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Women in Tech

Thunderbird Lets You Fly Through Your Email

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 12, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Thunderbird by Mozilla is available for free.

Thunderbird Lets You Fly Through Your Email


Mail clients have lost their luster in recent times. Between social media fulfilling the messaging needs of many people and webmail's growing popularity, desktop email apps are beginning to look passť.

Still, email clients have their adherents. I count myself among them. I like the idea of having all my email on my computer, not in someone's cloud where someone I don't know might peruse it.

Apple still packages a good native email client with all its Macs for free, which is why so many Mac users don't wander away from Apple Mail. It's always hard for any software maker to compete with free -- unless the software maker is the Mozilla Foundation.

For years now, Mozilla has been making Thunderbird, a free email client that's every bit as good Apple Mail and, to my mind, more intuitive.

Easy Set Up

Although Mozilla has pulled back on the resources it's allocating Thunderbird, it's still maintaining the client. In fact, two new updates were released in October.

Thunderbird, which can be downloaded from the Mozilla website, is easy to set up.

On launch, the app asks you if you want it to be the default client for email, news groups and RSS feeds. You can also allow Spotlight to search your messages. That can be very useful for including what's in Thunderbird in system-wide searches of your computer.

If you don't have an email account, Thunderbird offers to set one up for you with either or or both.

I chose to use my Gmail account with Thunderbird and an IMAP configuration. Since I have two-factor authentication enabled on Google, I had to create a new password for the mail client to access my account. That accomplished, Thunderbird connected to my Gmail account very smoothly.

Easy Installation

Using Thunderbird can be equally smooth. For instance, pulling out a message for a better view of it or to return to it later is easy with tabbed email. It works like tabs in a browser. All you do is double click a message, and it will create its own tab instead of creating a new window for itself.

Creating new contacts from a message is slick, too. Thunderbird recognizes email addresses in header fields and stars them. By clicking the star, you can create an address book entry based on an email address from within the message.

While it's believed that social media will be the death of email, Thunderbird embraces social media by letting you participate in real-time chat sessions at Facebook, Twitter, IRC and other chat services from directly in the app. Better yet, because Thunderbird treats the chats like email conversations, they're searchable.

Like a browser, Thunderbird supports add-on programs. These little gems can add all kinds of capabilities to the email client. You can add an additional pane to the apps's interface that gives you fast access to the contacts in your address book, for instance, or schedule a time for an email to be sent.

Powerful Filters and Searching

Thunderbird also has a number of ways to take the strain out of eyeballing email. For example, it has Smart Folders. These folders are really useful if you're working with multiple email accounts. So if you have Google, Apple, Microsoft and ISP accounts feeding into Thunderbird, all the email in the in-boxes for all the account can be viewed in the smart in-box.

Apple Mail allows you to filter messages, but Thunderbird's filter setup seems more direct to me. You choose message filter from a toolbar menu, pick the account for the filter and create it.

Fast filtering of the messages in a folder can be done from the Quick Filter bar above the message header pane. With it, you can swiftly see all the unread messages in your in-box or in a folder, all starred messages, messages only from people in your address book, tagged messages, or messages with attachments.

Search is also well supported in Thunderbird. Web searches can be performed directly from inside the app. In addition, all messages, feeds and chats are indexed by the software so you can find items you need very fast.

Search results are displayed in a tab, which makes it easier to check out a message referenced in the results and returning to the results when you're done. You can even display a timeline of the messages in the results.

As good as Apple Mail is, Thunderbird is better. It's one of the few alternatives to Apple's native app that can compete with it on both price and performance.

Freeware Spotlight

The Unarchiver by Dag Agren is available from the Mac App Store for free.

The Unarchiver

If you work with a variety of compressed formats, The Unarchiver can make the task of getting at those files easier. The free app available from the Mac App Store lets you extract files created for some 60 formats.

Those formats include Zip, RAR, Stuffit, BinHex, MacBinary, Tar, Unix, CAB, DiskDoubler, Windows Self-Extracting files, NSA and an assortment of Amiga formats. Formats associated with the app can be turned off and on by clicking a checkbox beside each in the software's preferences.

Some extraction options are also available from Preferences. You can choose the default location for the extracted files and whether or not to put them in a new folder. You can also choose how that folder is dated and what to do after the extraction is completed -- open the new folder, trash the archive or both.

Opening an archive is as simple as choosing it from the app's file menu on the Apple bar, identifying where you want its files deposited after unarchiving -- desktop, folder where the archive is located or pick a place -- and clicking the Unarchive button.

The Unarchiver is designed to fulfill all your unarchiving needs. It easily does that for me. It will likely be able to do that for you, too.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.

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