The Fabulous Thunderbird

Well, looks like we may be switching away from QuickMail Pro at work. I can’t say I’m all broken up about it, although I really have very few complaints about QuickMail; it simply failed to keep pace with the rest of the world. I had high hopes when Outspring bought it, but the past year has given me progressively fewer reasons to hope. I don’t think the Outspring guys had any idea what they were getting themselves into.

We evaluated a lot of email programs, but our requirement of being cross-platform limited the field dramatically. That basically left us with the Outlook/Entourage combo, webmail, something home-grown, or Thunderbird.

1) Outlook/Entourage combo
Entourage is a nice email program on OS X. I don’t particularly care for the changed in the 2004 version, but many people seem to like them. However, Outlook on Windows is a freakin’ virus magnet. Nobody in his or her right mind can deny that. And unless you’re going to run Exchange Server, you don’t get the full benefit. And running Exchange takes a lot more time than I spend managing Communigate Pro. Plus Entourage isn’t a full peer with Outlook, so this choice would marginalize our Mac users, of which I am one. And it’s expensive when you break it down per user.

2) Webmail
Clunky, slow, ugly. On the other hand, amazingly portable. Nothing to install on the local machine. That’s a plus. Of course, they’ll ask us to install it anyway, just like they ask to “install” PowerSchool or Yahoo Calendars. But in the end, most webmail interfaces suck absolutely.

3) Something home-grown.
I gave this serious thought, but reason won out. I may be dumb enough to write a student information system from scratch, but not to write an email client. Especially not the same year I write my own SIS. Yeesh.

4) Thunderbird.
Cross-platform. Nice interface. Integrated RSS reader; that’s a nice bonus. Junk mail filtering… good. LDAP support. Oooooh… auto-complete from LDAP server. Nice. Free. We have a winner.

Thunderbird - Reclaim Your InboxThe excellent LDAP support is the kicker for me. The magic bullet that’s kept QuickMail Pro alive for all these years has been its admittedly innovative address book management. Send each user a copy of the address book as an attachment, and everyone’s local machine is updated. Very nice. It’s a feature our users have come to use almost as a crutch: “I don’t have any address books, so I can’t send any mail.” Apparently they’ve failed, en masse, to crack the secret firstname underscore lastname at etown dot k12 dot pa dor us code. Oy. But since Thunderbird auto-completes recipient addresses directly from the LDAP server, there’s no longer a need to send out address book updates.

That leaves the problem of migrating email archives. I personally have over 20,000 messages archived QuickMail Pro. I’m not willing to start fresh and leave them behind, nor would I ask that of any user. But Thunderbird will only import from Eudora and Netscape Mail. Good luck getting QuickMail data into either of those formats. EmailChemy to the rescue! This nifty Java app converts basically any email format to basically any other. It converted my 20,000+ messages from QuickMail Pro format to Thunderbird format in about 15 minutes. Not bad at all, really.

So I’m on Thunderbird now. I’ll let you know how I make out.

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