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An email client, such as Outlook Express or Outlook, is the most crucial piece of software on any PC used for electronic correspondence. The leading open source offering, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, aims to shrug off the competition by being better organised and offering ease-of-use extras which can endear it to its owner. Version 2, just out, has added several new features and improved on existing ones to strengthen its position.
Like its Web browser companion Firefox, Thunderbird 2 has to steal market share from software which is supplied free with Windows. Although Outlook Express is less of a competitor for Thunderbird than Internet Explorer is for Firefox, there’s still inertia against switching from the software supplied by default.
If you’re switching from Outlook or Outlook Express, Thunderbird 2 offers to import your account settings, address book details and mail automatically. It does this quite well though it can take a while. In our case we also had to re-enter our ISP account details.
To help organise your incoming email, Thunderbird 2 provides a series of tags by default – Important, Work, Personal, To Do and Later – which you can use to mark each message. You can then sort by tags to pull together all mails of a certain type. New tag types can be added to personalise the way you structure your mail list.
One of Thunderbird 2’s strengths is its search facilities. It includes a lightning-fast search-as-you-type that pulls up all matches to a word as soon as the characters you’ve typed are unique. The program maintains a search history so if you need to return to a search you ran earlier you can do so from a drop-down list.
If you’ve been flitting between old emails, you can make use of a history list within the program. Click the backwards and forwards buttons to retrace your steps, and what you effectively have is a history trail of viewed messages.
There’s little excuse for spelling mistakes or typos in messages sent from Thunderbird 2, as it includes a real-time spell checker which neatly underlines any suspect words. It appears not to install any language dictionaries by default, though it claims to install English. We typed a nonsense line of osfdl sfdoif fsoif and Thunderbird claimed there were no words misspelled until we downloaded and installed an add-in UK English dictionary.