Mozilla Thunderbird has been an interesting, free alternative to Microsoft Outlook and an important replacement for those people who were using Microsoft Outlook Express. The Mozilla Foundation has announced that they are no longer going to develop the project.
I’ve struggled to like Thunderbird. In part, it’s because it’s interface has never really appealed to me. It has many powerful features. For example, you can create a search and save it as a perpetual folder, so that it will auto update with matching e-mails anywhere in your folders. You can theme it extensively too, to make it look however you like. For me, it was often just easier to go to the specific e-mail account I was going to use than to open up Thunderbird. When I needed to manage e-mail or switch e-mail servers or ensure I had a backup, Thunderbird was my go to program.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Thunderbird going forward, and with any other e-mail related endeavors from the Mozilla Foundation. Google is obviously looking at mobile mail with its acquisition of the Sparrow team. Postbox continues going from strength to strength, although I believe it is built on the Thunderbird code. While not free, it has some very compelling features. But as they indicate, there may be some trouble in the desktop e-mail client world.
Unless you’re using Microsoft Outlook.
Older versions of Windows came with a free e-mail client called Outlook Express. It caused continual confusion in the legal profession, with lawyers thinking they were using the high-powered Microsoft Outlook when in fact they were using the substandard Express product. Outlook Express wasn’t bad but it was not in any way comparable to Outlook’s rich features.
The e-mail landscape has changed significantly over the years, with many lawyers dropping their e-mail clients to go entirely to the Web. They log in to Windows Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Google Mail and their entire interaction is online. Some will also use alternative e-mail products, like Mozilla’s Thunderbird or Apple’s Mail.
Windows users who are looking for a simple e-mail application should look at Windows Live Mail. The interface is a huge improvement over Outlook Express and has the ability to handle more, and non-Microsoft, mail accounts than the older product did.
Windows Live Mail is a consumer-oriented download, so you will be prompted to load a bunch of other dreck – instant messaging, photo tools, etc. – that you do not necessarily need for your practice. Microsoft has followed other e-mail programs so that e-mail account setup is turnkey for major providers. For example, if you type in your Google Mail username and password, Windows Live Mail will automatically configure the server settings you need to access your mail. You can finally forget about what IMAP means or where your SMTP server is!
It supports other e-mail providers as well, although you may find that it does not support their authentication. For example, I use an e-mail server that requires a particular method of secure authentication (STARTTLS). Windows Live Mail was unable to talk to this server, although it supports secure authentication using SSL.
It is still not Microsoft Outlook. But if you are looking for an easy to use, light e-mail application, Windows Live Mail is a nice, free option. Thunderbird and Zimbra have more power but they may be more complicated than you need.
One important way you can impact your productivity is when you can take a tool that works for you and wrangle more information with it. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird for e-mail, you may know that you can manage multiple e-mail accounts with the software. For example, if you have an e-mail address with your law firm’s domain (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a personal address from Google Mail, you can access both at once. Being able to look at all of your e-mail at once can reduce the need to have two different applications open or two different places to visit.
Mobile users with Android devices may have missed that possibility, where you might have been using the default e-mail Android e-mail app for one account and an app for another account, like the GMail for Mobile app. You might take a look at K-9 Mail as an alternative. The free app works like typical dessktop software, managing multiple accounts and having a broader feature set for managing each account than the default software in Android.
I have been using K-9 and like the single view to my e-mail. It picks up Google Mail accounts very easily; other accounts may require a bit more customization. Since it uses IMAP – leaving messages on the server even when I move them around and reorganize them – I can always see the latest activity in my accounts without synchronizing, even if I have accessed the accounts from another computer (or even another Android e-mail app!).
If you’re an Android phone user, K-9 is definitely worth a look.