Like Firefox? Try Thunderbird 3

Thunderbird3, the latest version of Mozilla Messaging’s free, open source andcross-platform e-mail application releasedTuesday, borrows heavily from Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser.  

“We haveborrowed literally from our friend Firefox and tried to replicate their successin many ways by taking some of their best ideas and seeing if they applied toe-mail,” said David Ascher, CEO of Mozilla Messaging, a subsidiary of Mozilla.

There are alot of notable features, according to Ascher, but the ones that really standout by users who have been testing it out over the last few months are the tabsand search.

With tabbede-mail, users can create tabs for messages they refer to often, add additionaltabs through add-ons and have their search results appear within the tabs.

“Just likeFirefox introduced tab browsing … we’ve decided that the idea of tabs formanaging content is really useful,” said Ascher.

The newsearch interface stands out because it ranks the search results by relevanceand allows users to filter the results. Users can also conduct searches throughmeans such as tags or mailing lists, he noted.

“Over thelast 10 years, people have started to use e-mail more and more and they havemore and more messages – that makes the problem of search ever more important,”said Ascher.

Indeveloping the interface, Mozilla Messaging looked at the best e-mail searchinterfaces on the market, which were all fast, all indexed messages and allprovided a long list of messages matching a search, according to Ascher.

“We have, Ithink, a very compelling search interface that allows people to find messageseven if they have a large amount of mail,” said Ascher.

Searchresults deemed more relevant, for example, will include those from messagesthat a user has replied to. “Messages you’ve replied to are more likely to beimportant to you than messages you haven’t replied to,” he explained.  

Thunderbird3 also includes “a bunch of other features just to make people’s live easier,”said Ascher. A reminder to include your attachments before sending an e-mail isone of his favourites.

“I was veryhappy when we added a feature that recognizes when you mention keywords like ‘attach’or ‘attachment’ and pops up a little warning on the side that doesn’t get inthe way, but gently reminds you that maybe you want to attach something. Thatactually saved me quite a few times,” he said.

Tabs andsearch are notable organizational and productivity features, but the e-mailapplication’s strength also lies in features that Ascher described as either“get out the common pitfalls people have with e-mail or hopefully save people alittle bit of embarrassment.”

Outlook andOutlook Express are among Thunderbird’s top competitors, according to Ascher,but users are coming at it from a variety of other applications.

“We’ve hadlarge organizations switch from Outlook and Notes, we’ve had a bunch of userscome at it from Outlook Express as home users or Windows Live Mail. We havepeople who are switching back from Gmail or other Web mail systems … there’s alot of competitors,” he said.

What gives Thunderbird3 an edge on the market is user experience, customization options and increasedcontrol, according to Ascher.

Mozillabuilds software for people to have the best experience possible and makes itfree so as many possible as possible can then get access to the software, hesaid. “Our user experience is very good and it’s very polished,” he said.

“As apublic benefit organization, our mission is to make the Internet fun and easyto use and productive … so that means we end up with software that is designedfor a user’s mind, which ends up paying off in a better product,” said Ascher.

Mozillaalso realizes that every user is different, he pointed out. “As a result, webuild the best product we can for the most people we can and we also build itin a platform for third parties to create add-ons and customization,” he said.

Thisflexible approach is useful to both home users and enterprises looking for ane-mail system that they can deploy across heterogeneous networks, said Ascher.“Whether that’s Windows, Linux or Mac – and they can build the capabilitiesthat they need for their particular organization, for their particular market,for their particular users,” he said.

The Frenchmilitary, for example, use Thunderbird with very powerful add-ons they builtfor their internal networks that gives them military-grade security, he pointedout.

Thunderbirdusers also like the fact that they can control where their e-mail is, saidAscher. As a desktop application, it keeps people’s e-mails on their computersor servers, as opposed to delegating them to a third party like a Web mailprovider, he said.

Ascheradmitted that Web mail has some great advantages, but it also includeschallenges, especially from the security management point of view.

MozillaMessaging’s plans for the future include adding more add-ons and customizationsso people can “make it even more personal,” said Ascher. “We are eager to seepeople use it,” he said.

Bonuspoint: About half of the Mozilla Messaging team that was responsible forThunderbird 3 is based out of Vancouver,so the product is at least half Canadian, said Ascher. 

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.

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