As you may have heard, Thunderbird 0.4 has been released, and it’s a delight. I’ve been using Thunderbird off and on since I first heard of the project. I snubbed 0.2, as it was quite clunky. 0.3 changed my mind and became my default email client over Outlook Express, and I also set it up for my mom. However it was not so much on Thunderbird’s merits of the time that I switched, because it was still quite rough in many areas, it was simply the least bad of all the IMAP email clients I have tried. (And I’ve tried them all.) However this new 0.4 version is a pleasure to use. The graphics have been completely revamped, which is a much bigger deal than I would have thought and really changes how I view the application. (Literally.) Of course they were pretty patchy before, it didn’t even have a separate icon for mail you had replied to. The other problem I had before was that the program would get hung up on something, I’m not sure what, but when it was nothing would work until I restarted the application, which was annoying to say the least. I haven’t even seen a hint of this problem for about two months now (I’ve been keeping up with the weekly builds).
It just does IMAP so well. Having all my email and folders on the server makes it easy to try different email clients and not worry about importing, exporting, or keeping my data in sync. A few minutes ago, just to make sure I wasn’t remembering things wrong, I opened up Outlook Express again to give it another go. That’ll probably be the last time I ever do. Moving IMAP messages to different folders in Outlook Express opens a dialog box that actually precludes you from doing anything else in the application, so if you’re moving a message with a large attachment or several messages you have to wait for everything to finish before you can do anything else. For someone who lives in their email client, that is simply unacceptable. Thunderbird does all that in the background, and it’s so fast with most things that the “IMAP lag” is gone.
It’s not perfect, there are a few things I hope the Thunderbird team addresses in future releases. First is the spell check, which rocks but always wants to spell check the name of the person I’m replying to in an email. Second when I forward a message inline it includes all the headers, which can often be twenty or thirty lines, most of it junk that isn’t important. Just give me from, to, subject, and when it was sent, and I’ll be happy.
Thunderbird understands that on some IMAP servers, including mine, some folders contain mail messages and some just contain other folders. Outlook Express would try to select these “holding” folders and return an error, where Thunderbird shows them in italics so they’re visually set apart from the folders that hold actual mail. Thunderbird is also supposed to have some great spam handling, but since I handle all that on the server side I can’t speak to that personally.
Bottom line: try it out. You have nothing to lose and you might just find that perfect email application you’ve been searching for. The best thing about it is I know that right now another version is in the works, and in a few months they’ll be a 0.5 I can rave about. Or I could wait until 2006 for a new version of OE to come out with Longhorn. Right.