I think this is the first time I've ever installed Mozilla Thunderbird, the email client provided by Mozilla (the same foundation that makes the excellent Firefox web browser). At least the first time I've given it any serious thought. Up until now, I've used Microsoft Outlook for my work email and a web browser for all my other emails (at least 5 other accounts). But with the release of the second Beta of Thunderbird 1.5, I thought I'd give it a whirl and post my comments.

Below is a brief history of some of the relevant steps I took:

  • The release notes for Thunderbird states that they provide support for web mail, yet upon installation, they ask what type of incoming server I am using and only provide POP or IMAP as possible selections. As a result, I decided to configure an email account that I knew had a POP/IMAP server (my Comcast email). If you have Comcast and you're trying to set up Thunderbird, use this link.
  • Their initial "Account Wizard" screen has one other confusing option, new to 1.5, the "Use Global Inbox (store mail in Local Folders)" checkbox. The tip above this box is not any more illuminating to me: "Uncheck this checkbox to store mail for this account in its own directory. That will make this account appear as a top-level account. Otherwise, it will be part of the Local Folders Global Inbox account". Huh? At this point in my experience I have no idea what the "Global Inbox" concept is (it sounds like it would group many email accounts into one "logical" inbox, but the mention of "Local Folders" is also confusing - they seem like two orthogonal concepts to me). Storing mail for each account in its own directory sounds like what I want to do, but how does that make the account appear as a "top-level account"? And is "directory" here used in the file sense or in a logical sense? And for that matter, what exactly IS a top-level account? Anyway, a little confusing to a new user!
  • At work, I'm behind a corporate firewall and Thunderbird did not present me an option to set up proxy server settings (or import them from browsers) prior to adding email accounts in the Wizard. Thus, my first email account was doomed to fail.
  • I then went to the help files and looked up how to configure email accounts using web mail. The help files state that Hotmail is not supported. Ouch. This was going to be my first webmail account that I planned on configuring. What's odd is that they don't mention that Thunderbird could be extended to support it (voila, this extension).
  • Ok, go to check out the WebMail Thunderbird extension where it states that they support Hotmail and Yahoo! mail. Great! Go download the extension and guess what: the extension does not work with Thunderbird 1.5 (yet?). Double ouch.
  • Gmail was next, so I did a google and found this article. Reading it helped me set up Gmail to support POP. Gmail's instructions are woefully out of date and only include support for Thunderbird 0.x. However, these instructions are easily enough to follow. But then it all dawns on me: I think my corporate firewall blocks everything except HTTP traffic. Unfortunately, this means that I can only use Thunderbird for webmail accounts accessed via HTTP. This isn't Thunderbird's fault, there's nothing they could do to make this happen. Looking back to the WebMail Tbird extension they also state they only support "POP" access (not HTTPMail). Triple ouch.
  • Next I started looking for general information on Thunderbird Extensions for HTTP access to webmail. I found this page which talks about the idea for an extension which supports Yahoo! Mail through HTTP. Then there's this thread which charts a sort of non-progress for the past two years. What I was able to gather from reading that thread is that Microsoft and Yahoo decided that they won't allow free HTTPMail access to email. That sucks!

In the end, I was chagrined to find out that I could not use Thunderbird for ANY of my various personal webmail and POP accounts at work (perhaps this is a GOOD thing?). I could set up Tbird to access my work emails (through IMAP), but there's not much point to this - I already have the latest Microsoft Outlook installed on my work PC.

Thus, I'm sad to say that I cannot recommend Thunderbird since I wasn't able to use it. To avoid flames, this is NOT Thunderbird's fault, this seems to be primarily due to the fact that I cannot access POP email outside of my corporate firewall and that webmail providers don't give developers a nice way to access their email through HTTP - c'est la vie! Perhaps those days of accessing HTTP mail from a desktop client are long gone? It's a shame because it was an incredibly useful feature to have. I may yet decide to set up Thunderbird on my home PC, but to be perfectly candid, I access most of my private emails at work (hey, that's what lunch breaks are for!).

Anyway, it seems the more likely story would be to forward traffic from most of my webmail/POP accounts to Gmail so that I can use their nice web and search interface to effectively knit all these accounts together. I just worry that I might get confused about where the emails are coming from and still have to reply in different web applications...it seems there might not be an easy solution yet.

§163 · October 10, 2005 · Software, Technology, Web · · [Print]

3 Comments to “Taking a Crack at Thunderbird”

  1. Rob says:

    Ever since I started using my notebook and my desktop regularly, I’ve been relying on webmail. I don’t like having to check so many sites for my mail, but at least I can usually get to it all.

    As for pop access to Webmail, Hotmail Popper is what I set up at home long ago to give me a pop interface to Hotmail. It looks like now they’re charging for it and Hotmail is giving them a hard time anyway.

  2. Mauriat says:

    Wow, I can’t even begin to recall when I dropped NetscapeMail in favor of Thunderbird. I’m happy with the interface and features, but what I found most troubling is its a pig at memory. … This is also why I’m in favor of having *everything* IMAP. I can mirror setups across virtually every platform I use. Mind you I dual boot Linux and Windows on a regular basis and next to Mozilla/Tbird there really is not any other alternative – unfortunately.

  3. Ray says:

    Good review, I don’t see any reason to discontinue using Outlook if there are that many issues with setup and receiving emails.