Since about 1997, I’ve more or less used Outlook Express to manage all of my email. I was never a heavy enough user to warrant switching to Outlook or anything else that heavy, so Outlook Express has been the default, go to email client for me.

Now, 13 years later, I’m finally making the switch away from Outlook Express architecture. It’s been a little painful since I never needed anything more than Outlook Express. I also have 12+ years of emails nicely categorized and filed away in a somewhat complicated architecture designed in Outlook Express. So going completely cloud computing based email is out of the question for me. I also am not a fan of the limited Windows Live Mail client. It just wasn’t customizable enough for what I needed.

Now, I’m finally giving Mozilla Thunderbird a temporary test. I was against switching to Thunderbird 2 for many reasons, but Thunderbird 3.0.4 seems so far to do what I prefer.

My likes and dislikes so far:

  • Simple installation – Love it. No hassle, easy to input my email account.
  • Multiple identities – This is a feature I’ve needed since I discovered it in Apple Mail. Sadly, I always had to create multiple dummy accounts just to be able to send as another identity. This is especially important since I don’t need a bunch of personal inboxes for each account. Gmail allows me to gather all of that nicely into one place, which I then just download from one account. Perfect!
  • Local Folders vs. Account Folder – This has been a moderate annoyance. Why the heck did I have *two* inboxes and trash folders? Seems so useless to have a Local Inbox when my Account Inbox was the only one being used. It took me a while to find out you can setup a Global Inbox to handle everything.The default setup for all new email accounts you associate is to store mail in the newly formed account folder (or create it when needed). So, by default, you will have two copies of Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Trash and Outbox. That’s such stupid way to do it when you’re only setting up one account! It just complicates everything for a user.
  • Speed – It’s no slower than Windows Mail. Thunderbird 2 felt draggy but Thunderbird 3 feels on par. At least initially! Let’s hope that doesn’t change, dang it.
    Edit 4/12/2010 – Two big areas that have increasingly annoyed me are sending a message and deleting a message. When I compose a new email and send it, a small window opens to show the sending status. It usually takes about 3 seconds or longer for the whole new composed email to disappear (and live in my Sent folder. Similarly, when I have an email I don’t need anymore, I push the the delete button in the Mail Toolbar. Deleting the message is usually a 1-2 second task, sometimes longer depending on the size of the email. I wish these two tasks didn’t take so long.
  • Auto-completion email “To: %Alias%” – When I click on the “Create a New Message” icon to send a brand new email,  the first thing I do is type the name of the person I want to send it to. At least with version 3.0.4, even when I type out a name that’s in my Address Book, it doesn’t auto-complete the address! In fact, if I try to send the email, it give me an error saying, “%Alias% is not a valid e-mail address because it is not of the form user@host. You must correct it before sending the e-mail.” where %Alias% is the name of the person I’m sending to. Really, Thunderbird? Really? Why aren’t you referencing my address book where that person’s email address is stored! Come on! Turns out my original export of my Address Book was a bad export. So I reexported out of Thunderbird’s Address Book, played around with the CSV file, and reimported. Problem solved!
  • Top Posting vs. Bottom Posting – Whoever decided that the default reply location of an email should be below the whole email message should be shot. It took me another while to figure out how to switch all my identities to become top reply, where the reply to an email starts above the quoted original text. I think, despite the ongoing discussion for bottom replies and against top replies, standard email convention should be practiced (being that almost all other email systems out there do this already).
  • Contacts Sidebar – I had this in Outlook Express. Loved it. Missed it in Windows Mail. Now I have it back in Thunderbird thanks to Add-ons! Sadly, so many add-ons for Thunderbird are not very compatible or buggy for Thunderbird 3, but hopefully the good ones will be and stay current with new versions.
  • Customization – I’m so thankful there’s a ton of customization for this software. The UI is exactly as I’m used to and prefer, which is good for usability. And while it’s not exactly like Outlook Express, there’s some great features that are much better.The only real complaint I do have is the sorting pane on the threads list that contains the column names like “From”, “Subject”, etc. I love that I can customize it in every folder, but why can’t I customize it globally? I want most of my folders to appear the same with a few exceptions here and there.

I’m going to give it about a month and see how I feel, but already after I found the answers I needed, I believe I’m gonna stay with this and totally abandon Windows Mail/Outlook Express for good. It’s been mostly a good 13 years but it’s past time to move on.