Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
December 7th, 2004
Mozilla Thunderbird


Before it takes off

… it lands.

Mozilla released Thunderbird 1.0 late last night. Among the new features are improvements to the default theme (which is still Qute, for some reason), message grouping, and some other small improvements.

While I use Thunderbird for my daily e-mail intake, I’m not quite as enthusiastic about Thunderbird as I am for Firefox at this point.

For the reasons you should switch, or why you might want to wait a tad bit more, read on…

Let your computer sleep peacefully tonight: security

It’s much more secure than Microsoft Outlook Express or Office Outlook, both of which are usually the problem when it comes to viruses etc. So Firefox protects you against phishing and spyware, and Thunderbird protects you against viruses. A perfect match.

For the vegetarians out there: anti-spam

Thunderbird uses an advanced spam filtering technique called Bayesian Spam Classification. It’s the best technique available in the software industry, and it comes to you for free. (You just have to turn it on.)

Unlike traditional spam filters, where you tell the program what subjects or senders to ignore, the makers of Thunderbird realized that the senders of spam can easily fool any rigid filter. So Bayesian filtering means that Thunderbird can adapt to the changing spamming industry, and it will learn from its mistakes.

If Thunderbird accidently marks a legitimate e-mail as Junk, you can mark it as un-junk (a little Newspeak for you), and it’ll remember. Train Thunderbird in the ways of spam enlightenment for a month or so, and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.

Never go hungry again: news and blog feeds

I’m sure Minh’s Notes is the first place you visit every morning while you get your morning cup of Florida orange juice. Of course it is! :^)

You can find out when this blog – or most any blog, for that matter – gets updated, usually within five minutes. All you have to do is setup a News & Blogs account, and you can get notified on hundreds of the sites you choose, all at once – if you’re really that avid a reader.

I’ve been using this feature for a few months now, and it’s really cut down the time I spend procrastinating my homework. It’s also been a lot easier than tracking down all the updated sites manually.

Every site that supplies an RSS or Atom feed participates in this simplification of life. You’d be surprised at all the sites that now have feeds; just look around the Web for little orange XML or RSS buttons, or links that say Syndicate (like on this site’s front page).

Everyone from Google News to Wikipedia to ABC News to Executive Disorder have them. In fact, most blogs by St. X students have them, too. (Just add /rss to the URL of any LiveJournal.)

Find out how to add these feeds to Thunderbird at the mozillaZine Knowledge Base.

The cool factor: themes and extensions

Just as with Firefox, there are plenty of themes and extensions available for Thunderbird. You can completely change the way the program looks when you install a new theme. (I prefer Charamel, but it hasn’t been updated yet. You’ll probably have to wait another week for that “Creamy Sugary Experience.”)

With extensions, you can add all kinds of features to Thunderbird, like a little weather notifier for the bottom of the sidebar, or a dictionary lookup tool, or a handy little translation tool. There aren’t too many yet, but there will be plenty more once the older extensions get updated.

No bats in this belfrey: open source

Most software is still produced the old way: by a company, behind closed doors. There’s nothing wrong with that: people have to make money. But open source software allows anyone to help make the product better. It’s ridiculously easy to find, report, and fix any flaws in open source software and the ways it’s developed. It’d take ten years to find out Microsoft’s root problems.

I’ve been involved with Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird (to the greatest extent my time allows me) for years now. It doesn’t take a résumé to have a say in the project. Mozilla hides hardly anything from the public eye, so I’m not stuck when I’m trying to develop an extension for Firefox – the code’s right in front of me. No, seriously. It is.

Open source means that the version of Thunderbird produced by Mozilla is and will forever be free of charge. (Netscape can charge whatever they want, but I’m not paying for their bloated, cluttered version. Even their new one, based on Firefox.) It’s a free download over at Mozilla’s website.

Even if the nice folks at Mozilla were to lose their minds and declare a 50¢ royalty for every download, there’s nothing they can do about it, because I’ve got the code – just unzip one of the files that comes with Thunderbird. I can distribute the program free of charge. I’m legally entited to do so. And you can live secure, spam-free, and blog-happy… happily ever after.

Still a Greek letter: β

Although Thunderbird is now at 1.0 and officially out of beta, I still don’t think it feels like a final product. The download file is still much, much larger than it needs to be, and there are the small, occasional bugs that you have to get used to.

Work is already under way to cut down the file size and pull out those moths. But until then, the picky installers among you might want to wait until version 1.2 or so.

For those of you on the cutting edge, and for those of you who can’t afford to toss another computer out the window out of frustration, though, Thunderbird is what you’d looking for.

Reclaim your inbox. Take off with Thunderbird!