its 0.4 milestone
Now that Thunderbird has
, we thought we would
take it for a test drive and see how far the new email and newsgroup client
has come. The conclusion is that Thunderbird is indeed maturing into quite
a nice email client.
Setting up Thunderbird is as simple as uncompressing a tarball in the
directory you'd like Thunderbird to live in. Configuring Thunderbird is
likewise an easy task, and it only takes a minute or two to have the client
up and ready to send and retrieve email from the default account. Like most
modern email clients, Thunderbird allows users to set up multiple email
accounts if they wish to do so.
One of the more exciting features with Thunderbird is adaptive spam
filtering. Users can tag email as "junk" and Thunderbird will try to
automatically determine which incoming email is spam in the future. This
feature is not on by default, so the user will need to enable the junk
folder and features.
Thunderbird's adaptive junk mail controls aren't perfect (yet), but after
only using Thunderbird for a little more than a week, I found that it was
pretty quickly. Thunderbird didn't tag all of the spam I received as junk,
but it didn't tag any of my legitimate email as junk after a few
days. While some may be annoyed when they see spam slip through
Thunderbird's filter, I'm much happier to know that it does very well at
avoiding false positives. There is also a junk mail log, so users can
follow which messages have been tagged and moved. I would recommend using
the Junk folder rather than deleting messages for at least a few weeks.
As the developers point out in the release notes, the default interface for
Thunderbird has matured since the last release, and is looking very
nice. If the default theme isn't quite right, Thunderbird allows the user
to choose custom themes instead. Right now there are about twenty themes
available for Thunderbird. Installation of themes is easy, though it's
still necessary to restart the application once you've installed a new
Themes aren't the only thing that's changeable. One of the nicest features
of Thunderbird is the ability to add extensions to the
application. One of the goals for Thunderbird was to stay "small and
unbloated," which is a laudable goal. However, most users will differ on
the features which are necessary, and the features that should be
considered bloat. Extensions allow users to modify Thunderbird's feature
set to their liking; available extensions include a calendar, external
application launchers, "splitter grippies," a calculator, an offline
operation mode, and numerous others. Installing extensions in Thunderbird is as simple as
downloading an extension and running the "Install New Extension" wizard.
By default, (unfortunately) Thunderbird's message composer is set to send
mail in HTML format rather than plain text, but this behavior is easy to
turn off. If a user prefers to send HTML-formatted email, or if certain
recipients prefer to receive HTML-formatted email, Thunderbird allows the
user to set specific domains that will receive plain-text or HTML
email. However, at this point this feature only works if the user has
Thunderbird set to compose HTML email by default. It would be nice if this
worked both ways, so a user could send grandma HTML emails by default and
avoid getting flamed by accidentally sending HTML email to a mailing list.
Another welcome feature in Thunderbird is customizable message
views. Users are able to view messages according to a wide range of
criteria, which makes it very easy to sort through your inbox. For example,
the user can choose only to view messages with attachments, or only
messages sent by people who are in their address book. Thunderbird includes
only a few preset filters, but users can create others of their own.
One of the few gripes I have with Thunderbird is that it only allows the
user to import mail from Communicator 4.x clients. If the user wishes to
switch from Pine, Evolution, Outlook, Eudora, Sylpheed or any number of
other mail clients, there is no automated tool with Thunderbird to help
with the task. A simple utility to import email stored in mbox format would
be a nice addition, and might help Thunderbird add to its user base.
It should also be noted that the application isn't entirely stable. It did
crash during testing a few times
though it didn't lose any messages or important data. Note that I
experienced crashes during testing before installing any extensions,
so it wasn't the addition of third-party code that caused the problems.
interface is also a bit slow, even on a fast machine. Often, it takes a few
additional seconds for dialog boxes to disappear completely and for new
windows to appear.
Of course, one does not normally expect perfection from such an early
Overall, however, Thunderbird is a well-designed mail client, and is quite
usable for an application that is only a 0.4 release. I expect that as
Thunderbird matures, the stability will improve even further and that the
speed of the interface will also be improved. Thunderbird should be
acceptable for daily use for users who are looking for a different mail
client. Though I only tested the Linux version of Thunderbird, there are
also builds for Windows and Mac OS X for users of those platforms.
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