Little Tweaks Make Mozilla Thunderbird More Elegant, Easier to Use

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Want a great e-mail program, but don't want to pay a penny? Then you won't do any better than Thunderbird, e-mail software from Mozilla, the same folks who bring you Firefox. It combines ease of use with high-end features such as message encryption, digitally signing messages, filters for automated e-mail handling, and very good threaded messaging. This version adds interface improvements, such as tabs, that make it faster to navigate your inbox.

Thunderbird screenshot
New to Thunderbird are tabs for handling mail.

Thunderbird setup has always been easy, and in this version, it's easier still. Enter your e-mail address and password, and Thunderbird will try to get all the necessary information about server names and locations by checking a database of such information maintained by Thunderbird. It was able to automatically to set itself up for use with Gmail using IMAP, which is impressive, considering that doing it manually can be confusing. As with the previous version, if you already have e-mail software, it will import those settings.

There's a lot more to like in this new version of Thunderbird. Most obvious are the tabs, so that you can have different e-mails in separate tabs, and quickly jump back and forth among them. When you search e-mail, that also opens in a new tab.

Also notable is that actions you take such as replying to mail and forwarding mail are now right in Thunderbird's message header itself, rather than in the toolbar. This makes them easier to find--and also gives the toolbar more space for other things, such as message search and add-ons.

Thunderbird still isn't an all-around personal information manager like Outlook--there's no calendar, for example, and you can't create to-do lists. It also doesn't integrate with social networking sites such as Facebook, which the new Outlook Social Connector lets you do.

Still, if all you want is e-mail, Thunderbird is a winner. It will even handle RSS feeds and newsgroups, so you can keep up on the latest blogs, news, and discussion areas. Considering that it's free, Thunderbird is well worth the download if you're not thrilled with your current e-mail software. And even if you are happy with what you've got, it's worth a try.

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