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Mozilla Thunderturkey and its malcontents

And better email alternatives

Andrew's Mailbag The dire state of email clients today is an ongoing gripe of mine - and when I get three dozen emails on Sunday, it's clearly a source of frustration for Reg readers, too. It merits a bumper mailbag. For earlier installments, see here and here.

Thunderbird 3.x is the focus for this ire. Not all readers are unhappy with it. For precisely three (or around five per cent of my mailbag) version 3.x works just fine. But for others, is bloated and buggy. A couple of you reckon it's worse than Outlook. Harsh.

And what do we do when developers become complacent and unresponsive?

One correspondent complains that:

"When they're getting awfully fat from Google's cash they start to lose some of their spirit. They're getting shedloads of cash for not a terribly complex bit of software (not compared to the complexity of other FOSS projects like Linux, FreeBSD or MySQL) that should be much better than it is."

Sometimes, I wonder if chucking money at a developer the old-fashioned way isn't the simple solution. It worked in the past and two email clients that emerge with praise here are The Bat! and Pegasus Mail. Is there such a model in the F/OSS world? Let me know, I'll explore that in a future article.

As I wrote earlier this year, I can understand why email clients (or MUAs to you old-timers) are a minority interest. Most people have only ever used webmail, and Facebook is popular because it feels like a natural upgrade to a Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail user.

I'll divide this up into Thunderbird 3 and discussion of some alternatives.

Just want to add my voice to those who fully support your "whinge". It truly is remarkable that there just isn't a proper email client anywhere on Windows. I survived for years on Calypso, but without real IMAP support (and no development....), it's just not sustainable. I feel Thunderbird to be the least bad option. While a fan of Opera as a browser, there is something about it being my mail client as well that doesn't work for me, and have always preferred that one thing is done well.

Please keep on this topic, because there are no options that are acceptable, yet there seems to be little outcry. Keep bitching.

JD Parker

Your article is spot on. I recently updated the venerable Thunderbird 2.x to version 3.x and discovered, to my dismay, that it was a hog. It's slow, buggy, clunky, and seems to be full of all the new age crap Mozilla has deemed necessary since they found their Web 3.0 religion.

Back in my Windows days of yore, I used Eudora Pro and swore by it. I had tried Pegasus, and though I found it powerful and efficient (still had the best message filtering system available), I always thought it clunky and, well frankly, ugly.

Then, after years collecting dust and accruing bugs, when it became evident that the Eudora Pro product was dead and forgotten, I discovered "The Bat!" and renewed my love for e-mail once again. However, "The Bat!" always struck me as a developers' tool, designed by developers, meaning that it was clunkier than Pegasus, and--oh gawd--complex enough to give RMS a challenge (why do you need a "search" feature for your menu commands? Isn't that an indictment on your interface design?). Still, it was the best of breeds at the time.

Eventually The Bat! 2.0 came out, and it was obviously a victim of Second System Syndrome. Apart from the philosophical arguments (HTML vs. plain-text by default), it was another bloated and buggy piece of crap. Though I endured it for a while, my attention wandered, which brought me into the open arms of Thunderbird.

Once I switched to Macintosh, I was happy as a clam--except when I had to check my e-mail. I switched to the, of course, but being a veteran of Eudora Pro and The Bat!, you can imagine how tragic it felt to suddenly have basically no extended functionality, and worse, the most basic of filters available to sort the myriad mailing lists and Internet connections I had accrued throughout the decades.

As it stands, I learned to live with it. I now use at home, which I find adequate. Perhaps it's old age, perhaps it's user inertia; but I have homesteaded, and I don't feel like switching and playing with the latest toys.

That said, however, once in a while I can't help but wonder what else could come. Sometime, someone, must come up with something better. And the, against my better judgement, I'll probably try it.

So please, by all means, update your old article and keep the e-mail application reviews coming. I'll keep an eye out, and hopefully we'll both find what we're looking for.

Cheers, dZ.

I'm glad someone called this out. I'm around too many open-source fanatics that if I said the same, I'd no doubt receive many threats as a traitorous wretch.

After many years of blunderbird usage (including some as an OEM porting engineer working on Netscape server products) where I swore by dunderbird, I now have foresworn blunderbuss and have settled on Apple Mail for everything. And if I'm on a PC, I use my formerly-known-as-dot-mac account (can't stand the new name).

If I'm pushed in a corner, I'll even use MS Outlook – an over-busy abomination, but still preferable to the bird.


Matthew Barker

Nice article on what we must all be thinking about Thunderbird - it's all going very wrong and any copy that points to some possible solutions rather than the usual whingeing and "just stick with the last version" cop-outs is very welcome.

As I don't use Thunderbird all that often any more, I tend to just let it percolate and not obsess over where it's heading and what the next big shiny is going to be. However, the upgrade to 3.0 shook that rationale considerably.

What I think your article overlooked (though it has certainly been said enough elsewhere) was that the downloading of all IMAP messages is optional, but default. It's that choice as default that left me speechless and has led to me banning my nearest-and-dearest from upgrading unless I'm present to quickly turn it off. I haven't the words for the idiocy of crunching straight into this behaviour on launch without so much as an OK/No Thanks dialog, given the process will bring older boxes to their knees.

Moreso, it shows very poor judgement of the user's likely preferences. Most IMAP users (I humbly assert) do not want all the message bodies dumped on their client machine - if they did, they'd probably be using POP3. Likewise, if search indexing is the great payoff of doing this, many of us (especially those with KDE 4's woeful Strigi desktop search mcguffin etched in our memories) will judge that the benefits are unlikely to outweigh the overhead. We still have IMAP search which, while it has its limitations, costs nothing on the client end.

So while the code certainly needs some tough love, that episode showed that they also need someone with a little better sense of etiquette to plan the finer points of releasing new features. If you do revisit this topic in future, let's hope there is some better news to report by that stage. In the meantime, if you receive any good tips for alternative client apps, maybe it'd be worth a Mailbag post to share them?


Robin Bankhead (by webmail)

I completely agree about the need for good e-mail clients as I dislike webmail intensely (how many others feel the same way?). On the whole I find thunderbird is the least bad option. Using Outlook is like swimming in porridge (heavy, stodgy, hard to navigate). I have not tried Claws. I was recently surprised by the solidity of kmail (under Kubuntu), and how ergonomic it is once set up. Of course setting it up is hard work, the addressbook needs some fixes, it is not ready for full time use under Windows ...

Keep up the e-mail client campaign!

Andrew Horsfield

Unfortunately I have to agree.

I had switched to Thunderbird from Outlook, because Outlook kept falling over with my 4Gb+ .pst files - Thunderbird 2 had no such problems, although it sometimes complained.

When I upgraded to 3, it worked OK for a while, but then my laptop started developing hardware issues, diskdrive mainly. TBird 3 regularly blundered into the problem. Initially the lpatop would BSoD some 2-4 hours after TB 3 started. After a few months (with the hardware problems getting worse) it got to the stage the TB 3 could BSoD my laptop in less than 5 seconds after clicking the icon.

Trying to explain this on the TB forum proved fruitless. Yes it's a BSod, yes that means that hardware or a kernel mode driver is at fault. But why is it that the only software that could consistently trigger a BSoD was TB3? They just didn't want to answer that question.

I've had a gutsful of Thunderturd - I may look into v4, but they'll have to utterly overhaul everything it does in the background before I'd be even willing to even experiment with it.

On a related note I'm not that impressed with FireFox's memory consumption either. The only reason I stick with it is because Chrome sucks over Satellite links, and the DownThemAll plugin is the best thing on the web for downloading files.

Lee Humphries

I'm very glad to see this whole issue being raised. Thank you!

As you can tell from the headers I use Thunderturkey, I mean Thunderbird. I am really disappointed with it these days. I think it's an uggly mail client that lacks some critical functionality. I hate the way it doesn't adapt intelligently to Gmail imap, so messages don't update in all folders if I read them in one. I also can't understand why the search folders (a wonderful tool) are so limited. I want a search folder that filters my all mail folder for a particular client and because I have to choose from matching all conditions or any number of them I can't set up filters that I'd like ( (this and that) or (this) isn't an option).

I have been so tempted by Opera mail on more than one occasion but it tends to have it's own annoying niggles.

All I want is a simple well functioning email client for gmail IMAP that works nicely. I don't think one exists.


My biggest gripe with Thunderbird 3 is that it keeps screwing up the connection to my Scalix server. Several times a day I have to restart a couple of the Scalix daemons as it fails to save copies of sent emails to the sent folder. Version 2.X doesn't have the same problems. I keep thinking about rolling back to version 2, but it does make a really good job of sorting through the 500+ odd junk mails I get a day when working in conjunction with Spam Assassin. And lets face it, anything is better than using Outlook.



share your rant about email clients, thanks for the interesting article.

We're certainly a 'minority interest' of wingers, but maybe not a minority of sufferers.

I know it's not the topic of the article, but bad clients are especially antisocial because it's the recipients who suffer almost as much as the senders. Proper quoting and signature separators (remember them?) went first. Half of the buggers can't word-wrap correctly.

All we need is for Microsoft to re-invent these concepts as 'new' in Outlook using XML blah blah.

I jokingly say to my colleagues that one day I'll write a 'good' mail client (when I've done everything that's more important first). Opera Mail providing inspiration onto a command-line interface, most likely.

I share your concern, and add that if email is to remain effective we need to fix up the crap that other people are using, not just ourselves. Including Thunderbird.

Often I've wondered if I'd end up submitting patches to software I never use, just so I don't get broken emails from my colleagues...

-- Mark


I totally agree with you. Thunderbird 3 takes ages to startup compared to Thunderbird 2. It sits there telling me it's indexing my messages and won't let me use it while it is doing so. Office Outlook is now faster than TB3 on the same IMAP mailboxes! Disabling indexing doesn't seem to improve the performance so I prefer to use webmail (Roundecube) on my IMAP server.



As a Mac user, I'm even more used to problems picking a good (for me) email client. I've been using Eudora for many years - partly because all those years ago, there was so little choice in decent programs. A year or three after Qualcomm announced they would stop all development, I'm still using it because (even with it's faults), I'm more comfortable with it than anything else I've tried.

At work we are a Windows shop - with me as (almost) the lone Mac user, and they realised quite early on that forcing a Wintel box on me would be a bad move. For mail I've been more or less forced to use Entourage - lets just leave it as "I don't care much for it" !

Simon Hobson

The new IMAP behaviour (loading all by default) is especially bad if you run a Windows domain. All this data (often several GBytes) is stored in the user's profile which is loaded from the Domain Controller at logon and stored back at logoff. This can take a very long time. Having said that, it is easy to turn the feature off, but not so easy to remove stuff that has already been downloaded into the local profile (I'm still looking).

Cheers, Robert von Knobloch

Didn't notice until after Thunderbird 3 that the application window starts *behind* the front window of what ever was running when one launches from the Dock on MacOS X. Thunderbird is the top application in possession of the menu bar, but not the foreground window. If no other windows are open the Thunderbird window is still not active. Still needs to be clicked to be selected. is stinky for not properly threading messages but its much less stinky than Thunderbird.

David Kelly

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