Blog Post

Beta Watch: Thunderbird 3 Email Client


Mozilla recently released Thunderbird 3 Beta 2, another stop along the road to the final release of Thunderbird 3.

Thunderbird is a full-featured, open-source email client originally based on the old Mozilla suite browser’s Mail module, which in turn derived from the ancient Netscape Communicator Messenger module.

I’ve never been a particularly big Thunderbird fan, but I’ve recently revisited it as a possible Intel Mac-friendly replacement for my longtime email stalwart — Eudora — which is proving an unhappy camper on my new Unibody MacBook. One reason to go with Thunderbird is that it also forms the basis of the new, open-source “Eudora” version 8 (aka Penelope), which is really nothing like classic Eudora other than sharing some of the its appearance conventions. Thunderbird shares with Eudora 8 the happy facility to efficiently import settings, contacts, and email archives from Classic Eudora, a huge convenience.


Thunderbird incorporates the three-pane user interface model familiar to users of OS X Mail and Outlook Express. It’s fast (at least on Intel-based Macs), reasonably easy to configure, and will be intuitive to use for folks who like three-pane email clients, but less so for us Classic Eudora holdouts. It’s also open source and one of the most sophisticated free email clients available.

Thunderbird handles HTML mail competently, lets you keep images turned off until you want them to load, has sensible protocols for dealing with suspected spam, a decent search engine (not as slick as Classic Eudora’s, alas), and allows the user to specify manual checks of individual mail accounts, which is huge for me, as I have 22 accounts configured.

Less commendable are Thunderbird’s clunky Address Book implementation (especially its handling of recipient groups), obtuse CC and BCC configuration, and less-than-straightforward handling of multiple accounts —- particularly SMTP server assignment. Another thing that bugs me is that you can’t select all in a message and get in the address and subject line info along with the body text, which makes frequent copy-and-paste tasks take literally twice as long. All those angularities can be worked around, but they’re frustrating for old Eudora hands accustomed to that program’s tractable and convenient flexibility.

However, I’m getting acclimatized, and finding the Thunderbird 3 Beta 2 build released last week a smooth performer, with no beta bugginess encountered so far.

Notable changes in Thunderbird 3 Beta 2 include:

User Experience Improvements

Message Archive

  • You can now file messages from your Inbox or other folders into the new Archive folder system.

Activity Manager

  • Now records all the interactions between Thunderbird and your email provider in one place.

Performance improvements

Faster Message Loading for IMAP

  • Thunderbird will now download IMAP messages by default in the background, allowing for faster message loading, and better offline operation. This feature can be enabled on an individual folder basis or for all folders in an account.

According to the developers, there are more than 340 changes in this release, many laying the groundwork for future ones. And a blog post by David Ascher says the most striking aspect is the sheer volume of bug fixes. You can check the bug fix inventory here.

Ascher says the new Archive feature is borrowed from Gmail’s, which relies on the program’s search capability to find messages, although you can also still use the standard “file in a folder” method, and while the projected new fast global search isn’t implemented yet, even the old cross-folder search mechanism has been improved.


The next beta release is projected to be the last scheduled Thunderbird 3 beta and the last milestone to introduce more new features. Slated feature additions include:

  • New global search function, leveraging tabs
  • Cleaning up the message header area further
  • The beginning of some theming work (prettier icons, etc.)

If you’re running an older system, be aware that Thunderbird 3 Beta 2 no longer supports Mac OS X versions prior to 10.4 Tiger. As is common fare for Mozilla, Thunderbird is completely free.

24 Responses to “Beta Watch: Thunderbird 3 Email Client”

  1. I use to work with Firefox on windows xp where i never tried with Thunderbird but my new collage computer lab is equipped with linux and Thunderbird actually working on linux ubuntu is not that bad experience but even not that easy for windows addicted person well for Thunderbird i found this 3.0 new version simple and easy extensions similar to Firefox where interface is much improved there is five reason to try Thunderbird check here for details

  2. Benen: Actually search does work – pretty fast actually (indexing works okay).

    The thing is that you can’t (for some bizarre reason) search using the input field on the top right corner, yet you can try ctr+shift+f to access the “Search Messages” window and try your searches there.

    Hopefully next beta will have this fixed.

  3. I was testing Post Box for quite awhile and I have to agree that Post Box beats the Thunderbird 3 builds so far feature-wis. However, TB 3.0 and Post Box just became incomparable for one single reason–you have to pay for the final version of Post Box.

    Current (“beta sale” till Aug 31) pricing is $29.95 for Post Box version 1. By what I see on their website this is for one single license only good for only one computer. That does not include licenses for additional computers (called “Family Pack” for an additional “sale” price of $10.00 for up to 5 computers). This “sale” price also does not include any future (non-security I assume) updates, you have to pay for those as well at an additional (“sale”) price of $19.95 (limited time offer it says BTW).

    After Aug 1st:

    Postbox 1.0 – $39.95

    + Family Pack Option – $19.95

    + Lifetime Upgrades Option – $24.95

    To me, this makes Post Box a non-competitor to Thunderbird. Whether it hurts future adaptation of Thunderbird remains to be seen.

    I have no problem with the makers of Post Box making this a “paid for” email client. They’ve obviously worked very hard to come out with a viable product that is, for right now, a one-of-a-kind email client. Speaking for myself though, when it comes down to paying a minimum of (non-sale) $65.00 for Post Box for only a single personal license and lifetime updates to future major versions or paying $0.00 for Thunderbird 3.0, which has more features still under development, that I can install on as many computers as I like along with built-in free lifetime updates, I’ll skip the extra features in Post Box and stay with Thunderbird.

    Just a personal opinion here.

  4. I can only speak for TB2, but such a feature already existed: in the ‘compose’ window click on the ‘contacts’ button, this opens a sidebar with contacts. Select all the names you want with Ctrl-Click, then right-click and choose ‘Add to Bcc field’.

  5. Cathy

    I’m a fan of Eudora, using Eudora 6.2 on my mac (os10.4).

    However, I tend to save most of my mail and have tons of it. So much that my Eudora folder is now over 20 gigs in size and is very sluggish (there may be other factors affecting its speed).

    What I’m hoping to find is a way to archive the bulk of my mail to dvd’s that will relieve the active more current portion of mail from its weight, as well as open up space on my laptop. I want to be able to still access the dvd’s and search for items when I need to.

    Is there a way to break up the bulk of my mail into savable semi-independent portions that can be taken off my computer and yet still be accessed when needed? (Like iPhotoBuddy does for users of iPhoto) Does Thunderbird allow for anything like this?

    Thanks for any suggestions, advice or direction!
    Mail hoarder

  6. Has TB3 added the ability to add multiple ‘Bcc’ addresses with a single click? I email offers frequently to my clients and cannot do this efficiently in Thunderbird, and have not found an effective workaround.

  7. Prash

    Search Messages feature is not working. Its frustrating….this is one of the features I loved as its almost instant… Outlook is pathetic when it comes to search.

  8. Emily

    I have Incredimail right now and want to delete that and use your product. But what I would like to know is, is your product workable with WindowsXP?

  9. Seems like you didn’t mention the all new tabbed mail-browsing experience, see my blog.

    @Andrew Bednarz: Adress book is integrated in TB3, as far as being able to auto complete adresses and such.

  10. AndrewNim

    I wonder if there will be a convergance with Postbox which seems the better offer at the moment. But still no integration with OSX. So will stick with mail.