"Most people have only ever used webmail..."
The dire state of email clients today is an ongoing gripe of mine - and when I get three dozen emails on Sunday, it's clearly a source of frustration for Reg readers, too. It merits a bumper mailbag. For earlier installments, see here and here. Thunderbird 3.x is the focus for this ire. Not all readers are unhappy with it. For …
Most of the non-technical people that I know use webmail for their personal email; some have webmail solution at work. The majority don't see Outlook as a mail client; call it a PIM or MUA and they glaze over! To most Outlook is just "work email", they probably don't know it's called Outlook; much like IE *is* the "button for the internet". I've given up trying to educate and leave 'em to it, if it works for them at home, what's the harm?
I still miss Eudora. I detest single window mail clients. Eudora filtering was excellent. The Apple Mail program is no substitute.
A new window open for every mailbox with a new message is good. The closest I get now is Mail showing every unread message in a single window.
The real problem here is not really with the client. Yes TB eats ridiculous amount of memory but it's serves me fairly well. The problem IMO is that the functionality it's trying to include is at the client side..... and that's wrong.
Yes, sync and store capabilities for offline access is fine too, but for me the it's the server side that should index and catalog my mails - the client side should simply download and cache that index rather than redoing the work.
The Google Mail approach to storage is IMO best. There is no such thing as "folders" really, just labels that can be exposed as folders. I think that this concept itself is a winner but MUAs need to be aware fo this so as not to download (and locally index) the same message twice).
Really views should be much smarter. My contact lists (and the cateogries I put my contacts in, work, family, friends etc) should be exposed as virtual folders. I should be able to click on my 'Family/Joe Bloggs' "folder" and simply see all the mails that were sent to or from (in a nice threaded manner of course). If I click on 'Family/Jane Bloggs' "folder" then this would show all the mails to or from Jane (whcih may also include some of the same messages that were in the 'Joe' "folder".
By making the client side dumber, the same virtual hierarchy can be presented to me via my thick MUA client I like to run on my desktop, or via the thin and reduced version I run via webmail etc.
Folders are dead, we need semantic storage at the server side, and clients that can leverage this to it's full potential.
When this happens, thunderbird and other MUAs will start to suck less.
Kevin Hall hit the nail on the head. As the corporates move to hosted webmail / mobile / cloud stuff the demand for a standalone email client drops. Since the corp market's where the only really serious money and market share is, development of the standalone apps moves very much onto the back burner as a result.
Incidently, my system also runs absolutely fine, handling several years of archived mail amounting to several gigs without a twitch. Starts up in seconds and retrieves from the servers like lightning. It's currently using 64megs of memory although I note that it did have a nasty peak of over 300 in this session, must have been that big search I did.
But then I am using Outlook.......
I used to use Thunderbird 3, but I've moved to Postbox Express. I'd had lots of problems with Thunderbird freezing up randomly, but I've never had such problems with Postbox Express.
The solution for JD Parker is sure to stop using Opera as a browser ;)
And would that be Dr. David Kelly?
Why has nobody recommended Alpine? You lot with your fancy, pretentious GUIs.
I run TB3 as my main email client, and can't say I have any complaints. If anything, I've found TB3 a step in the right direction. The only downside is somewhere in my attempts to share the profile between Ubuntu and Windows corrupted the calendar database and I lost everything.
Dynamic folders are very slow, the search summary view is utterly useless and quick search is now a slow search thanks to opening tabs.
Biggest issue for me is that the spam filter is all but useless these days. Bayesian filtering worked for about 6 months before the spammers just started randomizing their words and injecting pictures. I haven't seen a decent anti-spam add on either.
I've practically given up on thick client email apps because I must get 100 spams for every single legit email and I just can't deal with it any more. I've read my through Gmail instead which is very good at spam filtering.
That said, it's still a Thunderbird is still usable email client and frankly it doesn't deserve the kind of trolling story that it has received.
Me (programmer): Thunderbird on NetBSD
Wife (sales drone): Thunderbird on Windows XP
Brother (graphic designer): Apple's email client
Mum (retired secretary): Apple's email client
Dad (retired tiler): doesn't do computers
So amongst my close family, not one uses webmail. As for my friends (few of whom work in IT), checking the headers of a few recent emails I receive from them I see that not one is using webmail. Even the Gmail'ers are managing their messages from a client like Thunderbird.
I'd echo Graham's recommendation of Gemini (now Messenger Pro - but I'm still using it in its Gemini incarnation). Previously, I was using Pluto (http://home.clara.net/jsd/pluto.html) on RISC OS which, for my purposes, is brilliant - but it's never been ported to any other platform, and Gemini is the closest match on Windows.
How weird that Evolution has not been mentioned? Ubuntu and many other distros come with Evolution as their default mail client. I use it every day and it works great. It has more features out of the box than Thunderbird (calendar etc) and is nice and quick and very integrated into Gnome.
If there was a Windows version I reckon a lot of people would switch to it.
I used Evolution for a while because it's Ubuntu's default, but I had to revert to Thunderbird because Evolution kept losing messages. Not just new email, but stuff I needed to save and that was neatly filed in folders. Unfortunately I didn't notice they were gone until several backups later - you can guess the rest.
Also, Evolution's built-in backup/restore functionality was utterly useless when I last tried it - as much as 30% of the content lost.
When I Googled the topic I found a lot of other people with similar experiences and some comments about the quality of Evolution's code base. It sounds like it's a plate of spaghetti.
I use personal email on any of my three machines, plus one at work, and use Unison to sync the mail folders between them. I used Thunderbird for a while, and while it was mostly ok (once I'd disabled the search database) it would take most of a morning to copy each changed folder between sites. With the database active it was impossible! That meant I limited my mail downloads due to the resync time. I've also lost data from previous systems due to loss or damage of files, so I'm wary of having a single file holding a complete mail folder. I'd found and moved over to Claws a few weeks before your article, and now Unison only has to sync cache files and the new individual email files. It's done in minutes.
I've not found an easy way to do a global search inside Claws though, but with plain text files grep works well enough.
I'm not that keen on Thunderbird, using it merely because it's the least-bad cross-platform IMAP MUA around, so I gave Claws a try. I really wanted to like it but I couldn't --- it's just too slow. Deleting mail off a remote IMAP server would take ten to fifteen seconds *per message*. I could set it to defer changes until later, which is a very nice feature, but now when I change folders it takes fifteen to twenty seconds to commit the changes while I'm sitting there twiddling my thumbs. Thunderbird may have its faults, but at least it knows that slow IMAP operations should happen in the background while the user gets on with something useful.
Plus, it crashed on me several times.
So I'm still looking for a good cross-platform IMAP email client. Any suggestions?
I switched to Claws after reading the original message, because Thunderbird 3.0 on my work desktop was taking ~60 seconds to display each message after I'd selected it.
Claws took about that long to pull all 8k messages worth of headers and thread them. I do have a reasonably fast connection to my mail server, but that didn't help Thunderbird at all.
I'd honestly go back to Thunderbird 2.0, except that I can't get it to sort threads by the newest message in the thread, so new emails on old threads require a large amount of scrolling around. Claws does it quite neatly. Plus it has all sorts of options, instead of making assumptions about how I want to use my email, and it uses screen realestate efficiently. The only slowness I get is when X battles with my ancient video card, but I've learned to deal with that.
Lack of an integrated calendar (the vcalendar plugin refuses to connect to our calendar server) set me back for a minute, but then I realized that I just ignore calendar events anyway, and Lightning w/ Thunderbird was just a giant bag full of bugs, crashes, and un-closeable warning messages.
And I've tried TB 3.1 (on Windows) and it does fix lots of problems. But it's still in Beta for Linux, and there's really just no need to try something that even Mozilla considers to be beta code.
I am a TB user started with v2 and moved to 3 comparatively recently, and 3 is a bit slower but not enough to cause me any problems. But then I'm not an IMAP user. I have big disks and don't really want old emails eating up my ISP space.
The client I used to use (and paid for) was Becky (rimarts.co.uk) which always seemed to get a bit overshadowed by the Bat! It may be worth a look for some of you.
I eventually abandoned it because it's "purist" approach became a bit annoying and support for HTML emails was a bit "oh well if you really must" and support for PGP is a bit of a hack and for SMIME a bit flaky. I haven't used it for a couple of years so I don't know what's changed.
Some time ago I wrote a detailed report on a regression related to spam filtering.
It was severe (data loss) and needed to be fixed as soon as possible. Even if I was reporting the problem at every milestone release, and even if the bug report contained everything needed to reproduce the bug, it took the developers NINE FRIGGING MONTHS to agree on what to do and fix the damn thing.
There is also this philosophical matter where your own email gets hidden if your own address is in the address book and the To: field gets changed in "To: you".
This would enable someone very smart to usa a recipient like "The idiot <email@example.com>" without you noticing.
A report for this was onoened 1.5 years ago. There are new discussions oone week on and one week off, but NOTHING has been done.
I have identified another bug that leads every time to data loss, but this time I will use my time in a more proficient way, like not giving a shit about reporting it.
Your experience with Mozilla failing to fix long standing bugs mirrors my own and I see you've already received your first retaliatory downvote for daring to badmouth an OSS organization. Kudos. OSS is not a religion, I judge organizations and their products on their merit only, and frankly Thunderbird shown less and less recently.
For me though it didn't start with v3, I thought TB 1 was a major step backwards from good old Mozilla Suite. The server discovery in TB 2 was an absolute abomination when I was setting up a friend's business. It can't discover a damn thing and just gets in your way when trying to configure things properly. I haven't made the call to abandon ship yet but TB 3 feels a lot like strike 3 to me.
There hasn't been a mention of Eudora OSE which is the new name for the Eudora project now based on a customised version of Thunderbird.
It is gradually gaining a lot of the features of Eudora carefully grafted onto a recent version of TB.
I am just testing it, but still relying on Eudora 184.108.40.206 on Windows for my everyday stuff, which has been excellent for literally decades now. Eudora works pretty well with Wine on Linux too.
It was a shock for me as well when I switched from TB2 to TB3: I was quite taken aback by the "augmented" features, and not very cool about those new default settings such as IMAP synchronization (I hurried to disable this as soon as I realized what was going on). I use only IMAP e-mail (multiple accounts), but I also need PGP/GPG encryption & signature, plus LDAP support for my contacts, and Linux compatibility. On the top of this, there are quite a few TB extensions I like and use, even though they're not essential. Given what I need, the only viable alternative I know of is Evolution, but I tried it some time and had problems whith it, and it doesn't have cool extensions I can find for Thunderbird. Even though TB2 was heaven for me, TB3 works at least well enough for me so I can stick to it for now, but I do hope they make dramatic improvements for the next versions!
When will Thunderturkey support the modern, nicely greppable, more reliable maildir format instead forcing users to put up with the clunky, >From mbox files?
I'm thinking of changing to balsa.
I agree entirely - Thunderbird 3.x is a horrible, slow, bloated mess. I downgraded after a week to 2.x again, everything was just too much effort, too many mouse clicks, too much fuss. I hate it more than Outlook.
I use the same mail client I've used for over 15 years - Virtual Access*. Of course, nobody has heard of it, because it's really an off-line reader for CIX - with email on the side. But it works. I still have most of the email messages from the beginning. It beats Outlook hollow.
It may help that I had a minor role in developing it - so I know its foibles.
*There is now an open-source version - VAOS - at
..I even used it back when it was called TeePee.
I forget why I moved away from it but I have fond memories.
Just use zebra. Job done.
The last time I looked at Zimbra Desktop it was a weird combination of Java-based web server and the xulrunner UI engine (?) from Mozilla. Basically a somewhat extended webmail-in-a-box. It would start up a web server in your local machine and then launch a (very cut down) browser window to connect to the server.
Not my idea of an email client. If you have plenty of RAM to spare it might be somewhat tolerable but "lean and mean" it certainly isn't. I still have to wonder who in their right mind could come up with *that* kind of "solution". They might be able to share a large amount of the code base with the Zimbra server that way, but still it's incredibly stupid to try to sell that to the desktop, IMO.
I agree with this, and I've deployed Zimbra at several locations.
I'd prefer to see them working on a proper desktop client than using a local web server/database. Fair enough, it works, works well in fact. But it always feels like a kludge.
The server software and AJAX webmail is excellent (can't believe we put up with Exchange for so long), but dumping that down as a desktop client? Not cool.
I'll stick to IMAP, though the whole IMAP protocol needs a refresh IMO. Having to submit a message via SMTP then copy it to sent items via IMAP is pretty horrible.
I was a happy Thunderbird user for 6 years, and then last year hit. It has gone from being my best friend for e-mail to my worst nightmare. I've had problems with it just hanging, taking forever with it's 'indexing' operation, and even the SMTP configuration doesn't seem to work. With the SMTP issue, I can get it to send sometimes, but then Thunderbird just seems to disconfigure itself. As for the new interface, I've given it time, and it just doesn't work for me.
This article did make me feel a bit better, because I thought I was the only one experiencing these frustrations.
I pretty much delete all the emails I get once I've consumed the information within, so speed and indexing are rarely, if ever a problem. If an email contains important information, then it gets filed and saved in the relevant and apropriate place. The mail itself is just a husk. It just seems pointless keeping them in the mailbox as the server logs will show the who what why and when. You wouldn't file important letters in your in tray on your desk, well I wouldn't! Merlin Mann's stuff on this is really good.
I need to be able to see thread history in complicated threads (which means all of the history won't be attached to each email, since there are branches,) so I basically need to keep all my email in my Inbox in case a new mail comes in on an old thread.
And yeah, I have basically everything important to me in various piles on my desk.
That no bloody phone software syncs with it, the iPhone wouldn't, HTC Android won't, frankly it's a pain in the arse, I had to install Outlook after the 3rd time an Apple update wiped my iPhone (one of the reason's I'm now on Android), come on you lazy swine manufacturers, you adapt for Firefox, why not TBird?
been predicting the death of email for years now.
All I can say, is when it dies, so will a little bit of me.
As far as whom to blame, there's enough to go around.
Microsoft with their insecure Outlook product.
Yahoo, and other WebMail providers who sometimes allow direct email client access to their webmail products, and sometimes don't.
I do fondly remember PINE, and also ELM.
I tried to get PINE to work with an exchange server (no joke) they said it could be done, but I had difficulties.
As far as "blunderbird" goes, I echo many of the other comments here.
It was important that Evolution was not mentioned at all.
Since Evolution was abandoned pretty much by Novell, this isn't a surprise. Unfortunately, this had the most promise of an email app of recent history.
On the bottom of page 3 you say "Windows 7", whereas I think you mean "Windows Phone 7".
Thanks for enabling comments on this article so I can tell you this, without all the bother of ALT-Tabbing into Thunderbird (which, incidentally, has run fine for me since the upgrade).
Webmail IS a vulnerability
DOS: Terminate, Frontdoor, QWK MAIL, SF NET or Someone's BBS2EMAIL, BBS2NEWSGROUPS, BBS2FTP
Windows: The bat! voyager. Encrypted, Portable, Rockin! From the very first day I saw it....
Linux Gui: KMAIL / WINE+The Bat
Linux Console: ssh+mc+ pine for stealing everyone's inbox secrets from /var/mail (or where ever it may live) Sometimes wget+ssh Sometimes mc+FTP.
I almost qualify as a bastard.
...once you've finished poking it.
First off, on a netbook, the decision to get rid of the minimal header banner sucks to hell and back again. I mean, why the hell do I need to see, on screen, that the message was sent to ME? [if I suspect something, ^U to see the message source is more useful] And why do I need to know if I've <star>ed it? And given the date/time are in the message listing just above, why repeat this? Thankfully there's an add-on to restore this so the header says what is important (subject, from) and not a lot else.
Secondly, what the hell is up with the indexer? On a fairly new install with myself 500 messages on an eeePC901 (Aton N270), the indexer indexed... and indexed... and indexed... and indexed... and consumed time and CPU cycles and lots of both. I turned this off, can still search for stuff in messages - so what was the point?
Thirdly, there is a lot of stuff to be altered. I suppose, for IMAP, the "download everything all the time" option more or less breaks the point of IMAP, leading you just raise your arms and shrug.
Then there are the bugs. Oh, the bugs. Like clicking on a search result opens a blank window (helloooo? wtf is my message?). Like how the status update seems to update AFTER it has done something, and there is nowhere near enough clarity in the status - I have six POP servers defined - so when you say I'm connecting to a server, um, which? Like how sometimes TB3 will refuse to fetch new mail on an account with a message like "This folder is currently being processed", which is likely not true as nothing seems to happen (quit/reload works).
But for all of this I still use TB. Why? It seems, to me, to be one of the better programs, but there's a way to go yet...!
I use Thunderbird as my daily mail (and calendar app), and although I love the 'idea' of Thunderbird - something feels more and more wrong with it. With every new version and subversion - if feels like things are going in the wrong direction. Yes, some of the new features are useful, and overall, it serves me well. But what is happening with Mozilla Foundation is worrying. If feels less and less like a real FOSS project - and more and more like a typical, corporate software development environment. You can't help but notice less and less focus on the real user. And all these comments are aimed at Firefox too.
One of the things that I always loved about true FOSS projects is how focused they are on the user. One developer (or a team of developers) get together, and work hard to write a piece of software that satisfies a need. FOSS projects always felt so functional. None of that marketing driven non-sense - and extra bells and useless features - to justify a 'new version'. None of the 'let's change our product because the competition has done so as well'. Sure, there are projects where the aesthetics and bells are high on the agenda (something like Gnome comes to mind). But these projects would be interested in bells and whistles due to their very own nature. A browser and an email client is a functional piece of software. It needs to be fast, efficient, secure, do a good job. When the front page/upgrade page of Firefox featured in bold and enthusiastic mode their promotion of 'personas' as their new killer feature (I don't think it was called that, but it was certainly allocated a lot of space) - I felt sick in the stomach. I know this. I've seen it before. When you use a piece of commercial software for years - which is good, and efficient, and stable. And all of a sudden the company that makes it is taken over by marketing people, and they start adding features of little use, and turn it into a bug ridden piece of useless bell-ware. Because they have to justify new versions and attract new customers and sales.
And here within lies the problem. Mozilla might be not for profit - but the people working for it are not. They have families, they have mortgages, they have jobs. And they have to hang onto those jobs. And justify their salaries. And make lots of noise about it. And make sure their jobs keep on rolling along. Pure, typical corporate culture. A typical FOSS project can afford to add just necessary features - and stop when nothing else is needed. But not one where people are paid money.
Just as a final point - an aspect which typifies what seems to be happening at Mozilla. Thunderbird and Lightning project have needed desperate work in certain essential and very functional aspects for years. One is getting rid of the mork database format from various back-end bits of Thunderbird. Mork is an outdated and inefficient database format (even by the admission of various people involved with the project) and a resource hog. It also makes it nearly impossible to let other apps talk to the data stored by Thunderbird. The other is the Lightning/Sunbird calendar project, which is still quite slow, needs polishing, and a lot of extra useful functionality - one of them being, critically, in the are of syncing with a calendar server and other calendar devices (SyncML for mobile sync etc.). All this is potentially very useful stuff - but it is not sexy. So it is rather low priority and it stays low priority and it sees little to no progress at Mozilla. A true FOSS project would have handled first the high functionality, non sexy stuff. Not creating personas and other jazzy non-sense that adds little to the usefulness of the app.
I use a Mac G5 with Eudora 6.2.4b4 (Qualcomm) and was very disappointed when Qualcomm decided not to continue developing Eudora. At this point I looked around for a replacement email app and tried seven or eight but found that none of them were as good as the now outdated Eudora. I have now reverted back to using Eudora because although it may be old and tired it still seems to be far better than is modern counterparts.
I often have to use ‘pdf ‘ attachments but I have noticed that some Windows users do not have the knowledge, ability or the software to open them. Perhaps the modern Windows email apps are not up to the job or people do not know how to set them up to handle attachments. My wife’s PC (Vista) and my own PC (XP) handle Eudora attachments perfectly so I know that there is nothing wrong with Eudora attachments.
It has been suggested to me that the attachment problem rests with the webmail systems of Google and Yahoo but as I do not use webmail I could not really comment on this.
I am sticking to Eudora and my POP mail until something better comes along.
and that's the point. Thunderbird has some major flaws but on the whole it's better than the competition. Where is IMAP IDLE in half of these clients? Where is an ical and caldav aware extension like lightning?
Bitch and moan about Tbird all you like but it still beats the competition.
Having read a few comments here I think quite a few would benefit by running Compact Folders and I can't understand people keeping gigabytes of old emails but see it all the time.
I moved my domain over to google apps a year+ ago and haven't looked back. With thunderbird, even with imap, many settings wouldn't transfer across to my multiple workstations. I'd wind up with minor differences between them all, and a contact list that may or may not be synced.
Like it or not, a web interface solves all of these issues and more. Not to mention having your domain on google apps gives you access to some neat stuff...and pushes administration off to google instead of locally like I was doing.
And I'm a big believer in the fewer the better. The fewer applications I have installed, the happier I am.
Try using Lotus Notes as a mail client for any length of time. After that, you'll be happy to run Thunderbird, Outlook, Evolution, or indeed anything else. Of course, you'll also be praying for someone to come along and kill you and thus end your misery, so your choice of MUA may seem of lesser importance by then.
I'd say a lot of people don't know how lucky they are. I was getting away with using Outlook at work until recently when they made up some bullshit about security policy meaning that people working on certain accounts have to use the internal servers, so I've been forced to use Lotus Notes. I say the policy is bullshit, it's not about security, the Notes servers and our laptops are all managed by people in Mumbai anyway, and as such can't be used for government restricted information anyway.
Lotus Notes is possibly the worst piece of shit email client I've ever had the misfortune to use. That's all it's used for, mail and calendar, I know it's more than all that, but who gives a crap when all you want is mail and a calendar?
I've been using Messenger Pro on RISC OS for a long time. I'm very impressed with its ease of use, excellent filtering facilities and above all the ability to work in plain text even if sent html-only messages (you can open them in a browser if you want to). It also handles mailing lists and usenet newsgroups intelligently. Like most RISC OS applications it's lean and mean. I would gues that even the Mac and Windows versions lack the bloat normally associated with Microsoft applications.
Also in common with most RISC OS apps, it lets me do what I want to do rather than what some marketing bod in Redmond thinks I want to do.
Not perfect, but Claws is entirely adequate.
I moved back from TB to TheBat! recently. It seems to be working perfectly well for me under Windows 7. It also allows me to automate 'reply to' and 'from' field collection which I need since every contact gets their own address.
Still - I miss my venerable Virtual Access. That could thread messages as well as read newsgroups.
I prefer TrulyMail. It's encrypted, portable (via USB) so I don't care about IMAP - I'd prefer to keep my messages with me rather than on Google's server. There are features it's missing but those are features I don't use.
Best thing about them - they put out new releases regularly so you know it's going to continue moving forward.
I have something like ten different email accounts. The webmail interface for some of them is perhaps the worst I have ever encountered--it's so embarrassing that I won't name the provider of the accounts. I keep all the email on my desktop computer in one database, and have for 13 years. Being a packrat, email-wise, I keep almost everything important. Thus, I have a huge number of past emails to store.
Eudora worked for me for many years. I even paid for the no-ads version. However, when it stopped development I began to get annoyed at the few bugs and quirks it had that would now never be fixed. I investigated a bit and decided that Thunderbird was worth trying, especially since it had a good import facility from Eudora.
I had at that time 11 years' worth of emails to move over, and I was understandably a bit nervous about losing any of it. However, with a few outside utilities I managed to import the entire database including folders.
There are some things that annoy me. The fact that you have to almost be a programmer (which I am not) to change some of its behaviours is not very bright, for example. It took me 15 minutes recently to figure out how to change the line-length and paragraphing behaviour of replies. Once I'd figured it out it was fine, though.
I have turned off indexing as I do my indexing when I store emails in folders. Thus, Thunderbird was taking about 37K MB of memory, and was not the memory hog that others describe.
I also don't bother with the junk and spam finding capabilities of Thunderbird. I use MailWasher for that, and delete most of the spam before it gets downloaded.
While it certainly can be improved (and improvement no. 1 would be to make it more easily configurable), I like Thunderbird and will continue with it for the foreseeable future (although I am not a very good foresee-er).
I still miss it.
Simple, straightforward, even elegant, it did the job with no fuss, easy filtering, and equally fine for Usenet.
Tried the rest, perhaps it's all down to what you're used to, but they just never work they way I expect them too. Identities was handy too when several people used the one PC in the house.