Firefox is a stand-alone browser, but the Mozilla Foundation is developing messaging and calendaring applications that can be used with Firefox. eWEEK Labs ongoing tests of the Thunderbird messaging client and Mozilla Calendar extension show that these applications are shaping up to provide healthy competition in their respective markets.
Thunderbird and Mozilla Calendar are still in beta, and both were updated earlier this month. Like Firefox, these applications are free and open-source.
Over time, Thunderbird has shown steady improvement in usability, message organization and searching. However, for Thunderbird to be a useful PIM (personal information manager), users will need to run Thunderbird extensions for contacts, calendars and tasks.
As an e-mail application, Thunderbird occupies the ground between many of the classic free e-mail clients—including Microsoft Corp.s Outlook Express, Apple Computer Inc.s Apple Mail, Mozilla Mail and Qualcomm Inc.s Eudora 6.2—and more robust clients such as Microsofts Outlook.
The Thunderbird tools for searching and organizing documents worked very well in tests. We could search folders quickly and save searches as folders, in much the same way we can with Outlook 2003. Thunderbird supports vertical and horizontal preview panes and let us group messages by criteria. For example, we could organize messages by date, in delineations of today, yesterday, last week and so on. Thunderbird doesnt have a default group view the way Outlook does, nor can users create group-sorting shortcuts.
Mozilla Calendar, the Mozilla Foundation-created extension for calendaring and task management, is also available as a stand-alone application, Mozilla Sunbird. The extension and Sunbird have the same code base and provide roughly the same user experience, with just a couple of user interface differences.
Mozilla Calendar functions like Apples iCal. With the Mozilla tool, users can subscribe to and publish calendars. However, unlike iCal, which allows publishing of calendars to Apples .Mac service and any Web server that supports WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning), Mozilla Calendar lets users publish their calendars only to Web servers that support WebDAV. In addition, Mozilla Calendar lets users organize tasks in the same application.
Beyond the Thunderbird extensions created by the Mozilla Foundation, a number of extensions have been created by other developers.
For example, Thunderbird does not allow users to send an e-mail with a blank subject line. To get around this, someone wrote an extension that overrides this setting. We particularly like an address-book extension that puts a list of address-book contacts in the left pane of the application, similar to the way Outlook Express does it, to give fast access to contacts and groups.
Many of the extensions can be found at update.mozilla.org/extensions.