Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mozilla Thunderbird – Gain control of your inbox again with this easy to use free email client

Up until a few weeks ago, I was using the web-mail provided by my isp for reading and sending all of my email. Even though the web-mail app had a spam filter, my inbox was out of control – I was still getting about 75% spam. So I started searching for a good, free alternative. I soon came across references to Mozilla Thunderbird, developed by the same organization that gave us the Firefox web browser. Most of the reviews I read mentioned that Thunderbird's built-in spam filter technology was excellent, so I decided to give it a try. A month later and I am now using Thunderbird for all of my email needs – with a little effort on my part my spam count is down to about 10% !

The install process for Thunderbird is simple, with a minimum of questions. When I ran the program for the first time, it recognized that Outlook Express was on my computer and asked if I wanted to import account settings from it. You can also do this at a later time from the Tools menu – an import option lets you import account settings, your address book and actual mail. This makes switching email clients relatively painless (unless you have only webmail).

Using Thunderbird to organize your email is fairly straightforward. If you set Thunderbird up to check your main email address (the one you use to login to your isp), all of your email will be delivered to your Inbox in Thunderbird by default. Then, using the easy to understand Message Filters, you can set up filters on each of your addresses to filter mail to folders that you create. These filters run automatically as your mail is downloaded from the mail server, so the result is that each time you check your email it is sorted into the proper folders. Of course you can use Message Filters to sort on almost anything contained in the email, rather than just the address - you could for example sort mail from a certain group, where the group name is in the Subject field of the message, into a folder for that group.

Now for the good stuff! The built-in spam filter technology starts to work right away identifying messages that Thunderbird thinks are spam (Thunderbird uses the term “junk” - I like that word better than spam, because that's exactly what it is - junk!). The people at Mozilla have really done their homework in researching the kinds of spam that are out there, as the filter does a fair job right out of the box. I spent about a week examining all of my messages and telling Thunderbird which were “junk” and which were “not junk”. You can do this with a click of the mouse as you are looking at a list of messages. A special icon appears beside the spam messages.

After about a week, my confidence that Thunderbird could recognize spam as opposed to my real mail began to increase significantly – I'm not sure how it works, but it really does! I now only perform an occasional spot check of the messages marked as spam before deleting them, and it's been over two weeks since Thunderbird had a message wrongly identified as spam.

A couple of minor things that I don't like about Thunderbird. The program is a little large for my taste – as you can probably tell from my posts I like really lightweight, fast programs whenever possible. Thunderbird's memory “footprint” is about 30K, as opposed to say about 20K for Outlook Express. As such, the program loading time and response is just a little sluggish. The sluggishness is (sometimes) particularly apparent when marking mail as junk or not junk - there is a noticeable lag before the junk icon appears when you click on a message. However, after “training” the application, I only have to do this a few times day. Most people might not notice at all, it's just that I don't upgrade PCs every year so I don't usually have the fastest PC on the market.

Thunderbird can also be used as a newsgroup and RSS reader. I did not test these features as of yet, but may do so in a future post.

The bottom line – I would definitely recommend giving Thunderbird a try, particularly if you are plagued with lots of junk email. With a little effort, you can be relieved of most of your spam in a matter of weeks. You can download Thunderbird here.


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