MailFrontier's Matador is the most feature-rich, sophisticated spam fighter we've seen, allowing you to adjust the sensitivity of its filters. Unfortunately, sophistication isn't everything. Unlike SpamKiller, which sets up quickly and works quietly in the background, Matador, which works as a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook 2000/2002, initially lets a little too much spam slip by and blocks too much mail that appears to be unsolicited but isn't. If you're willing to let Matador challenge every single incoming e-mail message, you can achieve the same level of filtering as an app that blocks anyone who's not in your address book. But we prefer a filter that installs more easily, such as SpamKiller, and that blocks spam without this Socratic methodology.
Matador's installation is bit confusing. You start by downloading the 1MB setup file from MailFrontier, a process that took us less than a minute using DSL, then launch Outlook. Matador automatically installs and could take several seconds or minutes, depending upon your volume of mail and number of contacts. On our test system, setup took about 10 minutes, however, MailFrontier says that Matador typically processes unread mail at the rate of 15 to 20 messages per second. At present, Matador does not work with Outlook Express, AOL, or Hotmail e-mail clients. It will work with Yahoo Mail if you have an external POP on that account.
To install Matador, you first download a setup file from MailFrontier's site, then launch Outlook to finish the installation.
When Matador finishes scanning Outlook, it creates two new folders: one for junk mail and one for mail it thinks might be junk mail. The app plugs into Outlook, adding a button on the toolbar, and it also adds an icon to the Windows system tray. Double-clicking that icon brings up lists of allowed and blocked senders, allows you to adjust the spam filter from lenient to stringent protection, and displays a history of the spam you've received since running Matador. Overall, we found Matador's interface to be pleasantly straightforward, like that of SpamKiller.
Matador offers a rich feature set. Unlike other antispam products, such as Spam Cop and even SpamKiller, Matador lets you fine-tune how strictly it filters different categories of spam--say, porn, gambling, or seasonal ads. For example, you can toggle it to allow all gambling spam but block all porn.
The program also provides a number of different reports so that you can see how much junk you've received each day and why Matador blocked it. You can use these reports to further fine-tune your Matador settings.
If Matador suspects spam, it e-mails a question back to the sender. If the sender responds correctly, Matador releases the original message to your in-box.
The program's unique feature is its Email Challenge system. If Matador suspects a message may be spam because, for example, the recipient list was suppressed, the program stashes it in the Challenged Mail folder, then e-mails the sender a challenge. For example, Matador may send a photo of three kittens and a question: "How many kittens are in this picture?"
Since the challenge e-mail appears to come from you, it won't be filtered by other antispam programs. If the sender answers the question correctly, Matador adds that sender to your allowed addresses and places that sender's messages in your in-box. If the suspicious message is sent by an automated process or from a phony address (a practice common among spammers), the challenged e-mail will go unanswered or be rejected by the mail server, and the e-mail will remain in the Challenged folder. You can toggle Matador to never, always, or sometimes challenge incoming mail.
The only problem we see with challenged mail lies with newsletters, most of which are automated. To keep Matador from challenging your online subscription, you must comb the Challenged Mail folder, select the messages you want to keep, then add the sender to the list of allowed senders. That's not a huge amount of work, but it's more maintenance than we'd like from such a sophisticated antispam utility.
Alas, MailFrontier's support is limited to e-mail--there's no phone support--and the Feedback link is buried on its support Web page. After finding the link, we sent two questions, and each time we received an answer in less than four hours. That's about as fast a response as you'll get anywhere. The first answer was spot on, with clear step-by-step instructions for solving our problem. But the response to the second question was so confusing, we're still not sure if it answered the original question.
MailFrontier doesn't offer much in the way of support--just an e-mail link buried under the Feedback option on its support page.