Surviving Email

 Maybe it’s time for you to trade in the Ford Fairlane and rev up your motor with a brand-new Thunderbird.

It's a bird, it's a plane, and it's not Outlook. What is this new e-mail program everyone's talking about? Hot on the lips in the browser market last year was Firefox, and this year's bright and shining star among e-mail clients is Thunderbird, the free and open source program created by the Mozilla Foundation, the makers of Firefox.

I'd heard about Thunderbird, but necessity and accident forced me to put it into action. My dearly beloved Eudora Pro 6 just wasn't what it used to be, and I needed a quick (read free and robust) e-mail program I could put into use on a new machine. Oh sure, I contemplated Outlook, mostly because it was already on the machine, but I forced myself to lie down until that feeling passed.

The 5.8MB download from the Mozilla Foundation,, was up and running before I had time to run out to the kitchen for a Diet Coke. And it amazed me. The sleek, stylish interface bore marks of its kinship to Firefox, it was intuitive (who has time to read manuals?), and it was as easy to use as reading the time on a Rolex watch.

I receive a lot of e-mail, usually in the neighborhood of some eight hundred messages each day. And although I maintain about 150 different files, I'm frankly a lazy slob when it comes to cleaning out my inbox. It's a messy drawer of odd stuff just waiting to be sorted out, reread, and reconsidered. This is where Thunderbird makes its mark. Hitting “View,” with the flick of the wrist and a click of the mouse, I can sort out my inbox by “People I Know,” “Recent,” “Threads,” or any combination I might wish to customize. That's the perfect solution for mail that doesn't fall into a filter but which is nonetheless precious and important.

A good portion of each day's harvest of e-mail is spam, and the junk mail controls let me tweak those to make sure that unwanted e-mail hit the junk box without taking along wanted e-mail. Configuring its settings was child's play. Other exciting extras include an RSS reader, a Usenet newsgroup reader, a powerful search capability, import tools, HTML mail, return receipts, spell-checking, smart address book completion, and the ability to manage mail from multiple accounts.

But most appealing to me was how Thunderbird could be infinitely customized to my own wants, needs, and desires. Extensions, personalized themes, and the ability to make my e-mail program work the way I wanted it to make Thunderbird a program everyone should try.

What doesn't Thunderbird do? Although it supports all POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, it won't support Hotmail. But it does just fine with AOL mail and HTML mail. It doesn't come with a calendar like Outlook does, but the Foundation's Sunbird project,, brings along a calendar. It's downloadable for free at

Technical support is free and available at in a variety of formats—FAQ, a knowledge base, fora, and even Real Time Chat (IRC).

Maybe it's time for you to trade in the Ford Fairlane and rev up your motor with a brand-new Thunderbird.

jennifer j. rose is editor-in-chief of GPSolo . She lives in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.

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