Make .zip or .exe compression of email attachments automatic

Large email attachments can be an annoying problem, whether you're a network administrator responsible for a network that includes slow links to remote users, a Microsoft Exchange Server administrator, or a Help desk staffer handling user complaints about slow email. C2C Systems' MaX Compression 4.5 works with Exchange and Microsoft Mail (MS Mail) clients and automatically compresses attachments into .zip files or self-extracting (executable, or .exe) .zip files.

MaX Compression also can automatically and invisibly decompress .zip and .exe files that the client receives. MaX Compression doesn't support automatic compression of attachments to incoming email, but its Batch Compression feature can compress attachments to existing messages in a user's mailbox or personal folders.

Installation and Configuration
MaX Compression works with Microsoft Outlook 2000, Outlook 98, and Outlook 97; with the older Exchange client; and with 16-bit Windows Messaging and MS Mail clients. The clients can be configured to work with an Exchange, MS Mail, or POP3 mail server. You can download the 4MB MaX Compression installation file from http://www.c2c .com or purchase a CD-ROM.

I downloaded MaX Compression and installed it on two computers running Win2K Professional with Outlook 2000. I configured Outlook 2000 to use a server running Exchange Server 5.5 with Service Pack 3 (SP3). Installing MaX Compression for Outlook 2000 was uncomplicated, requiring me to log on to the computer with an account that could write to my mail server's Add-Ins directory. A mail client had to be installed on the system but not running and had to be configured to default to the mail server that I would use MaX Compression with.

Aside from the standard licensing-agreement and target-directory questions, the installation program asked only which of three options—Configurer, Client, and Client Setup—I wanted to install. All three options are selected by default, and I accepted the default. Configurer is a systems administration tool. Client installs MaX Compression as a component of the email client on your system. Client Setup creates a 1.8MB installation package that you can give to remote users.

You can also install MaX Compression from a Windows Installer or Microsoft Installer (MSI) package. Or you can customize Outlook 2000 or Outlook 98 installation routines to include the MaX Compression installation.

Configurer lets you set a default compression type (.zip, .exe, or none), establish size limits for compressed files and messages, specify a list of file types that shouldn't be compressed (as Figure 1 shows), and determine whether users can set their own defaults or choose a compression type when they attach a file. Configurer also lets you set values for Smart Mode, which specifies a compression type different from the default for mail addressed to specific domain names. MaX Compression adds to Outlook's Options window a Compression & Active Folders tab in which users can set their own default compression mode if you configure MaX Compression to let them do so.

Configurer writes a file containing configuration information to the Add-Ins share on the Exchange Server system, so you must run the software under a user ID that has permission to write to this share. You can also save the configuration as a .reg file to give users who can't connect to the Exchange Server system's Add-Ins share a relatively painless way to save configuration information to the registry. In a Win2K network, you can configure MaX Compression options using a Group Policy Template in lieu of using Configurer to create a server-based configuration file.

MaX Compression Help, accessible from the MaX Compression Start menu, includes clear, useful descriptions of how MaX Compression works and how to use Configurer to implement site-specific compression policies. A PDF user's manual, downloadable from http://www.c2c.com, contains similar information.

MaX Compression provides at no extra cost a separate module that gives users of Outlook Web Access (OWA)—Exchange Server's browser-based email interface—support for automatic compression of attachments. Instead of running on the client as MaX Compression does, Access Module for MaX Compression/OWA55 runs on the Web server. MaX Compression/OWA users can't set compression options; they must use the options that the MaX Compression administrator sets on the Web server.

Installing MaX Compression/OWA is easy. First, run the MaX Compression installation routine on your Exchange Server system. Ensure that your server-based configuration file uses MaX Compression's Smart Mode to set a default compression type. Then, run maxcompamowa55.exe, the MaX Compression/OWA installation routine. The installation routine updates Active Server Pages (ASP) modules that are part of the OWA Web site.

A Few Simple Tests
To test MaX Compression, I first installed Outlook 2000 on two Win2K Pro computers configured for different mailboxes. On one of these systems, I also installed Microsoft Outlook Express configured for a POP3 mailbox on an SMTP mail server. I then added the Size field to Outlook's Inbox and Sent Items displays so that I would be able to check message size.

I installed MaX Compression on one of the Outlook 2000 systems. I then started Outlook 2000, clicked the New Mail Message icon, entered a few words of text, and clicked the Insert File icon. In the Insert File dialog box, three new options appeared: to compress the file as a .zip file, to compress the file as a self-extracting .exe file, or to not compress the file. I hadn't changed any of MaX Compression's default settings, so the .zip file option was selected.

I specified a 193.2KB text file as the file to insert and sent the message and file to the two other mailboxes. The Sent Items display showed that the total message size (including the attachment) was 11KB. I opened the message in the Sent Items folder and right-clicked the attachment, which was labeled file.txt (Compressed), to display the attachment's properties. Here, Outlook displayed the file's uncompressed 193.2KB size.

At the recipient Outlook 2000 client on which I hadn't yet installed MaX Compression, I added the Size field to the Inbox display and saw that the size of the message was 11KB. When I opened the message, the attachment was labeled file.zip. When I sent the same message to the SMTP mail server and used Outlook Express to read the message, Outlook Express also reported the message size as 11KB.

After I saved the .zip file to disk, its size was 6984 bytes. For comparison purposes, I used WinZip Computing's WinZip 8.0 with default configuration options to zip the text file, resulting in a file size of 5447 bytes.

I also sent the text file as an .exe file to the same Exchange Server and SMTP server mailboxes. The file that arrived at both clients was 70,408 bytes, about 62KB larger than the .zip file (62KB is the size of the decompression program that converts a .zip file into a self-extracting .zip file).

For my next test, I installed MaX Compression on the second Outlook 2000 client and sent my test message again from the original MaX Compression client. This time, the receiving client listed the attachment as file.txt (Compressed), whether I sent it in .zip or .exe format. Outlook's Size column revealed the size difference between the .zip and .exe compression formats, as it did in the earlier test.

Smart Mode lets you configure MaX Compression to use a nondefault compression type for mail attachments sent to certain email addresses or domains. To test this facility, I created a configuration file that set the default compression type to .exe but that used .zip compression for any email attachments addressed to a fictitious c2ctest.com domain. It worked as expected.

To test MaX Compression/OWA, I used Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 to connect to the OWA Web server. I sent a variety of single- and multiple-attachment messages to mailboxes on the MaX Compression Exchange Server system and other mail servers. The results were consistent with the behavior designated in the MaX Compression configuration file on the Exchange Server system.

MaX Compression has a feature that suppresses compression when the compressed file would be larger than the original file. To test it, I selected Options from the Outlook Tools menu, selected the Compression & Active Folders tab, and configured my Outlook 2000 client to use .exe compression as the default, overriding the server-based zip-compression setting. When I attached a 20KB text file to a mail message, MaX Compression suppressed the compression because adding the 62KB self-extraction module to the compressed file would have more than tripled the file's original 20KB size.

Well Worth the Price
C2C Systems licenses MaX Compression by mail server. At $895 for 100 users and $3690 for 1000 users, MaX Compression's prices are comparable with WinZip's. (WinZip 8.0 costs $700 for 100 users and $3996 for 999 users—the highest number of users the pricing page at http://www.winzip.com would let me enter.) And MaX Compression lets email users painlessly follow their organization's email compression policy. They don't need to perform an extra step of compressing the file before attaching it to the email message, as they do with WinZip.

Considering the potential relief that automatic compression can provide for slow communications links and bloated Exchange Server Information Stores (ISs), MaX Compression makes sense. It's easy to install and configure and painless to use, and I suspect that most users will need no training to use it. MaX Compression's features and price make it a winner of a solution.

MaX Compression 4.5
Contact: C2C Systems * 413-739-8575
Web:http://www.c2c.com
Price: $895 for 100 users on one mail server; $3690 for 1000 users on one mail server
Decision Summary:
Pros: Automatically compresses outgoing email attachments—no user action is required; easy to install and use; reasonably priced
Cons: Doesn't support automatic compression of attachments to incoming email