Wanted: Good, Open Source E-Mail Client for Windows

Opinion: Mozilla's Thunderbird has too many shortcomings, Chandler is too raw, and Novell's Evolution won't be out for Windows anytime soon, so the field is open.

I used to like Thunderbird. A lot.

But, now that Ive lived with the Mozilla Foundations Thunderbird e-mail client for a few months, my enthusiasm has waned.

Now, my wife and daughter both still use and enjoy it, but theres a fundamental difference in how we approach e-mail clients. For them, basic e-mail functionality to handle a low volume of e-mail and the ability to deal with RSS (Really Simple Syndication) fees is all they need. In sum, a lightweight e-mail client will suffice.

I, on the other hand, get hundreds of real messages a day and keep thousands of messages. And, for that kind of load, Thunderbird on XP just cant cut it.

The tools are there. Thunderbird lets me filter out spam; sort my messages into various folders and virtual folders, and compact my folders to save space. Thats all for the good.

Unfortunately, it doesnt do a good job of handling messages once youve gone over a few thousand messages per folder. For example, both the find command and the saved search folders start failing to find messages that meet their search criteria.

Frankly, I no longer bother to even try to use them to find messages. Instead, I use Google Desktop to find my messages. Its easier, faster, and more accurate.

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Better still, the new Google Desktop 2 works even better than its earlier version and it lets me search for files on network drives.

Still, Id like to be able to do efficient searching from within my e-mail client.

I also use several SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) servers to send messages. While Thunderbird lets me enter in several SMTP servers, I can use only one of them even if another has been marked as my default mail server.

Worse still, Thunderbird just locks up at times. Sometimes, I cant get mail no matter whether Im using POP (Post Office Protocol) or IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol). Sometimes, I cant send mail. And, sometimes, too many times, I have to sit there waiting for a message pane to open up.

All of this, mind you, is happening on a 3GHz Pentium IV system with 1GB of RAM.

The only rhyme or reason to this is that I have to deal with a lot of mail.

Thunderbird also still desperately needs group calendaring and schedule management capabilities to be taken seriously as a business e-mail client.

In theory, Mozilla programmers are working on delivering this capability in the Mozilla Calendar extension project, aka the Sunbird project. I say "in theory," because the last major public beta, version .2, dates back to Feb. 4.

Im not impressed.

The next version of Thunderbird, 1.1, is well on its way, but it doesnt look like its going to address my concerns.

Mind you, there will be some nice features—such as the ability to highlight messages that might contain phishing attacks and an inline spell checker—but they dont address my real concerns. Other added features, like the ability to listen to podcasts, leave me cold.

Now, some of the bug fixes—network timeouts for IMAP, POP3 and SMTP, for example—may help me with my problems.

To me, it looks like Thunderbird is going to continue to be an OE (Outlook Express) killer, but not an Outlook challenger.

Since I hate both OE and Outlook—Ive seen wide-open doors with better security—I find myself needing a new Windows e-mail client.

In the best of all possible worlds, that would be an open-source e-mail client, but frankly Im not impressed by the other ones that are currently available on Windows.

Chandler, for instance, has a lot of promise, but its still too raw to my taste for day-in, day-out use.

Now, on Linux, I dont have this problem. Novells Evolution is an outstanding, full-featured e-mail client. It also works with Microsoft Exchange with its Exchange Connector if youre still stuck with Exchange for a mail server.

Worst luck though, while Novell plans to bring Evolution to Windows, its a long way off.


So, until Evolution for Windows arrives or I find another outstanding, open-source e-mail client, Ill be installing the latest version of the proprietary, but powerful Pegasus Mail for my Windows e-mail use.

I hope, I really do, that the Thunderbird crew gets its act together and creates a truly corporate-capable e-mail client. Sadly, I dont see it happening anytime soon.

eWEEK.com 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 sjvn@ziffdavis.com.

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