Learning to live with Thunderbird

by Giles Turnbull

For too long, I was being too fussy. Every time I tried Thunderbird, I abandoned it scant hours later, unable to forgive it for not fitting, precisely, the way I work.

Turned out that by making a few adjustments to my established working pattern - or, put another way, just relaxing a little bit - I started to see a side to it that I could work with.

The most obvious benefit of switching to Thunderbird is its speed. This morning I checked for new mail and watched the status bar; Thunderbird connected to my IMAP server, found 45 new messages, and fetched them in a few seconds. Given the same task, I'd expect Mail to take well over a minute, pausing to 'evaluate' the messages, which always takes an age.

Mail's continuing inability to work fast was just annoying; but last week, when it decided to stop displaying threaded messages in a logical manner, I lost my temper very quickly. Instead of opening a thread with the first message as the frontmost window, and subsequent messages in a series of stacked windows underneath, Mail opened them all in apparent random order. I'd end up seeing a message from the middle or the end of the thread first.

I was this close to switching to Gmail as my full-time mail client, but one thought stopped me: I'm willing to put my trust in Google now, but will that always be the case? Do I want to put my entire mail archive in the hands of a corporation which, like all commercial outfits, might one day be bought or sold, into who knows whose hands? No, I don't.

So my choice was simple: grit my teeth and continue to use Mail, no matter how slow and annoying it is. Or switch to Thunderbird.

I switched.

Which is annoying in itself, because it means I have to teach my fingers a bunch of new keyboard commands, and I can no longer use Act-On, and I've had to get used to a different way of displaying and browsing through my messages. I used to say (until very recently, in fact) that Mail was the least worst email client for OS X, but I've simply changed my mind; now I say Thunderbird holds that dubious honour. It has its faults too, but I find them far less annoying than the ones that drove me crazy in Mail.

If I'm prepared to be a little bit flexible, I think I can learn to live with Thunderbird in the long-term, or at least until something else comes along.

And that might be sooner than I expected.

Last week, I stumbled upon Kiwi, a Cocoa IMAP email client currently being developed by Matt Ronge. The screenshots - and that's all there is to see at the moment, there's nothing to download - look enticing. I can't wait to try a beta.

Seems like I spend far too much time worrying about email clients


2005-12-12 05:11:18
I'm still with mozilla suite
Can you state any advantage Thunderbird has over
the old mozilla suite? ---that I persist with since
it's memory footprint is more acceptable.

Running Firefox + Thunderbird still significantly slows my WinXP system down.

Since the suite isn't being feature-enriched anymore
I'd like to know what I'm missing.

2005-12-12 06:17:52
Import Options?
I was tempted to try Thunderbird on OS X but aborted this once I discovered the import options available - Endora and Netscape. Seriously, where's the "standard" Mac mail applications, such as Mail and Entourage? Firefox suffered from the same problem with its import facility for bookmarks until version 1.5 finally added the likes of Safari.

To be honest, I generally don't have any problem with Mail and am perfectly happy with it. Due to my office's reliance on Microsoft products I will likely return back to using Entourage when it finally supports Spotlight but in the meantime I see no reason to migrate away from Mail.

2005-12-12 06:30:08
I almost switched too
Thunderbird wouldn't use my Mac OS Address Book, which syncs with my Palm. I'd switch in a moment if it could do that and also if it could display the cool little portraits in the corner like Mail.app.
2005-12-12 06:32:56
I'm still with mozilla suite
No I can't - I never used the old Mozilla suite.
2005-12-12 06:52:12
You should try GNUMail.app
GNUMail.app is not bad at all. It runs on OS X but GNUStep as well. It's a native Cocoa app.


2005-12-12 07:33:05
Renamed, but not lost
You'll want Seamonkey, then.


About to check out the alpha, actually...for just that reason. FF on a Mac uses a fair amounf of memory as well.

2005-12-12 07:39:48
I agree
I would switch except for lack of spotlight and address book support. I like to stick with Cocoa apps when possible. I agree, though, that Mail.app is terrible. Very slow, and ironically it is slowest with .Mac accounts! It also cant seem to remember what messages I have read, and constantly re-marks messages as unread hours afterwards. Apple should be ashamed at dressing up beta code as a final release.
2005-12-12 07:40:14
I'm still with mozilla suite
Plugin support, for one.

The downside of any Mozilla product on OS X is the lack of optimization + memory leaks. The upside, as you know, is they just basically work better than Apple's Mail.

I found this article funny because I've been in almost the reverse situation ever since I started using OS X. I keep trying to switch to Mail, but its odd quirks and general slowness have always driven me back to Thunderbird (which I was used to from Linux and Windows). Theoretically there is work being done to access the OS X Address Book from T-Bird, but it seems to have fallen into the common trap where the developer started work on it but got bored after a few days. Someone will eventually write a T-Bird extension to do this, I imagine.

2005-12-12 07:41:14
You should try GNUMail.app
It looks like the most recent *nightly build* of GNUMail was almost a year ago. Looks dead in the water to me.
2005-12-12 14:37:11
I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned GyazMail (http://www.gyazsquare.com/gyazmail/) so far. It's cocoa, cheap, fairly fast and the only mail client that I've tried that has ever
tempted me away from the now long-in-the-tooth Mailsmith.
2005-12-12 14:42:23
Well, I didn't try it because it doesn't (yet) support IMAP, and I'm an IMAP sort of guy. But you're right, GyazMail is a decent app. (I did try it, years ago, when I still used a POP account.)
2005-12-14 07:43:37
You should try GNUMail.app
Just because it's slow in development doesn't mean it's dead in the water. Many GNU apps tend to stall at times in their release cycle but that doesn't mean they are dead. I suspect it will pickup speed again in the future. It's just the developers get busy with real life for a time.
2005-12-14 07:50:47
You should try GNUMail.app
It does use the Addressbook API so it uses your actual AddressBook.app data. I suspect a future release may even support Spotlight. It's main platform is GNUStep, OS X is an easy port. GNUStep is an open source NeXTStep/OpenStep/Cocoa port. i.e. the API is re-implemented just like WINE re-implemented the Windows API. Most GNUStep apps can be recompiled to run under OS X. It's a bit technical because Apple/NeXT never released certain information like the NIB format in XCode, etc. GNUStep doesn't have CoreData, CoreImage, CoreAudio, etc. as they are too new.

Or you can just geek it out and run Mutt...

2005-12-15 09:49:27
What About Roundcube?

Giles, have you given any thought to Roundcube? It's an open source web mail app that looks damn sweet insofar as the UI is concerned, supports POP and IMAP and is supposedly loaded with AJAX goodness.

You install it on your server, config the sucker and then get going. Also, the UI is more akin to traditional mail app GUIs than GMail.


Haven't yet had time to install it on my end, but plan to do so as an alternative to SquirrelMail, which I generally use for webmail access to my host's POP/IMAP accounts.

I still use Mail locally, but am starting to feel the pain you've experienced -- have to force quit and reboot the sucker from time-to-time as it gets lost in mindlessly processing mail...

Do have high hopes for Yahoo's retooled version of Oddpost (which I've always dug -- well, back in my PC days), but the corporate control issue will still linger there.

2005-12-15 10:26:20
What About Roundcube?
I've never even *heard* of Roundcube. Thanks for the tip, I shall take a look.
2005-12-15 19:27:09
How's mutt's IMAP support nowadays?