First look: Thunderbird 1.0 a winner

If you find yourself spending more time sorting your e-mail than reading it, consider the new Thunderbird e-mail client. The free program, which complements the group's Firefox browser, combines advanced e-mail sorting functions, first-rate spam filters, and lightning-fast performance to help you cut through your inbox like a hot knife through butter.

I tested version 1.0 of Thunderbird (a 5.8MB download). After years of using Microsoft Outlook, the switch was like trading in a big, lumbering Buick for a Mustang GT. A mere second after you launch the program, it's ready to retrieve your mail or compose a message. With Outlook, you launch the app and then go get a cup of coffee while it loads its numerous modules and applets.

Thunderbird's interface is equally sleek, borrowing many of the best elements of its sibling Firefox. The icons are stylish yet easy to identify, and navigation is simple and efficient.

Easy Sorting

Like most people, I'm in too much of a hurry to create a nice, neat folder hierarchy for my received e-mail, so I tend to keep all my messages in the inbox. That's why my favorite Thunderbird feature - and the one that may get me to dump Outlook for good - is the ability to create custom views of the inbox based on easy-to-set rules.

For example, I created a "Family view" that shows only messages from people in my personal address book named "O'Reilly" (I could add other names or conditions to this rule as well). Now when I want to see only messages from my family, I simply click the View drop-down menu and select "Family view."

Of course, any e-mail program worth its salt today has to be able to handle spam, too. Thunderbird's Junk Mail Controls include adaptive filters that are trained to identify spam based on the contents of your incoming messages. The feature also helps keep viruses off your system by blocking JavaScript from executing in news and mail messages.

Thunderbird supports all POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, as well as AOL Mail and HTML mail. Users of Netscape Webmail or Microsoft Hotmail need to download free plug-ins available through the Mozilla.org site.

In addition to e-mail, Thunderbird offers support for newsgroup access and includes an RSS news reader. The program has a basic Address Book, but it lacks an integrated calendar (although Mozilla offers a free calendar extension).

Slightly Imperfect

Despite Thunderbird's open-source underpinnings and collective development, the program's documentation is sparse. The link in Thunderbird's Help menu to the support Web site was broken each time I tested it, too.

The program shows its 1.0 nature in other ways, as well. For example, when I entered contact information in my Personal Address Book entries, the cursor continually disappeared, and my first attempt to save a contact record failed.

Still, Thunderbird proved robust enough to become my number one e-mail client in no time. I don't use Outlook's calendar feature, so Thunderbird's lack of one doesn't bother me. I can say unequivocally that if you're still using Microsoft's outdated Outlook Express, you should switch to Thunderbird immediately - no questions asked.

With Thunderbird version 1.0 the Mozilla Foundation has created a fast, simple, and fully functional e-mail client. The fact that it just happens to be free is icing on the cake.

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Dennis O'Reilly

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