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Switching to Thunderbird

I take the plunge

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This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

As of last night, I’ve started running Thunderbird as my email program.

Long time listeners may recall that I attempted to do this once already, but a bug in Thunderbird prevented my message rules or “filters” from working properly.

Now, that bug has not yet been fixed, and it’s unclear whether it will or not in time for Thunderbird 2. So, I changed what I was trying to do now just sidestep the bug.

As you might imagine, switching email clients is a big deal. I spend much of my life in my email program, and switching away from Microsoft Outlook, which I’ve used since well before it was even called Outlook, is a pretty big deal for me.

The single biggest reason for even considering the change is Thunderbird’s cross-platform support.

One of Outlook Express’s big issues is the difficult time some people have transferring their folders from one machine to another. And while Microsoft Office’s Outlook makes folder moves a snap with a single “.pst” file, it suffers instead from difficulties transferring account and other configuration information.

I was able to copy all of my email and configuration from one machine to another and have it all just work. And that cross-platform issue? Well, I did so from my Windows machine to an Ubuntu Linux installation, and again from my Windows machine to my Mac.

Now, while converting mail and contacts from Outlook to Thunderbird is fairly easy, the rest not so much. I took this opportunity to reconfigure all my accounts by hand, so that’s a little pain I took on myself. But I also had to re-enter all my message filters or “rules” by hand. That’s been an ongoing process.

And naturally, there are other differences that, while not earth shattering, are a little jarring, and perhaps even frustrating for the impatient. I’ve noted that it’s difficult to reply to an HTML message using plain text if you want to quote the original message in your plain text response. Some keystrokes are different … for example I’ve gotten quite used to using CTRL+D to delete the currently viewed message, which doesn’t work in Thunderbird.

But, overall, my initial reaction is very good.

Now, to go investigate calendar options, hotsyncing with my Treo, and a replacement for Outlook’s to-do list.

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info and enter 10953 in the go to article number box. Leave me a comment, I love hearing from you.

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14 comments on “Switching to Thunderbird”

  1. Hello. My question is:

    Why do you need a desktop program to handle your personal email, when there are good options such as gmail?

    You can manage filters smoothly in this webmail service, you can also export contacts, universal platform as it depends only on the browser, etc.

    I understand that work email via POP or IMAP may be a whole different deal. That’s why I only ask for personal email.

  2. By switching to Thunderbird, did you also change all your email addresses? For example, if my current email address is “myname at yahoo dot com”, and I switch to Thunderbird, does my email address change to “myname at thunderbird dot com”? If not, am I now using two different servers (Yahoo and Thunderbird) to access and send emails instead of just one? Doesn’t this just increase the chances of something going wrong?

  3. All my email addresses stayed the same. I just changed which program I use to read email, I did not change any email accounts.

  4. Leo, if you are thinking of using TB with your MacBook Pro remember that TB currently does contain support for spotlight searching of e-mail. There are problems with the requirements that spotlight imposes and the storage format for TB. This support is an open action item for TB. Though there is not a currently available plugin. Spotlight is a very big win on the Mac OS. I have found that it has proved most useful with e-mail searches. If anyone knows of a plugin for TB I would switch in a heartbeat.

  5. I’ve been using Thunderbird for a while and found that its Anti-Spam capabilities are superb (once properly trained), as opposed to Outlook whose anti-spam filter works best if you switch the names of “Inbox” and “Junk” around.

    Deleting messages is simple and logical – the delete key. Much easier to remember and guess that CTRL+D which you said that Outlook uses.

    I haven’t taken the trouble to find all of Thunderbird’s shortcut keys but I find that it beats outlook on practically everything – especially its multiple account support. Outlook has difficulty sorting Incoming and Outgoing messages if you are sending from more than one account, and it seems to automatically switch which outgoing account it uses if/when it encounters a problem.

    Thunderbird has none of those problems.

  6. Leo, I’ve used TB for probably three years, and love it. Why? First, it works, and I like the way it works. Second, the extensions you can add are very helpful. Here’s the ones I use: Contacts Add BCC Button 0.0.3; MboxImport 0.5.4; Talkback; Attachment Tools 0.5.2. I think you will come to appreciate TB too. Jim Hamm

  7. I used TB for several years and loved it – but it stopped receiving mail the other day. When I called for support (Frontiernet) they said it has a rep of having to be deleted and started over. Under duress, I started using OE again. I may switch back or to another program. OE is left “wanting” compared to TB.

  8. Leo
    I’ve bene using TB about a year and I love it–the spam filtering is good and I like being able to have my email contacts the same on all of my machines!

  9. I’m trying to convert to TB – but it can’t seem to find all of my .pst files. I have several because everytime I have to reinstall Office, Outlook creates a new outlook.pst file – most in my own ’email’ directory, as well as in the ‘myfiles’ outlook directory.

    TB found a couple of the files, but I want to point it to the others. How to?

  10. Thunderbird will not find/import my e-mail files from Windows Mail (Vista 64-bit). What am I missing, please?

    Windows Mail is inadequate for my needs. It’s search function often fails to find items that are there. Some of my folders have lost exactly half of their e-mails; I don’t know why. T-bird may be the answer but I can’t get the files to transfer. Thank you.

  11. I went to the Thunderbird support forums and was told to install the import/export tool extension – from an unknown third party. I installed it and now Thunderbird fails to find my Windows Mail folder in a new way. This problem of importing mail folders shouldn’t be an issue. What am I missing?

  12. I removed Office 2000 (hacked) wich included Outlook, not remembering that my latest version of office 2007 (legal) did not include outlook.

    I installed Thunderbird as a replacement. After giving it my passwords again, all is fine for receiving and sending email, but I cannot see anything that was left in my inbox or filder of my 2 POP accounts.

    My wife really needs that information as she does not save it onto the computer.

    I cannot locate the .pst file, ran searches, I am finding old archived ones, but not the recent ones we were using.

    Is there any chance I can get that information back?


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