Thunderbird 1.5: Not polished, but usable

I’ve been using Firefox for well over a year now as my main browser, and I’ll never go back to IE. For me, Firefox is pretty much the browser to use – it works well with CSS, is fast, and for the most part is bug-free. Every computer I regularly use has Firefox on it.

So, naturally, I decided to give Thunderbird a try. After having spent most of the last year mainly using various webmail services and not really using a POP3 client, I wanted to see how Thunderbird had progressed, and to see if it was really worth it to go back to a POP3 client. (Some wonder if there is even a future for POP3 clients with webmail become so widespread and versatile.)

Installation went off without a hitch, and importing some old e-mail and account settings I still had in Outlook Express was painless. However, I ran into a few quirks – I wanted to have things set up so that e-mail from different POP3 accounts go to separate folders within my Inbox folder. While Thunderbird makes it easy to have separate sets of folders (Inbox, Sent-mail, Trash, etc.) for your different accounts, what I wanted was just separate inbox folders but common folders for the other stuff. Sounds simple, right?

Well, not that simple, it seems. There didn’t appear to be a message rule I could set based on what account the e-mail came from, something offered in Outlook Express. So, I decided just to create two “dummy” rules that would catch all mail for that account and just move it to the right folder. It worked for one of my POP3 accounts but mysteriously not for the other. After tearing my head out for a few minutes trying to figure what was going on, I decided to restart Thunderbird, and suddenly it worked.

Besides this, a few other features were quirky. For example, Thunderbird has built-in Junk Mail filtering, something any e-mail client should have. It requires some initial training in the form of you marking which e-mails are spam or junk to “get the hang of it.” However, marking an e-mail as Junk does not automatically move it to the Junk e-mail folder, by default. Instead, you must set this behaviour. Similarily, marking e-mail as “Not Junk” doesn’t automatically move it out of the Junk e-mail folder – something that would be intuitive.

I know this sounds minor, but the default behaviour should be to move e-mails marked as junk to the junk e-mail folder. After all, who wants spam clogged up their inbox? Which perhaps brings me to my point, and that I think the configuration options in Thunderbird are a little too extensive. Things should be kept as simple as possible – sometimes offering an option isn’t really necessary when you consider what the logical behaviour should be. Reading Matthew Thomas’s comments on the WordPress interface should give you an idea of what I mean. (Admittedly, it’s an old article about an outdated version of WordPress but I was reminded of it during my Thunderbird experience.)

Furthermore, I’m sort of put-off by the multi-window interface, at least in how it’s implemented. When I double-click a folder, (in the tree list of folders), I want it to expand to show its subfolders, not to open up a new Thunderbird window that doesn’t even do this. This is the default behaviour in Windows, so why wasn’t it done here? Consistency is important in a user interface, and I couldn’t even find the option to change the behaviour to this.

I know some will argue that offering options is better than not offering any – after all, isn’t customization something that makes a program better? Well, I’m not saying this isn’t true, but rather a balance should be found. Despite this, I still think Thunderbird is a decent POP3 client, and much better than Outlook Express if you’re still using it.

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