The Thunderbird 2 e-mail application comes from Mozilla, the same organization responsible for releasing Firefox, the popular open-source Web browser. Firefox has become the preferred surfing tool for many people who reject Microsoft Internet Explorer. However, will users seeking a Microsoft e-mail alternative turn to Thunderbird?
The answer for open-source aficionados, especially those who use Linux, is likely yes. Mac users, however, are likely to use Apple's Mail, whose fans insist is faster. Although Windows users can pay for Outlook or opt for the Microsoft's smaller, free Windows Live Mail, (which succeeded Outlook Express), we think Thunderbird is a highly attractive alternative for these users.
Setup and interface
Downloading the 6.4MB Thunderbird 2 for Windows took several quick minutes in our tests. On one Windows XP SP2 PC, we imported all of our corporate work e-mail settings from an Outlook account we'd been using for 42 months. That process took nearly 20 minutes. It imported our dozens of in-box folders, but those and the in-box were empty. We had to consult online help to figure out how to get new messages to populate the in-box. On a Windows Vista laptop, we set up Thunderbird only to read messages from a rarely used, 24-month-old Gmail account; that process was nearly instantaneous.
Setup with the free Windows Live Mail was similarly foolproof. By contrast, however, we were glad that Thunderbird didn't ask to change our default browser settings. Nor did it litter our desktop with unwanted icons, as so much freeware often does. Unfortunately, we can't say the same when installing Microsoft Windows Live Mail in a bundle with its otherwise good Windows Live Apps package.
Once Thunderbird 2 is up and running, its layout should be familiar to anyone who has dabbled in Outlook. Messages appear in the center, with folders in the left pane and a menu of commands and options along the top of the window. We're grateful for Back and Forward buttons that help with navigation.
Thunderbird offers many small yet welcome advantages, such as text tagging. That lets you describe the content of, and later quickly retrieve, an e-mail or RSS feed. Tags also let you classify and prioritize messages, such as for work or for handling later. We didn't use a timer, however; we felt that search features were faster in Thunderbird than in the revamped capabilities of Microsoft Outlook 2007. Of course, Thunderbird offers other staple e-mail features, such as a spell-checker and warnings when you receive suspected phishing messages from scam artists.