Improved Thunderbird Still Fails Enterprise Test

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-10-07

Improved Thunderbird Still Fails Enterprise Test

As you may know, I have a love/hate relationship with Thunderbird, the Mozilla Foundations open-source stand-alone e-mail client.

On the one hand, while Thunderbird is a fine replacement for Outlook Express, Eudora or Pegasus Mail, for light e-mail users, the 1.0x versions really failed at handling large jobs (such as 1,000+ e-mail folders).

In addition, the current Thunderbird has problems with memory leaks, search and filtering problems and a variety of bugs ranging from minor to program-stopping.

And, while it is not as vulnerable as Outlook, Thunderbird has had its share of security holes.

Fortunately for its users, the Mozilla Foundation is much faster at fixing the bugs in its programs than Microsoft is at fixing the ones in its software.

As someone who uses multiple platforms, I also am inclined to like Thunderbird because it runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS.

So it was that Ive been really looking forward to the next major revision of Thunderbird.

Im pleased to say that many of the bugs have now been squashed. In my use of a late version of the beta 1, I found it both faster and far more efficient at handling memory problems.

I also found that its search functionality, which I had eventually entirely abandoned in the 1.0 series in favor of Google Desktop on Windows and Beagle on Linux, is now both dependent and useful.

Another feature, which users on the go will appreciate, is that Thunderbird now handles multiple SMTP mail transport correctly. In the past, while you could list multiple SMTP servers, the program would actually only use one of them.

Since mobile users have to deal with Internet connections that may or may not let them access SMTP network ports depending upon their addresses, the ability to automatically switch from one SMTP to another makes sending mail from the road much easier.

I found these improvements on both the Windows and Linux platforms.

For Windows, I ran Thunderbird using Windows XP SP 2 on a 3GHz Pentium IV system with 1GB of RAM. For Linux, I used it with SuSE Linux 9.3 and a late beta of SuSE 10 on a pair of 2.8GHz Pentium IV PCs with 512MBs of RAM.

For these improvements alone, Id recommend Thunderbird over Outlook Express and most other individual end user e-mail programs such as Qualcomms Eudora.

Read details here about Mozillas overhaul of Thunderbirds calendaring function.

However, Thunderbird 1.5 also has many new features. Some of them, such as spell-checking while you type or being able to handle Podcasting, arent very important to me. Others, though, will be important to any user.

Next Page: Why Thunderbird still wont fly for enterprise use.

Why Thunderbird Still Wont

Fly for Enterprise Use">

For example, the built-in phishing detector makes clicking your way into Internet fraud sites harder.

Its not perfect: I found it gave false positives quite frequently. That said, Thunderbird also caught all the real phishing e-mails that came my way.

Doubtlessly, some poisoned messages will escape it as phishers grow ever sneakier, but anything that helps stops phishing is A-ok in my book.

It also has improved handling of reply and forward options based on message filters. If youre like me, and you spend a lot of time dealing with e-mail, these options can help you automate your mail handling.

Another handy new tool for dealing with e-mail is that the program now gives you the option of deleting attachments from messages. I find this very handy for getting rid of large PDF files and the like while keeping the cover letter, which had the real information I needed.

For business users, Thunderbird has added many new features. For example, instead of requiring you to re-install the program for an update, you will now be able to patch the program in place with a small download.

In addition, you can now integrate Thunderbirds spam detection with server-based detection. In my case, I use SpamAssassin on my Linux-based e-mail servers.

The program can also use Kerberos authentication, which makes it easier to integrate with a network directory system. In an experiment, I was able to integrate Thunderbird usage with Novells LDAP eDirectory running on Novell Linux SBS (Small Business Server).

It was not a walk around the park, but it was doable. Before, integrating Thunderbird into a serious business network would have been nigh unto impossible.

Thats all great, but I still cant recommend Thunderbird for large business use. It still doesnt have individual, never mind group, calendaring and schedule management capabilities.

The Mozilla Foundation knows that this is a weakness. Its programmers are working to address it. In the past, this has been in Sunbird, or the Mozilla Calendar extension project.

More recently, Mozillas developers have been working on Lightning. This program, according to its Web site, "aims to integrate into the main Thunderbird UI and user interaction model as tightly as possible."

The developers, however, to the best of my knowledge, do not have any plans to support Extended MAPI (Microsofts Messaging API) in any version of Thunderbird.

This is unfortunate. While you can use Thunderbird to send and receive mail from Microsoft Exchange if the Exchange server has been set to support POP (Post Office Protocol), SMTP or IMAP, without Extended MAPI support Thunderbird cant access Exchanges calendaring functionality. And, no matter what one thinks of Exchange as a program, it is the scheduling engine for many businesses.

So it is that while I can look forward to the final release of Thunderbird 1.5 as a great replacement for Outlook Express and the like for individuals and small businesses, I still will not be able to recommend it as an enterprise program.

If you want an open-source e-mail client that also supports scheduling and can deal with Exchange, your choice remains Novells Evolution on Linux. There are no good open-source alternatives for big business e-mail on Windows.

Hopefully, as Lightning matures, the Mozilla Foundation will be able to present users with a compelling enterprise-level Thunderbird, but 1.5 will not be it. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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