Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Features in Outlook that I want in Thunderbird

Since I started full-time at the university I’ve been using Outlook 2003 as my email client while at work, since it’s the officially supported application by the IT department. I use Thunderbird at home, having done so for over 4 years, and though I like it I’ve found that some aspects of Outlook are just plain better.

The main feature is the email list display, which Outlook can do on two lines – sender and date one one line and the subject below. This is great on large resolution and widescreen displays like my MacBook as it allows you to have a narrow email list column and a wide message pane – with everything on one line in Thunderbird, the message pane gets squished to the side.

The group sort in the email list is also much better. When sorting by date, Thunderbird offers just 5 headings – ‘Today’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Last Week’ (which is a 5 day period after ‘yesterday’) ‘Two Weeks Ago’ and ‘Older Mail’. Outlook is much more flexible, with headings going back 3 weeks and emails from the previous five days sorted under separate headings, rather than a generic ‘Last week’. This makes it much easier to find an email if you can remember when it was sent.

Outlook is also able to remove line breaks in emails when displaying them in the reading pane. Normally emails are 72 characters in width, which carriage returns. But if your reading pane is narrow – which, for the aformentioned reason, it is quite narrow on Thunderbird – then without removing the carriage returns your emails look bizarre with the lines wrapped over. Having the line breaks removed makes the messages much easier to read.

There’s also the fact that Outlook natively supports Hotmail, whereas Thunderbird requires an extension, but as the extension works well and Hotmail is phasing out WebDAV access it’s not a big deal.

Thunderbird is much better than Outlook in a number of ways – it supports the IMAP IDLE extension for push email, for example, along with message threading, and the wealth of extensions is welcome. Shortly after I first started using Thunderbird, back in 2003, I even wrote a list of 18 reasons why it is better than Outlook Express. Though Microsoft has replaced OE with Windows Mail in Vista, and I haven’t honestly played with it much, as far as I know it still doesn’t have many of the features that Thunderbird has. But there are still some features of Outlook that I really wish were in Thunderbird.


  1. …Normally emails are 72 characters in width, which carriage returns….
    Thunderbird respects RFC and do that only when content-type is “flowed” . See for details.

  2. I agree with the line breaks request.
    I like to use thunderbird to access exchange over IMAP when I’m out of the office since outlook is so slow and I’m usually on a vpn over a mobile connection which is a bit sluggish anyway.