Thunderbird worth taking for a test flight in the war on spam
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver
15-21; issue 799; High Tech Office column
Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser is used by most Internet
surfers. The company also has a pair of products that are used by a
similar majority to access e-mail: Outlook Express is bundled with
Windows (as is Internet Explorer); the beefier Outlook (which includes
a calendar, contacts list and to-do list) comes as part of the
Microsoft Office suite.
The bad guys have targeted both programs. Most of the e-mail viruses of
the past few years have spread themselves by reading addresses in the
Microsoft e-mail software's address books. And because both of the
Outlooks use Internet Explorer's engine to display HTML-formatted
e-mail (any e-mail with graphics and styled-text), they share IE's
vulnerabilities in running potentially dangerous programming code.
Last year, the open-source Mozilla project (www.mozilla.org
released its free
alternative Web browser: Firefox. More recently, it has released an
e-mail, newsgroup and RSS program: Thunderbird for Windows, Linux and
Mac OS X, with features falling between the minimalist Outlook Express
and the full Outlook. Installation is straightforward. While it's
similar to many open source programs in that it's full of potential
customization settings, most can be safely ignored.
Users are asked whether to make Thunderbird the default e-mail program,
and whether to import mail, address books and settings from other
software. The program imported my e-mail (etc.) from Eudora without
Thunderbird supports multiple accounts and users and can be
to view and create both plain text and HTML messages. It supports the
POP3 mail accounts commonly used by Internet service providers and the
IMAP mail accounts often used within corporate networks to connect to
Exchange servers. Downloadable extensions add the ability to work with
Hotmail and AOL accounts.
The default program layout will be immediately familiar to Outlook or
Eudora users and can be customized to taste; themes can be downloaded
from Mozilla.org to further alter the program's look and feel. In
addition, optional downloadable extensions can add to Thunderbird's
Unlike Outlook Express, earlier versions of Outlook and the free
version of Eudora, Thunderbird includes built-in spam filtering. The
filtering learns from what you mark (or unmark) as spam, improving its
accuracy over time.
Addresses in your address book are, by default, added to a white list
of addresses that are never considered spam.
attachments. This makes it more difficult to catch or spread viruses
Thunderbird loads and gets down to work quickly. Compared with some of
its competitors, it's like driving a sports car instead of the family
sedan. Equally nice is the ability to set criteria to sort messages in
your in-box. You could easily add an item to the view menu to see only
mail from family members or from your boss.
If you're currently using Microsoft Outlook Express or a free version
of Eudora, give Thunderbird a try. It will do a good job of importing
your mail, address books and settings, provide a more secure e-mail
experience, and (over time) learn to filter out most of the junk mail
that you're currently receiving.
If you're using Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird (along with some of its
optional extensions) will provide a faster, more secure, full-featured
replacement, adding the spam-filtering that users of older Outlook