Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Why Thunderbird is better than OE

You may have heard that despite reports earlier in the week, Microsoft will still develop Outlook Express after all. But unless Microsoft pull off something truly remarkable, I’m not going to switch back from my beloved Mozilla Thunderbird. And what’s more, I’ve given you a list of reasons why I’m not switching, in no particular order :).

  1. Themes – bored of the normal look? Change it. 10 themes are already available and it’s only at version 0.1
  2. Extensions – add on extra features without using shell hooks (like OEQuoteFix uses).
  3. Junk Mail filtering – considering OE is the world’s most popular mail client, I’m suprised this isn’t already in. But it isn’t. Thunderbird uses Bayesian filtering which is one of the best forms.
  4. Better message filtering – much more powerful than the rather basic filtering in OE, and easier to use too! Great for adding a filter to mark out mail that SpamAssasin thinks is spam, since you can specify custom header matching.
  5. Not full of security bugs – I can open an email infected with Klez and know that I won’t be automatically infected. And not a security patch in sight.
  6. HTML Sanitization – you can either view HTML messages in their full glory, or with things like images and CSS removed so that your address cannot be tracked as easily. You can even view them all as plain text.
  7. Sanitization for Junk Mail – if you like pretty messages but still want privacy, you can enable sanitization only for emails marked as junk.
  8. Cross platform – you probably could run OE in Wine on Linux, but this baby runs natively on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. And it’s already being ported to all manner of other OSes.
  9. Text Zooming – it’s been nearly a year since I used OE properly so I can’t remember if it does this, but if IE is anything to go by, even if it did it wouldn’t do it properly. You can make text larger or smaller in all emails, whether they use CSS or not. Great if your aunty sends everything in 64pt fonts.
  10. Automatic folder compression – those DBX files can get awfully big in OE, even if you delete all your mail. Thunderbird can compress them automatically, rather than waiting for you to do it yourself.
  11. Javascript Console – I’ll but good money that OE will never have this feature.
  12. Three-pane vertical layout – Outlook has this, but OE does not. But Thunderbird does 🙂
  13. Customisable start page – Yes, you can change it in OE but only by going into the registry or using X-Setup (a blatent plug because I wrote that plug-in myself :)). Thunderbird has it on the opening tab of the Options dialog.
  14. On-screen alerts – You can have it pop up a message near the system tray when mail arrives. Handy that.
  15. Message labelling – Have important emails marked as red, or personal ones marked in green, although naturally you can change the colours easily. And you can set mail filters to do this automatically.
  16. Graphical emoticons – MSN Messenger has this, why doesn’t OE?
  17. Spellchecker – yes, OE has it but in some cases it’s buggy. And you can also change the language without buying a new OS.
  18. Doesn’t get hijacked – one of my ISPs decided to add an ‘Infobar’ to the bottom of OE once, taking of valuable screen real estate. And then there was the Hotmail advertising bar, and the ‘Outlook Express provided by…’. Yes, again X-Setup can fix those but how many users in the world have X-Setup? Probably about 0.1% or something.

I’ve probably missed many others, but that’s 18 features that I personally find useful that OE doesn’t have. Are you convinced yet? 😉

Added: meanwhile, there’s a guide for switching from OE to Thunderbird, complete with screenshots and very simple instructions. Check it out! 🙂


  1. better than OE

    Neil gives us 18 reasons Thunderbird is better than OE. I’d add one more to that list: 19. Open source, standards-based internet applications just rock!

  2. Actually OE doesn’t have a spellchecker, it just uses the MS Office one, so you’re out of luck if you use Open Office instead.

  3. Maybe the file size is a little too large for dial-up users like me… but still it’s better than OE!

  4. I tried Thunderbird just two days ago because of M$’s announcement on OE (trying to find a replacement), and found some drawbacks.
    1. No message rules (if message comes in with conditions, perform other actions ie. move to another folder and mark as read).
    2. No stale accounts (that are not logged onto during a sync) that could be used just because you want to have different sender infomation in the header.
    3. Preview panel must be viewable at all times.
    Yea, that’s it. I’ll definately review Thunderbird later, so don’t kill me for this. OE isn’t going to remain as my mail client forever. 🙂

  5. Hi, thanks for all the comments!
    I didn’t know about the spellchecking bit, but thanks :). That probably explains why it doesn’t work on my computer, since I too use OpenOffice. 🙂
    Message Filters are message rules. And they’re better than what OE offers.
    Don’t know about stale accounts, but yes, it appears the Preview Pane has to stay open. Although you could hide it in older builds, that functionality has been removed. Hopefully it’ll come back.

  6. Good article Neil. I tried to send you a trackback ping but it failed, still I wrote some additional comments on my site.
    Thunderbird message filters are handy, but need to be expanded. A “Delete from server” action would be good.

  7. Moving from Outlook Express to Thunderbird

    If you don’t know, Thunderbird is a stand-alone mail client, created as a redesign of the Mozilla mail component. I’m considering switching our office from using Outlook Express to Thunderbird,…

  8. Want an alternative to Outlook Express? Try Mozilla Thunderbird.

    Neil wrote an entry on Why Thunderbird is better than OE that got me thinking I should toss my own endorsement in for this fine alternative to Outlook Express. I’ve been using Thunderbird for quite awhile now and even though it’s still technically quit…

  9. Good list, but #5 is invalid. You can’t automatically get Klez (or any other virus) via Outlook Express. It was posssible to get a script based virus via Outlook, but never with Outlook Express. The reason may people get a virus via Outlook Express is that they are morons and open the attachements. Thunderbird, on the other hand, is used exclusively by the computer elite, who knows better.

  10. Exactly what is stopping some ISP to add ‘Thunderbird provided by …” or add a default sidebar or something like that?
    In fact, if Thunderbird becomes popular, that will happen.

  11. Again some good points, but I must take issue with them:
    5 – early versions of Outlook Express did have a security flaw whereby if a MIME header was encoded in an invalid way, it was possible for OE to run that attachment without the user’s permission. This was later ‘fixed’ via a patch, but still meant you were automatically asked if you wanted to run the attachment.
    18 – not much, I suppose, since Thunderbird is open source. However it will require modification of existing Thunderbird files (if I remember correctly), whereas with IE and OE you only have to run one file which usually also includes connection details for your ISP.
    The worst example was with (I think) Encyclopaedia Britannica on CD-ROM – after installation suddenly their web site was my homepage and everything was branded with their name. It wasn’t done by a browser hijacker, thankfully, so I could get rid of, but it was still annoying. With Thunderbird, and Firebird too, it’s much more difficult to do it to an existing installation, and it can be fixed without editing the registry too.

  12. Firebird and Thunderbird

    Firebird: Rapid Pace of Development for Mozilla Firebird From Internet Explorer to Firebird Mozilla Firebird Extensions The Burning Edge…

  13. Hooray for Thunderbird!!

    kadyellebee linked to a tutorial about how to convert from Outlook to Thunderbird. I decided to try it, and I am sold. My gripes with outlook and outlook express were all solved, and there are also marvelous new features. I…

  14. 1 – there are message rules. they are accessible via [tools]/[message filters]. The only caveat is that they are account specific.
    2 – Actually if you just add an account, and never have it check messages for that account it’ll never ask you for the password, and won’t check mail there. But it does appear in the folders pane, I’d like to be able to supress that.
    3 – technically yes, but you can drag it down to just the separator bar. Not that big a deal since it’s more secure than MS email clients.

  15. Re number 12, “Three-pane vertical layout – Outlook has this, but OE does not.” I have OE here with foldes on the left, current folder in the middle, preview pane on the right – isn’t that what you mean? View -> Layout… -> Preview Pane beside messages

  16. Why the heck you need all that stuff, if only function of e-mail program is to get and send mail? I hate unneeded features messing up everything.

  17. Thunderbird Rules

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  18. Not using Thunderbird?

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