What do you want in an email program? What do experts want in an email program? Learn how Thunderbird compares to Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express.
Updated to Thunderbird 3.0.
What Do You Want?
What do people want in an email program? Surveys of first time users of email software ask for the following two features in the order listed then they ask for a scattered mixture of other items with no real priority.
- Easy to use
- Works on Windows
What do experts want in an email program? Surveys of experienced email users produce the following top three requirements.
- Does not install viruses
- Easy to use
- Works on Windows
Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express are well known for automatically installing viruses which makes them an illogical choice for email software, leaving Thunderbird the best choice for most people. Outlook still has a place in the conservative corporate world where men always wear ties, women never wear pants, and the mail server uses Microsoft Exchange.
Outlook and Outlook Express are two unrelated programs bent and twisted to look like each other and work like each other. One thing they share in common is the tendency to play every file that looks like it might be a media file and to display everything. Outlook's uncaring attitude makes Outlook a prime target for the creators of viruses, worms, anything evil. Outlook Express copies Outlook's uncaring attitude plus Outlook Express works hard to install itself at every opportunity, just like the viruses.
Microsoft offers ways to switch off the bad behaviour if you are willing to employ someone full time just to research and apply all the changes. Imagine yourself tied to a railway line just like those old fashion movies. Your neck is tied to one rail, your feet are tied to the other rail, and the express train is roaring down the line just seconds away. Microsoft says to you "lets play 20 questions". If you can guess the magic combination of options then Microsoft will untie one of your legs.
Thunderbird was delivered from day one with the right settings to keep your neck safe and never tie up your feet. Over the last few years Microsoft released lots of safety updates for Outlook and they all appear to be copied direct from Thunderbird. There is still a long way to go with Outlook which is a good reason for switching to Thunderbird now.
The corporate types used to exclude Thunderbird because Thunderbird did not have a built in calendar and did not connect to Microsoft's Exchange software. Now there are Exchange connections for many of the alternatives to Outlook and there are plenty of calendars available. You can replace the whole of Exchange with a number of effective alternatives with real advantages over Exchange. For many businesses, the question to ask is why are they still limited to Exchange.
Version 3.0 adds tabbed viewing and the example you may see at startup is one tab showing email and another tab showing a Web page containing help information.
They shrank the toolbar and added a search box. The great thing is the search box now searches all your mail accounts. When you have several accounts and do not remember which one contained an important item of mail, you can search across all accounts.
When you convert from Thunderbird 2 to Thunderbird 3, all your email accounts are set to
synchronise which appears to be the same as the settings you usually use in version 2.0.
There is an option to merge the display of email from all email accounts. I have not tested the option. There is a real problem when you reply to mail in merged accounts because you can mistake the context of the account and use the wrong return address. Test this option carefully before leaving it on.
Thunderbird has a number of real advantages over every other email program on the market and the only place where Thunderbird is less than first choice is on hand held devices that are not yet capable of using standard email programs. If you are stuck with an older device, keep the existing email program until you are ready to buy a new device then look for devices that use standard desktop applications unmodified.
Open source software has the advantage that anyone can check the security and safety of the software. Microsoft does not let you check anything because you cannot see the code used to generate the software. Some people try
black box testing of closed secret proprietary software, including Microsoft's Outlook, but block box testing only tells you what something did in the past, not what it will do in the future.
You can watch Thunderbird in action and read the source code, the list of instructions in the software, to ensure you are testing every part of the software with every combination of data and circumstances that will trigger an action. Your tests can be intelligent instead of random.
Microsoft's Outlook arrives as one big blob, you cannot use Outlook safely until you test every single bit of the blob, and you cannot tell how many bits there are in the blob, which makes Outlook a hopeless case. Thunderbird arrives as a useful small package with extra bits you can add only if you need the extra bits. You can thoroughly test the small package and start using Thunderbird with confidence. When you decide to use an extra bit, you only have to test the extra bit. You do not have to test any of the bits you do not use.
Thunderbird gives you the choice of many optional extra bits, which to some people looks too hard a choice. If you watch television and decide there are too many channels, giving you too many choices, then you might like the Microsoft approach where there are only two choices, Outlook and Outlook Express. If you have ever flicked the television across more than two stations, then you would like the Thunderbird approach of more choice. Think of Thunderbird as a free set top box with a small number of free channels already available and a whole lot of other free channels you can add at any time. By comparison Microsoft's email software is a set top box permanently restricted to two channels with the same show on both channels.
Claws Mail is an alternative for Linux users with a small number of accounts.
Evolution is another alternative for Linux but is not a good choice if you use Windows and want to convert your email application on Windows before converting to Linux.
Google Chrome is gaining in popularity and Google Chrome lacks the range of features required by people in the Web field. Google Chrome appears to be faster than Firefox but Google Chrome is not performing anywhere near the same level of work. When you start adding add-ons to Google Chrome, Google Chromes slows down. Currently there are not enough add-ons to make Google Chrome a valid contender for everyone.
Immediately replace Microsoft's Outlook Express with Thunderbird because Outlook Express is too dangerous. Apply all the security updates to Microsoft's Outlook and then upgrade to Thunderbird when you run out of secirity updates. Plan on replacing Microsoft Exchange in your next budget cycle.