Since I was not struck by any news of the day, I started looking around for a piece of software to check out, and my search took me to the Thunderbird site. I decided to check it out because I have been reading about the changes, and as I have been looking around, I see that most of the major e-mail programs of yesteryear are either gone or forgotten.

Everyone is now enamored of webmail, and though I cannot understand why, I have to accept that the fact would make the number of POP3/IMAP programs dwindle. As of now, there appear to be only 3 programs that are FREE and also do POP3 or IMAP. They are – Windows Live Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Pegasus Mail.

Everyone knows about Live Mail, I have written about it before; it is very nice and does the job well; it also is the victim of a few nagging problems and is in the process of being upgraded, with the beta out, but the release of it is only helpful to Vista and Windows 7 users.  Live Mail will continue for Windows XP, but I have no idea if the problems I cited before will be fixed on the Windows XP revision, known as Wave 3. I would hope so, but as Microsoft is quirky about what they continue support on and what they don’t; only Mr. Ballmer knows for sure.

Pegasus Mail is an application that is nice, but was written long ago, and offers features that, today, almost no one would be using, as there are not many Novell Netware networks running. Beyond that, the program is free, has all the major bugs worked out, and is easily set up by anyone.

Thunderbird is a program I have not used since version 2.1, as I became quickly disgusted with the interface changes (or lack thereof) on that revision (I had, however, used it continuously on machines from revisions lower than 1 to 2.0). About that time, my all time favorite e-mail program, Eudora, had been dropped, and we were told that the Eudora interface and other goodness would be grafted onto Thunderbird, making it a sort of Superbird!

What a lie that was.  Perhaps lie is too strong; the changes that were promised never came about, even in the form of Penelope, which was supposed to be another attempt at the Eudora goodness being transplanted to something useful.

But on to the latest revision of Thunderbird –

I see lots of progress here. However, not much appears to have come from Eudora in terms of UI. No, the long time Thunderbird interface is still mostly untouched, but thankfully it has been polished up a great deal, and many small things are now included which make the program feel much like Outlook in terms of setup. The ability of the program to automatically find the correct settings probably works in most cases, but for my use, where I was using IMAP settings and SSL connections, the setup was failing. No big deal, as most will not be using these settings.

Once setup, the usage was fast and easy, if just a bit foreign. The feel is something I am certain I could get used to, but it is almost totally different from any other mail program I’ve used (and I realize that sounds odd, after I said that it seemed a lot like Outlook – the feel is there, but the ways things are accomplished are not nearly the same).

The ability to make Thunderbird look as you want it has become much more difficult these days, as there appears to be no division among the additional items that are available to customize the program. There also seems to be little distinction as to what the customizing items are called, as there is a page for addons, extensions, and plugins. None of these are further divided into what revision of the Thunderbird program they work with, making your time spent finding anything appropriate take much longer than it should.

As I perused the areas, I realized why I stopped using Firefox and Thunderbird before – life is too short. People should not have to ferret out the things that will work with the version they have. It is that simple. If Mozilla doesn’t care enough to divide these things according to version, why should I care enough to use the additional items, and there the program becomes judged by what is included in the initial download.

I suppose Mozilla should be lauded for the ability to make changes and customize, as Pegasus Mail and Live Mail have no such capability – so you should, and I will, keep that in mind.

It seems as though the thing that might set Thunderbird apart from the pack is made so difficult (perhaps not really difficult, just incredibly annoying) that many will not bother. (I probably will, as I never let little things like this get me down, but that is because I am slightly obsessive-compulsive in nature.)

Fortunately, for the easily deterred, the program works and looks very nice, having an interface that can be adjusted to easily, and after a proper setup, works like a champ. For many, that may be all they ask.

For those that use a different operating system some of the time, the ability to have Thunderbird used across your machines is a nice one, and not available with other free choices.

If I were to have to give a numerical rating for this, based on 10 stars, and bearing in mind that nothing is perfect (no 10 star ratings) – Windows Live Mail  9.0 stars, Thunderbird 3.1 8.0 stars, Pegasus Mail 6.5 stars… Thunderbird could make it to 9.5 with a clean up of the addons-extensions-plugins area, and a few small changes in ergonomic design, such as putting things I expect to use frequently right out in front of me.

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We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.

Jeff Marder




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