Will Mozilla Thunderbird be the Outlook-buster?

Mozilla Thunderbird is still in its infancy, but expert Nigel McFarlane thinks it could have the right stuff to loosen Microsoft Outlook's stranglehold on businesses.

Mozilla Thunderbird, an open source e-mail and newsgroup client, is in its technology preview stage; but IT pros and site expert Nigel McFarlane tell us that this release is quite stable and usable. That's surprising because the 0.8 was just released on Sept. 14. That's right; it's not even up to 1.0. It's not surprising because Thunderbird is built on the mature Mozilla code. Thunderbird supports the IMAP and POP email protocols, is...

available for Linux, UNIX, PC and Mac platforms and is distributed at no charge as an open source project.

Is Thunderbird right for the enterprise? McFarlane weighs in on that question and offers some pointers in this tip. Besides answering our users' questions about Mozilla and software development, McFarlane works as a programmer and technology writet. He is the author of several books on IT, including "Rapid Application Development with Mozilla" from Prentice Hall PTR.

Would Thunderbird be an option for client e-mail in an enterprise? Can I share files between Outlook and Thunderbird?

Nigel McFarlane: Thunderbird doesn't yet support all the workflow in the Exchange/Outlook combination; for example, it doesn't support calendar events. On the Linux desktop Evolution is a better pick for full workflow integration, but it's not portable across Windows/Linux like Thunderbird is.

For client e-mail alone, Thunderbird is definitely an option. It supports IMAP, POP and LDAP and a host of integrated Windows standards, while you still need windows. And you can use the same IMAP server from Windows and Linux if you want. That means the same account.

Some people worry about the safety of their e-mail when using a product that's not yet version 1.0. Thunderbird's 0.7 version is an honest statement of status, whereas a commercial version 1.0 is less honest. In my experience, the e-mail storage systems that Thunderbird uses have been very solid and reliable for a long time.

In moving from Outlook Express to Thunderbird, how can an IT manager set up Thunderbird as the default e-mail? Will there be any problems with exchanging files with co-workers who are on Outlook?

McFarlane: After installing Thunderbird, if migration hasn't automatically happened at install time, choose the Tools | Import menu item and follow the import wizard.

Can you offer some tips on rolling out Mozilla for approximately 500 company users in various international locations?

McFarlane: If you mean to do a desktop rollout, then there are a few tricks you can use. The main one involves a file called prefs.js (Windows) or preferences.js (Linux). This file holds a lot of configuration information captured by the install. It's like a Windows .INI file. If you supply a copy of that to all your users, you can apply a standard setup to everyone. Make sure you have a very recent version of Mozilla or Firefox if you do this.

Unfortunately, automating the rollout in more detail requires detailed knowledge of self-extraction tools. Mozilla doesn't yet have a customization tool that you can lean on. If you do spend time understanding the self-extractors that Mozilla uses, then you can make a custom distribution for your users. That's a non-trivial task, though.


For more information:

Read a description of Nigel McFarlane's book, Rapid Application Development with Mozilla.

Nigel McFarlane answers more Mozilla questions.

Omar Shahine's Weblog has an interesting discussion comparing IMAP mail clients, including multiple Outlook versions and Thunderbird.


This was first published in September 2004

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