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Mozilla Thunderbird 3 review

An open-source alternative to Mail that gives with one hand and takes away with the other

As well as a new interface, Thunderbird 3 has improved search

Our Verdict

A few excellent features for power users, but slower than version 2


  • Can be used from a USB stick
  • Neat features like timelines


  • Poor performance
  • Lacks many features of Mail

As a Mac owner, chances are you use OS X's Mail application to get your emails. But just as the open-source Firefox has features that can tempt you away from Safari, so the latest version of its cousin, Thunderbird, might tempt a Mail user.

Version 3 has a new interface, with the same brushed-metal look and support for tabbed windows that Firefox has. These tabs can display not just email messages, but folders, searches and even web pages.

An archiving function helps to declutter your inbox, while an improved search function lets you find email messages easily. There are now smart mailbox features to unite your inboxes, and improved Gmail support, so Gmail's special folders are understood correctly.

Address Book handling is also improved so Snow Leopard's contacts can be used, and Spotlight can now search messages.

While it offers advanced features that enable greater fine-tuning of settings than Mail, Thunderbird's biggest selling point is its expandability. It supports hundreds of extensions including calendars, antispam, themes and encryption. Thunderbird can also run off a USB stick.

Compared to version 2, Thunderbird 3 is slower and a little uglier. It also lacks many of Mail's features, including MobileMe, iPhone account syncing and Exchange support. But it is a good alternative for power and mobile users looking for a wider range of possibilities.

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