Thunderbirds are go!

The catchphrase Thunderbirds are go! was used by the characters in the famous 1960s (1970s in South Africa) television show.

Sharing the Thunderbird name, and perhaps hoping to generate some of the excitement that having a glamorous name can bring, is free e-mail client developed by the same people who developed the Firefox Web browser. I’d been using Microsoft Outlook Express for many years, and while that was perfectly functional, I was always on the lookout for something that would do the job a bit better.

I came across the Thunderbird program and I decided that I would take a look to see if it could offer any improvements over Outlook Express. You can get the programme from and, at only 6 MB in size, it makes a fairly quick download if you’ve got broadband.

I was very impressed when Thunderbird immediately detected that I had been using Outlook Express and offered to not only import my old e-mail messages, but also my address book and the settings required to connect to my service provider. It did take a fair bit of time to import all my messages but, once that was accomplished, everything went smoothly and it managed to connect and download new messages and send ones I had created.

Thunderbird doesn’t look all that different to the other programs out there and so there is no delay in getting up to speed. It has a nice clean interface and doesn’t give a feeling of being cluttered with unnecessary bits and pieces.

One of the reasons why I decided to move over to Thunderbird is that it is an open source program and stores mail messages in a commonly used format instead of Microsoft’s proprietary format. The other reason I switched was the huge selection of add-ons you can get which add all manner of new abilities and features to the programme.

The first one I downloaded and installed was called Mail Tweak and it gives you a lot of control over how Thunderbird behaves and it adds a very valuable feature known as Personalise. This allows you to send messages quickly and easily to groups of people chosen from your address book or listed in a comma-delimited text file.

It’s not a tool suitable for spammers because it creates an individual message for each recipient and would slow down the process too much if you were sending mail to millions of people. It does, however, make it much easier to send e-mail updates to small groups.

Another add-on I’m finding very useful is QuickText and it allows you to save blocks of text that you commonly use and insert them very easily into your e-mail messages. This gives you the facility to quickly add your banking details to a particular message or, indeed, any other piece of text you often use. There is also a Mozilla add-on called Lightning, an appointments calendar, which looks promising but I haven’t had a chance to play with that yet.

The appeal of a program like Thunderbird is the huge number of people that are developing add-ons and dictionaries for it. There are currently dictionaries is just about any language you might care to name including Afrikaans, South African English and Nepali. By the look of the list, there are dictionaries on the way for Zulu and Northern and Southern Sotho, but these are not yet available for download.

I have been using Gmail, Google’s free webmail service, for quite some time and I had began to get worried about the number of messages which I had stored online and which I wouldn’t have wanted to lose in the event of an accident at Google. I hadn’t managed to come up with much of a solution for downloading the quite large number of messages that I wanted to keep and so I was delighted to find that Thunderbird has a facility for doing it.

The name of the technology that allows this all to happen is called IMAP and it seems wonderful to me. I’ve got Thunderbird configured so that it has access to my Google mail, allowing me to download any messages that I particularly want to keep.

IMAP is clever enough to allow me to let me send a message in Thunderbird and automatically send a copy to Gmail. Thunderbird also alerts me me when new messages arrive in my Gmail Inbox and allows me to view them with having to open a browser.

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