Over the past few months I’ve mentioned the Mozilla Firefox browser several times because it is a worthy alternative to Internet Explorer not least because as well as being free it also is in my opinion a faster and more stable browser than the Microsoft equivalent.

It seems only natural then that I should digress and discuss the e-mail client available from the same people so it would compliment Firefox perfectly. I would probably pitch Mozilla Thunderbird as a viable alternative to Outlook Express as to be honest the product isn’t feature rich enough to compete on a level playing field with the expensive Microsoft Outlook 2003. Such a comment isn’t an insult to the programmers as I think it would be unreasonable to expect a free 5.8mb download to compete against a program that is dozens of times its size and comes as part of an expensive office suite.

The main advantage to Thunderbird over Outlook Express is that it contains a powerful anti-spam filter that is integrated into the program. This feature alone will be enough to convince a large number of people to make the switch as every week my inbox is filled with people asking my advice on how to get a usually poor anti-spam program installed on their machine. When you consider that many anti-spam solutions cost money then it could be a cheaper option to change your entire e-mail program to the free Mozilla Thunderbird as opposed to trying to get anti spam integration with your existing one.

As many of you will know the Mozilla suite of programs are ‘Open Source’ and this means that anybody can download the original code and improve/add to it with a view of their changes making it into a finished version of the product. One advantage to making programs in this fashion is that often you collect a loyal user base who are happy to spend their time working on improvements. As well as changes to the program itself, these improvements can also be accommodated into Thunderbird as a ‘plug-ins’. Whilst the core version of Thunderbird is relatively small you can then add features that you require via plug ins to add functionality such as the Mozilla calendar or perhaps you’d prefer several new custom tool bars.

The look and feel of Thunderbird is relatively minimalist and easy on the eye but the layout can be largely customized to your own taste or even changed completely by loading up a new ‘skin’ for the program - such skins are often created by other users and available online to download for free.

An especially nice feature that I noticed is the ability to restrict the download of messages over a certain size. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a good chuckle watching a user on a slow 56k connection be unable to view any of their e-mail as Outlook Express is busy downloading a 50mb file that was sent to them by a relative who has broadband. If the user cancels the download then all that happens is next time they try and download their e-mail is that the entire process starts again from scratch – More often than not they’ll spend 2 hours downloading a rubbish program which is then instantly deleted.

When composing an e-mail Thunderbird has full support for HTML messages as well as the ability to add emoticons (smilies and the like) to messages. Incoming e-mail can be downloaded as either plain text or formatted HTML and the program has the ability to view RSS feeds without any additional software.

Possibly one of the most important features of the program is the import feature. The first time you run Thunderbird it will ask you if you want to import all your messages and settings from another mail client such as Outlook Express. Just say ‘yes’ and the program will quite happily take all the information it needs from your previous mail client before asking you if you then want to make it the default. Once you are happy that Thunderbird is for you then just delete your previous mail client and begin the experience of spam free and speedy e-mail.

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