to the one pictured left) for ease of startup. The program is free for you to use, though the creator does ask that you send him some money if you are inclined - as little as $3, or as much as you think his program is worth to you. If you do, he'll send you an update to get rid of the little scrolling screen at the top of the program that tells you about how you can send him a payment. If you click Register on the Tool bar you'll be taken to an automatic feature that allows you to pay something to the creator using your credit card. As the only options are in U.S. dollars, you may find it easier just to send a cheque to him in Christchurch. His address comes with the program under the About Me button

Even though Mailwasher is so easy to use and install, I recommend that you have a look at the Mailwasher website once you've downloaded and installed it. There's a pretty good Frequently Asked Questions section that you may find helpful. Information about the program can be found at http://www.mailwasher.net.  

There are a couple of other programs around similar to Mailwasher. Spamkiller is one that comes to mind and has been featured in the latest Netguide magazine. Admittedly I haven't tried the other programs. I may get around to trying them at some stage, but right now I am happy to recommend Mailwasher, after having used it for a couple of months. An added advantage, of course, is that it was developed right here by a New Zealander.