Is it over for Outlook?

I’ve been using Outlook for nearly 10 years to look after my email, but as of this month I’ve ditched it in favor of Thunderbird, from the makers of Firefox.

While Outlook has always been a very good POP3 (Post Office protocol version three) client, POP3 is outdated now. It’s the standard way of accessing your email — but it functions best if you want only to access your mail from a single PC.

POP3 is happiest when it’s downloading your messages from a server — deleting them in the process, so that next time you log in it only has to download the latest batch. That’s fine if you always have access to the system on which you downloaded your mail, but not so great if you travel about a lot or use different computers at different times of the day.

You can set your email app to download the messages, but retain them on the server — leaving you the option to download them from another place, too. But it’s a bit of a fudge in practice. At some point you’ll need to delete some email to make space and then messages won’t be available to PCs that haven’t downloaded them already.

Until recently, we used Lotus Notes in the PC Advisor offices. It’s not the nicest of programs to use by any stretch, and some things can be excruciatingly hard to achieve, but one thing it did well was providing access to your mail wherever you were.

All messages were stored on the server until you chose to archive or delete them. On each computer you used to access your inbox, you could choose to view the messages on the server directly — fine if you’re on the office network, not so good over the internet — or synchronize a copy on your system with the server.

When we switched from Notes, the new server offered not only webmail access — although it’s no patch on Gmail (see Internet Advisor Dec 03) — and POP3, but Imap (internet message access protocol), too.

Imap works more the way Notes did — messages are stored in folders on the server, such as inbox and sent items — and you have the option of viewing your inbox or making a local copy. You have access to any sent messages wherever you are, as they’re held on the server. The problem was that Outlook didn’t like Imap much — often refusing to connect to the server, or crashing intermittently.

The solution? Thunderbird — which is surprisingly lightweight compared to Outlook, but a very useable email client. Setting up accounts is a doddle — just plug in the standard details and off it goes. While there doesn’t seem to be an archive function, you can move messages from the server to your local system — which achieves the same effect.

As it’s made by Mozilla, the same people that brought you Firefox, it supports extensions. So if you’re missing a feature, someone may have rectified it via a downloadable add-on.

One particularly useful extension if you’re using Imap is the Display Quota add-on. This allows you to see at a glance how full your inbox is. If you need to delete some mail you can do so before mail starts bouncing.

Outlook does more than just email — it’s a to-do list, calendar and contacts manager, too. Thunderbird has the basics of contacts covered. It automatically picks up email addresses you send messages to and adds the details to your address book. Then you can add other details, such as addresses and phone numbers. At the moment, there’s no way to synchronize them with contacts in my phone, as is possible with Outlook, but that may change.

There’s nothing as standard on the calendar front, although there is a Mozilla calendar app in the works that should plug-in to Thunderbird.

Thunderbird includes an RSS reader (see Internet Advisor Mar 05), so you can manage your mail and newsfeeds in one place.

On the whole, the switch has been relatively painless, but I still need to maintain Outlook for my contacts and calendar. Grab a copy of Thunderbird from and give it a whirl.

Previously, on the Internet

Blogs are big business, according to Blogs to Riches ( a report by New York magazine, although you have to be in it already to be making silly money, according to its analysis. The problem, apparently, is that all the high-traffic blogs link only to other high-traffic blogs.

This in effect rules out any startups, unless they’re exceedingly lucky.

But it’s not all about the money for Gawker Media owner Nick Denton. If anything he’s making his company unsaleable, according to Jason Calacanis — who should know because he recently sold his blog company, Weblogs Inc, to AOL for a reported US$25 million.

Anyone who thought Calacanis would shy away from his controversial nature, now he was part of a big organization, had their fears put to rest by his posting about Denton’s gossip blog on Silicon Valley,

“I never believed Nick when he told me he wouldn’t sell Gawker (especially not after all my pals at the big portals told me that he was meeting with them). However, watching Valleywag alienate 90 percent of the industry over the past couple of days in such a personal and vicious way, Nick’s convinced me that he could really care less,” Calacanis wrote.

“Say what you will, the dude really doesn’t care what people think of him. I mean, how long can Gawker Media have a business relationship with Yahoo or Google at this rate?,” he continued.

Not to let that pass, Denton soon responded in the comments section: “Jason, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever written. I think of Valleywag as Gawker Media’s poison pill. No way any media company would want to own Gawker and Defamer, given the sites’ tendency to dwell on the embarrassment of the moguls. With Valleywag, now we should be safe from the attentions of the tech companies, too. And if none of those sites are sufficiently off-putting, there’s always Fleshbot [Gawker’s porn blog].”

Of course, Denton’s making plenty of money from his sites if New York magazine’s figures are to be believed. More importantly though, he seems to be enjoying winding people up.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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