Helm: A home network email server appliance to redecentralize the web

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/10/18/gmail-the-home-game.html


Everybody you’re sending email to will still be on Gmail, though, so Google will still have copies of everything.


You could always migrate your family onto your own mail server and at least begin to cut that traffic out of going to google.

Maybe even offer accounts to your friends? I run a zimbra server for myself at home, before that it was an exchange 2003 server. It’s always nice knowing your mail store isn’t sitting with someone else and isn’t being constantly indexed for the purposes of throwing adverts at you, or whatever else scheme they come up with after you’ve signed up with them.

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The proprietary software is a dealbreaker for me (I live in email and my whole email server stack is open), but I’m nevertheless hopeful and glad to see Helm entering the market, selling on the basis of taking control over your data.

Same with me (I like the form factor design, too). I’d like to a version of this built with FOSS software, not only e-mail but also the ability to set up a turnkey local instance of Mastadon and Diaspora. Perhaps throw in a little LAMP stack+Wordpress server. If the whole thing could easily be flashed to a NUC or other mini-PC so much the better.

$500 for email and $100 annual fee? Yeah, nah.


There’s a Hillary Clinton joke in here somewhere.

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I keep hoping the turnkey linux folk will release another email server. Their last one (zimbra based) was excellent but a bit dated. Just drop the VM in to your host, answer a few prompts and you had an email server.

I occasionally ask this, but never get a response. Why are some of your video previews cut off? I’m using Chrome and Edge, and those previews never render correctly.

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Too expensive.

Edit: $100 price range is reasonable for hardware. We’re talking something like a Raspberry-Pi + WiFi + memory: that’s in the low 2 figures. The remainder is labor, software installation, assembly and packaging.

The subscription service is potentially interesting, though I suspect a freeware distribution is going to be the most realistic.

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This seems like it could cut either way. By virtue of costing money it at least has the option of not monetizing your eyeballs for food; but if my understanding of the hardware description is accurate it’s also a heavily tivoized appliance that connects to the vendor’s mandatory gateway and is intended to only do things signed by them.

And, while the ‘gateway’ mechanism should mostly keep payloads encrypted(unless the recipient mail server doesn’t support in transit encryption, in which case not so much); it still unavoidably leaves a lot of metadata on the ‘trust that we won’t log this and the cops won’t make us’ table.

I can understand why they would make those tradeoffs(amateur set-and-forget server administration is practically volunteering to join a botnet, email sent from random residential IPs gets a chilly reception almost everywhere, without robust encryption of the contents burglary becomes a dire prospect; and it’s at best pathologically inefficient, likely at least that and also nonstandard; and possibly impossible in principle to help get mail from A to B without accruing some metadata). Just because it’s understandable, though, doesn’t make it an obviously good idea.

There’s a fair amount of unavoidable trusting-the-vendor involved; at which point one starts to question the wisdom of a $500 widget that has to endure your home internet and power supply; rather that placing similar amounts of faith in somone slinging very cost effective VPSes; or small colo boxes or the like.

If it’s a cryptographically prickly black box tunnelled into the mothership in order to work the fact that it’s in your house doesn’t really put it in your custody(except for all the annoying parts like uptime and disaster recovery and hardware costs); it’s essentially the vendor’s server telecommuting from your house.

Without doing some serious breaking of email compatibility(along the lines of the…um…not widely supported…freenet messaging mechanisms) I’m not sure how much better you can do; so I don’t say this to cast doubt on their motives; just on their choice of implementations: if physical custody of the box could actually substantially reduce the amount of trust in the vendor required than it could easily be worth the hassle. As it is, though, it’s a lot of downside for an arrangement that doesn’t actually reduce your reliance on the vendor’s good graces that much.


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