I recently secured a domain name and wanted to set up an e-mail server for a small network, but my options were somewhat limited. I had basically narrowed it down to three choices.

  1. I could install Exchange on an existing Windows server (but that’s not a very smart idea on a network with less than 30 users).
  2. I could use Red Hat Linux (but that would require an additional server).
  3. I could buy some third-party SMTP/POP3 server software (but that would cost extra money).

This left me wishing that Microsoft would provide a POP3 (and/or IMAP) e-mail server as part of its core operating system—they already have an SMTP service built into Windows 2000. Of course, you may say that such a thing would conflict with its Exchange product. But, why not offer a very basic POP3 e-mail server without all the extra features such as contacts, calendar sharing, chat services, etc., that come with Exchange? This would be a great asset for small organizations, and would keep many of them from turning to Linux and other third-party solutions.

When I downloaded the beta version of Windows Server 2003 (WS2K3), my wish came true as I discovered that it now includes a basic POP3 server. That was the first thing I configured, and I was pleasantly surprised by its simplicity and ease of use. I did some extensive tests and everything worked. So, I put together this tutorial on how to set it up and get it to work.

Install Windows Server 2003 first
I downloaded the beta software and burnt it to a CD, and then ran the installation on the appropriate server. The installation was very similar to Windows 2000. Of course, now that WS2K3 has officially been released, you can follow these steps on a full-fledged version of the product. The process is the same.

When the installation completes and the server is up and running, open the Control Panel and select the Add/Remove Programs applet and then click Add/Remove Windows Components. One of the new options available is E-mail-Services (see Figure A). Click on that check box and then click Next. The installation will start and in a few minutes the E-mail-Services component will be installed and ready to be configured.

Figure A

Pop open the POP3 service
Once the component is installed, to configure it you go to Start | Programs | Administrative Tools | POP3 Service. The POP3 services launch as a snap-in in an MMC console. As with every other MMC console, the window is split into two panes. The left pane holds the configurable features and the right pane displays the configurations settings and parameters.

The first thing to do is expand the POP3 Service node at the top of the left pane and that will show you the name of the server you have the POP3 Service configured on. At this point you can either Add A Domain or you can configure the current server’s properties. The server properties basically show you which port will be used to route mail; the default of 110 will be shown, of course, and it will also show you the default location of where the mailboxes will be stored.

Right-click the server and then click on New and then Domain, which will bring up a window asking you to type in the name of the domain you want to use for your e-mail services. Once you type the name and click on OK, the domain name will show up in the right control pane, and it also shows up in the left control pane under the server name, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Create mailboxes
Now that you have a domain configured for e-mail services, you can right-click on that domain name in the left control pane and then click on New and then Mailbox, which brings up a window that allows you to give your mailbox its name, which is the e-mail address.

In my case, the name of the mailbox was “eli” and it automatically appends that username to the @yourdomain.com. You can also choose to add this person to the Windows domain by simply clicking the check box that says Create Associated User For This Mailbox, as shown in Figure C. Next, enter a password and click OK.

Figure C

The DNS MX record
Before you can start sending and receiving e-mail on the Internet, the DNS information for your domain has to be configured properly so it knows how and where to route e-mail. To do this, modify the DNS MX (mail exchanger) record. If you are managing your own DNS, then you can make this change on your DNS server. However, if you are a small business, then your ISP or your Web hosting company is probably managing the DNS records for your Web site.

You need to contact the appropriate part and ask them to modify the MX record. You will need to supply them with the public IP address and the fully qualified domain name (e.g., mail.yourdomain.com) of the server that is configured with the E-mail Services component.

What about SMTP?
Here is the sweetest part of this whole deal. SMTP, which is the service that allows you to send mail, will be automatically configured with the name of your domain when you add it in POP3 Services. To verify this, you can click on Start | Programs | Administrative Tools | Internet Information Services (IIS Manager) and drill down through the nodes until you get to the Default SMTP Virtual Server. Expand that and click on Domains and in the right control panel you will see the list of all your configured domains.

Client configuration
Configure your mail program (e.g., Outlook Express) with the necessary information to access this server. The SMTP server name and the POP3 server name will be the same: the FQDN of the server that you set up in your MX record. The user name is the mailbox name (e.g., name@yourdomain.com) and the password is the password you gave the mailbox during its creation. You can now send and receive e-mail with your own domain name using your own server.

Finally, an e-mail server
I was able to set up my e-mail server without a problem, and I easily configured it to host multiple domain names. Now I don’t have to install Linux on a different box or buy third party mail server software to run on Windows. For small businesses that want to run their own basic mail server, I would certainly recommend Windows Server 2003.