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Mozilla issues near-final Thunderbird 3

The new e-mail software adds an archive option, improves search, and aims to ease some tasks. Also: Mozilla wants 3.1 sooner rather than later.

Mozilla Messaging has released the first release candidate of a Thunderbird 3, software it hopes will significantly improve how people read, write, catalog, and search their e-mail.

Mozilla released the software Tuesday for Windows, Mac, and Linux, several days later than predicted earlier this month but close to a year later than Mozilla planned in 2008. A final version of Thunderbird 3 is expected not long after the release candidate.

Thunderbird 3 has been years time in the making. For its next versions, the Mozilla Messaging group hopes to release new versions more frequently, said Mozilla Messaging programmer Dan Mosedale.

"Part of the plan for Thunderbird is to move our development process in a more agile direction...Rather than having super long releases, we'd like to release significantly more frequently than we have historically done," said a draft Mozilla proposal for what to do in the post-Thunderbird 3 era Mosedale posted. He proposed major Thunderbird releases every four to six months, starting with version 3.1, and also laid out some ideas for Thunderbird after version 3.1.

Thunderbird 3.0 adds a variety of features, according to Mozilla and the Thunderbird 3 RC1 release notes:

• A more elaborate search option to locate specific messages. People can employ a variety of methods to sift the wheat from the chaff.

• An e-mail archive a la Google's Gmail. Rather than filing every message in a folder, an organizational technique that can be hard to maintain with high volumes of messages, people can move them out of the inbox into the archive where search can find them later.

• A streamlined interface that cleans up the toolbar and moves some of its functions to the frame around e-mail messages.

• A new plug-in system designed to be easier to use to replicate some of the success of the Firefox browser. The browser, by the way, is built in so plug-ins can use it.

• A tabbed interface that can reduce clutter of e-mails, e-mail folders, and other tasks. A tab can, for example, house a version of Yahoo's online calendar.

• An easier process to set up new e-mail accounts. The software has preset settings for several e-mail services.

• "Smart folders" that can be customized in a variety of ways. For example, users with multiple e-mail accounts can create a smart folder that provides a unified inbox for all the accounts.

• An easier way to add people to the address book by clicking a star icon next to the sender's name.

Be sure to check the list of Thunderbird 3 RC1 issues if you're the cautious type.