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Software review - Thunderbird email client version 3

Version 3 of the Thunderbird email client was released at the end of 2009. I've recently upgraded some of my computers to the new client.

Thunderbird is a email client available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. It can be used as a replacement Windows Mail (formally known as Outlook Express) and can also access some online email accounts usually accessed through a web browser.

The Thunderbird email client is created by MozillaMessaging (which is spun off from Mozilla, better known for the Firefox browser).

Thunderbird 3 email client

Alternative Email Clients

Thunderbird email client is popular already as a more secure alternative to outlook express as Outlook Express was prone to the virus emails that caused major distributions to email systems in the past. Thunderbird does not run the scripts that were responsible for these problems.

A popular alternative on Linux is the Evolution email client which is the default under Ubuntu. I have tried Evolution in the past, but found that with my large email inboxes it is extremely slow. I really should clear my inbox out better (and perhaps I will with the new archiving tools), but this is one of the main reasons that I use Thunderbird rather than Evolution.

Performance and functionality

The performance of the Thunderbird client is as fast as before, and the searches feel a little faster (although I haven't performed any benchmarking so this may not actually be the case).

It still has the features that made Thunderbird popular in the past including SPAM filtering (which I find invaluable), and the add-ons (although some still need to be updated to run on Thunderbird 3). There is a good contact / address book integrated into the email client.

The one feature that is missing is a calendar, see below.

What no calendar?

The Thunderbird email client is in-line with the traditional UNIX thinking of doing one job and doing it well. Large feature lists look good on pay-for software as it makes it look like you are getting more for your money, but is not so important on free software. The reason for this is that many applications try to do too much and result in good functionality in some areas, but other features which are not so good. In the free software world it's often better to have one application that performs it's core function very well (ie. email) and then use a separate software program can concentrate on doing it's job well (ie. calendar) rather than having an email client with an average calendar.

This works well if you have found a separate calendar application you like instead (eg. KOrganiser - the KDE Calendar for Linux), but some people would prefer this to be in their email client. Fortunately there is a solution for this in the form of the Lightning add-on for Thunderbird. Once the lightning plug-in is installed it integrates into the email client as though it is a built-in function.

The current version of the lightning plug-in (0.9) is not available for Thunderbird 3, but version 1 is designed for Thunderbird 3, but is currently in beta. Perhaps by the time you read this it may be available as a production release..

Although (or perhaps "because") Thunderbird concentrates on email functionality only there are lots of features that help with reading, composing and managing emails.

New Features

This release adds some nice features.

Merged inbox view

If you have multiple email accounts you can now view all new emails as though in a single inbox. The emails are still available in their individual inboxes giving the best of both worlds.

Tabbed emails

Much like tabbed Internet browsing in modern browsers, Thunderbird creates tabs when viewing email messages.

Advanced search and filtering tools

The search and filtering tools have been improved.

Easy message archiving

Emails can be easily archived to save space on your emails provider or to reduce the size of your mail files.


If you are running on Windows then the download version will continue to use the existing email inbox and settings.

For Linux users then a distribution upgrade should be seamless if you wait for the next update to the distribution otherwise see: guide to upgrading from Thunderbird 2 to Thunderbird 3 for Linux (Ubuntu 9.10).

If upgrading from another email client there is an import function that can help to copy the existing data and contacts from the existing client. It also includes wizards to automatically set-up for some web based email servers.


The Thunderbird Email client version 3 is a great email client got better. The lack of calendar function may not be to everyone's taste, but is easily fixed using the Lightning plug-in. The rest of the client works as expected and the SPAM filtering is excellent (after a little tuning by showing the client examples of SPAM vs non-SPAM emails).

This new release improves this further and adds some great new features.

Thunderbird Email Client