Thunderbird 2.0 First Look

Thunderbird 2.0 was just released. Thunderbird is the email client I’ve been using since my problems with Apple Mail so I was eager to get the upgrade. While I like Thunderbird I haven’t been completly comfortable with it and I’m hoping the upgrade helps Thunderbird grow on me.

Download and Install

Thunderbird 2.0 is available here. It will automatically present the download for the OS and language you’re using at the time. There’s also a link to download the install for other OS’s and languages.

For the Mac the download is a 19.2MB disk image (.dmg) file. The Windows download is 6.4MB.

The official instructions say that Thunderbird just be installed over the previous version. Mail will be saved. Some extensions may not work until they are updated to be compatible with version 2. I don’t have any extensions. But earlier issues with Thunderbird have taught me to do a clean install so I’ll be uninstalling the old and installing the new.

On a Mac

  1. Make sure Thunderbird is not running. Also make sure Thunderbird related processes are stopped.
  2. Make a copy of the profile located in [Home]/Library/Thunderbird. Just make a copy someplace else. Don’t move the files.
  3. Uninstall Thunderbird (drag the Application icon to the trash)
  4. Open/Mount the downloaded DMG file and drag the Thunderbird icon to your Applications folder
  5. Unmount the DMG file
  6. Start Thunderbird. All your mail and mailboxes should be there. Send some test e-mails, look around. You’re done.
  7. Delete the copy you made in step 2 once your confident the install worked. (Ok, now you are really done.)

After installation, Thunderbird uses 52.9MB (not including the profile and actual mail) of disk space and it’s a Universal App.

On Windows

  1. Make sure Thunderbird is not running. Also make sure Thunderbird related processes are stopped.
  2. Make a copy of the profile located in [Drive]Documents and Settings<ProfileName>Application DataThunderbird. Just make a copy someplace else. Don’t move the files.
  3. Uninstall Thunderbird through Add/Remove programs
  4. Run the Thunderbird installer EXE. The install is straightforward so no screen shots needed. You can simply click through all the screens to get the recommended install.
  5. After the Welcome screen you’ll accept the license.
  6. You’ll be asked if you want a standard or custom install. Standard is recommended. Use custom if you want to change the install location, not install the icons (desktop, start menu or quick launch), or change the start menu group name.
  7. After installation Thunderbird will startup (by default). Your mail should be there. Send some test e-mails and look around. You’re done.
  8. Delete the copy you made in step 2 once your confident the install worked. (Ok, now you are really done.)

If you have problems with extensions and need to start Thunderbird in safe mode do so by…

  • Windows: Start using the “Safe Mode” item on the start menu or run thunderbird.exe -safe-mode
  • Linux: start with ./thunderbird -safe-mode
  • OS X: cd /Applications/Thunderbird.app/Contents/MacOS/
    ./thunderbird-bin -safe-mode

Once in safe mode you can remove the problem extensions (or all of them and add one at a time to find the problem).

These are some of the known issues listed in the release notes, here are the ones most likely to be encountered (but looking over all the release notes would be a good idea)

  • Some firewalls may block Thunderbird. They have configuration instructions for common firewalls here.
  • The default dictionary is english. Other languages can be installed through add-ons and through the preferences screens.
  • The mail views toolbar button is no longer a default button
  • There is no Talkback on Intel-based Macs when running natively or under Rosetta. The Apple Crash report program should launch in the event of application crashes.
  • On Linux/Unix if Thunderbird is installed to a location with spaces listed in the path it may not be able to be used as the default email program.
  • If you use Fedore Core 3 and Gnome refer to the release notes for additional instructions.

New Features

Message Tagging: There was some rudimentary tagging in version 1.5 but now it’s been brought to the forefront and enhanced. I’m hoping this will cut down on the ever growing number of folders I have.

Message History: the ability to scroll backward and forward through message history.

Search improvements: find-as-you-type (a la Spotlight) searches and specific searches can be stored in folders.

UI improvements and customizations

Easy access to web accounts such as .Mac and GMail.

A complete list of updates are in the release notes.

Quick First Impressions

There wasn’t even a speed bump getting into version 2 after using 1.5. While there’s a new “Tag” button among other minor interface changes they aren’t significant enough to require relearning anything.

The account setup screen has new options for GMail and .Mac mail. I selected GMail and the setup couldn’t be easy. I enter my name (how I want it to appear on my emails) along with my GMail address (no need to type @gmail.com). The option to “download now” is checked by default. There’s a prompt for the password at the first connection.

In addition to the obvious server settings, the following defaults are used:

– Check for messages at startup and every 10 minutes

– Automatically download new messages

– Leave messages on server is enabled. GMail automatically moves them to the all mail folder.

– Junk mail controls are enabled.

The mail is delivered to a set of folders unique to the account. You’ll need to change the settings if you want mail to go to the common local folders

Setting up a .Mac mailbox is just as simple. Enter a name and email address and the rest is done for you. The mailbox is set up to use IMAP (yea!). None of the folders are enabled for offline use. Unlike GMail there wasn’t any initial connection to the server. In another quirk when I did a “Get Mail” for All it didn’t check the .Mac server. I had to do a “Get Mail” (or click on the inbox) to be prompted for the password to get the initial connection and the waiting mail.

The .Mac option isn’t available on Windows. While it’s true there’s no point having a .Mac account unless you have a Mac, there’s no reason not to access .Mac mail from a Windows PC. I can manually configure Thunderbird to access .Mac mail. .Mac is just like any other IMAP mail service. From a cross-platform consistency standpoint I’d like to have seen it available.

On of the user interface tweaks is noticeable on the main screen. There’s a couple of arrows in the folders window. Clicking the cycles left or right through “All Folder” <-> “Unread Folders” <-> “Favorite Folders” <-> “Recent Folders”

There’s a new popup preview where holding the mouse over a folder shows the subject headings along with the first line for new mail in the folder. (New is not equal to unread)

One enhancement I wanted seems to be missing. I wanted to be able to share the same filter (called rules in other programs) among all incoming mail connections. As in previous versions it appears they have to be assigned to a specific connection. They can be assigned to “Local Folders” but it still only runs against mail being delivered to that location.

Thunderbird 2 still doesn’t have the concept of an outbox to send mail in the background. When sending mail Thunderbird still does it in the foreground, displaying the status on the screen with the e-mail message still open.

On the Windows side of things, there’s a pop-up notification above the system tray for new mail and an icon is placed in the system tray that opens the inbox when it’s double-clicked. This is similar to what Outlook 2003 and above does.

I’m happy to see no big changes in the UI so there’s no need to re-learn anything. I can take the enhancements one at a time to improve my mail handling without having to take a step back first. I look forward to exploring the new features.