Mozilla Thunderturkey and its malcontents

And better email alternatives

Bugs? Don’t Complain To Us, We Only Work Here...

I'd never needed to know about IMAP until Thunderbird V3 changed my POP3 settings to IMAP and made it almost impossible to change them back. Worse, I'd only just persuaded my wife to convert from the ancient Demon Turnpike client, which had the overwhelming advantage of no development, so at least it worked.

Rather than doing these version changes, maybe it would be better to freeze the old version that works and put the developers onto a new project, which we can adopt later, if it's better.

Submitting bug reports now just gets grumpy responses - like they're used to everyone saying how wonderful it is, so now they're really defensive because everyone hates it.


I have to agree with you about Thunderbird - by any measure it's ancient. It looks ancient - in fact I think the interface to Netscape Communicator 4 (which I last used about 12 years ago) was superior. The act it has advanced so little in a decade is a pretty poor statement, though to be fair Outlook 2007 isn't that different from Outlook 98. I don't use Thunderbird at all any more - my wife uses it on her Windows PC but I found it just horrible and clunky on Mac. I use Apple Mail not because I think its terribly superior but because it integrates with the Mac Address Book and iCal.

The problem seems to be that binary mail clients are just a bit more secondary that they used to be. Web Mail clients are probably the primary interface people use these days simply because it's always there with them regardless of computer. I think the impact of this has dented the market for mail clients, no one wants to pay for them and less people use them. When I used to use Windows I used The Bat! pretty much exclusively. Like you say, it's an excellent client and I think it's miles ahead of anyone else. I haven't used it in about 10 years but even the version I remember is probably still better than most clients available today.

You can see the importance of web mail through the likes of Gmail and also through the development of of commercial products like Outlook Web Access. Today OWA is almost indistinguishable from the full Outlook client and I reckon a lot of users log on to OWA as opposed to using either MAPI or IMAP. On top of this is the growth in mobile usage. I reckon I read and reply to more mail on my BlackBerry than I ever do on a desktop client. Overall I think the future for decent email clients is a bit grim - the browser has become the universal client for just about everything including email. Also the mail protocol has fundamentally changed. 10 years ago just about everyone used POP3 and you needed a decent client to manage the mail. Today just about everyone uses IMAP - you want your mail available regardless of your client. With POP3 changing clients used to be a nightmare - trying to export and re-import mail into different clients was nearly impossible. I think there was only Eudora that standardised on the Unix Mbox format - everyone else used something proprietary.

Once email became truly mobile, it got IMAP, it got decent web mail and got onto phones, the die was pretty much cast for the future of fat clients. We got broadband so POP3 became pointless - no one needed to logon quickly download mail and then log off as they were being charged by the minute. With broadband you could stay online as long as you liked. You didn't need complicated clients to manage your POP3 messages because they were all saved online. Web mail interfaces got much better which meant you didn't need fat clients. I think set against this the effort in developing mail clients was in sent into a downward spiral; ten years ago there used to be loads of good, shareware clients that have all but vanished. I think mail has just taken another evolutionary change and the result is that fat clients are slowing drifting towards obsolescence.

Kevin Hall

Surely the state of email clients can't be a minority interest amongst El Reg readers? We all use MUAs.

Personally i find it one of the most important considerations. As a Linux advocate, i find the MUA can be a powerful element in 'turning' Windows users, to adopt spook terminology, and i bemoan the tendency to bloat codebases and require ever more system resources to perform standard tasks.

I'm very keen (as a TBird user) to look into some of the alternatives you've mentioned.

Charles Johnson

So without any delay, here they are:

Life beyond Thunderbird

Thought you might be interested to hear that I've been using claws since 2005, and before that Thunderbird and a few proprietary ones going back to 1994. Although it's had minor wobbles over the years, Claws is the only mail reader that I've never needed to do a database rebuild for.

-- Will J Godfrey

Just a quick note to support "Zimbra Desktop" as an alternative open source email application. Whilst it is designed to be supported by the Zimbra Server, it supports pop3 and IMAP. Furthermore it is cross platform, available for Windows,Mac and Linux.

V1 of Zimbra Desktop was in my testing a little shy on features, the beta 2 version shows promise.

Best Regards



Switching back to Alpine on a SDF UN*X shell account. Who needs graphics?


Pah. Real men use ssh and say HELO. But seriously,

I have read your article on this subject with some interest, since I, too, have been bitterly disappointed with Thunderbird's memory footprint of 105MB for my set of IMAP folders. When you suggested Claws Mail, I felt I had to give it a shot.

I must say that my feelings on Claws are somewhat mixed. On one hand, it does manage to improve on Thunderbird's 105MB memory footprint - it "only" uses 65MB of RAM. While this is a significant improvement, it just doesn't seem ground breaking. Pine manages it in under 4MB, so does the GUI itself justify that much bloat? Then again, after Evolution's 165MB memory footprint for the exact same data set, anything seems like an improvement.

The main issue for me is the lack of plugins to seamlessly support integration with Google Calendar and Google Contacts (I use an Android phone so this is important to me).

The other feature that seems relatively unique to TB is the message move functionality in the context menu, with recently used folders "cached" so they are quickly accessible. I find this much more natural and quicker to use for filing away mailing list messages than than Claws' and Evolution's pop-up menu setup.

Still, I think it is great that you indirectly brought up the wider issue of bloatware becoming a standard. The attitude of present day developers needs to change drastically if we are ever to see decently performing, well designed software become even remotely common. The "memory is cheap" view doesn't lead to good programming. What concerns me, as someone who has been a software developer for 20 years, is that the issue is so widespread that even in academia the fundamental fallacies such as "Don't bother optimizing, that's the compiler's job." are being openly taught to the next generation of computer scientists by people who really should know better. The fact remains that there are very few things we are achieving with computers today that we weren't achieving 15 years ago, despite the vast increase in resource requirements by software.

Best regards.

Gordan Bobic

Do we need better email clients?

Oh, Jesus Horatio Forgharty Christ, yes!

Probably the most important issue is that emails are still a deferred messaging service, which made sense back when the relevant protocols were invented, but is no longer valid today. Some suggest everyone switch to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, or one of the umpteen IM protocols, but this is just ridiculous: How many bloody communications applications should anyone need?

All these protocols serve the same purpose: getting messages from User A to User B, and vice-versa. There should be no need for multiple applications to achieve the same goal. I want to open up *one* messaging application and have access to *everything*. No need to run Mail, Adium, Skype ('cos Adium doesn't do Skype), Twitter widgets and Facebook widgets. Let's have it all in one damned place, please. (And yes, that should include videoconferencing and the like.)

Any solution to the email problem should therefore take a more holistic view: we need a protocol which can provide both deferred and real-time messaging, with none of that "ASCII vs. HTML" bollocks either—I'd go with Unicode and PDF. (The latter is an open standard format, but has the advantage of DTP-levels of precision, as well as re-flow facilities, so you get the best of both worlds.)

Add in strong, PGP-style, cryptography built in as standard and we can then send and receive messages and know that the people responding to us are who they say they are. It'll create a two-tier messaging system: open, "untrusted" emails would be automatically flagged as such; encrypted, "trustable" emails would be more common between friends, relatives and businesses.

Granted, this can never be 100% secure, but it's a lot better than what we have now.

One day, the above—or something like it—will happen. You could argue that I could write an application which supports all the proprietary formats, as well as email, Jabber, etc., today. But it'll never feel truly unified.


-- Sean Timarco Baggaley

I'm not so sure we need a "one shop" client for everything. So far people who've tried to integrate social networking have found a pretty strong pushback - have a read of this excerpt from Engadget's preview of Windows 7, and the problems that integrating "friends" into your address book causes: click here and grep for “facebook”.

Next page: Your Alternatives

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022