BOOT CAMP 342 (07/09/04)


Time for a change, part 2


Last week we showed how changing your browser program can help to make your PC safer and turn web surfing a more enjoyable, productive and secure experience. In part two of this short series we’re going to show you how to switch to a different email program or ‘client’.


Microsoft Outlook Express has become the world’s most popular email program for three simple reasons: it is easy to use, it works very well and it is free. Unfortunately its popularity is its Achilles’ heel and it has become a conduit for most of the viruses, worms and ‘spam’ emails currently swamping the Internet.


Whilst it is possible to make OE reasonably safe by altering settings, downloading the latest security patches and fixes and being vigilant about opening unsolicited attachments it’s a never-ending battle as new ways to exploit loopholes in the program are exposed. I don’t see the situation changing anytime soon and the only long-term solution is to change to another email program.


There has never been any shortage of alternatives but for many long-term users that have grown up with OE, changing the email client can be a bit of a wrench and not something to be undertaken lightly. Until recently most OE replacements have involved some sort of compromise involving a loss of functionality or they have been difficult to use or worse still, you’ve had to pay for them but that’s no longer an excuse. The email client we’re about to suggest makes the transition almost effortless, there are no new tricks to learn and it is completely free.


Mozilla Thunderbird, as the name suggests, is from the same stable as the Mozilla and Firefox browsers featured in last week’s Boot Camp. In common with those browsers it is ‘Open Source’ and in a state of continual development by a large community of users with new features being added all the time. The basic program does everything that OE does, sending and receiving email from single or multiple accounts and accessing newsgroups. Like OE it also has a built in spellchecker, it uses powerful encryption so it is very safe, you can add signatures to your emails, choose a mail notification sound and there’s a similar set of message ‘Rules’ to direct mail to specific mailboxes or delete unwanted emails, but it goes much further.


Since most email viruses and worms are targeted at OE the chances of your PC catching an infection by accident or carelessness are greatly reduced. It has an effective ‘intelligent’ Junk Mail filter built in, it is highly customisable, it is easy to move your messages and settings to a new PC (see Tip of the Week) and as an added bonus Thunderbird can also be configured as an AOL email client. Additionally there are a growing number of free ‘extensions’ that add new and useful features such as the facility to zoom in on images, add a stock market ticker or a calendar utility.


Best of all you don’t have to start from scratch. Once Thunderbird is installed on your PC you can import all of your OE account settings, email folders, messages and newsgroups with just a few mouse clicks and if for any reason you don’t get on with it you can instantly revert back to OE.


You’ll find the Thunderbird download for Windows at:; you will also find links to versions for Linux and Mac OS systems. The Windows file is around 5.9Mb; it is also available on CD for a modest fee. There are no catches, it doesn’t contain any adware or spyware but if you like it and continue to use it you may want to make a small donation to help the developers, details are on the download page.


Once installed your first job should be to go to Import on the Tools menu and copy across your OE Address Book, Mail messages and Settings. You will be asked to re-enter your email passwords but apart from that the whole process is fully automated. You will find that most things work in exactly the same way as OE, such as sorting email messages by name, date and time etc., by clicking on the relevant column headings in your mailboxes. Messages can be moved around by dragging and dropping, there’s a similar set of options for replying to, forwarding, deleting, marking and copying emails by right-clicking on messages and the toolbar icons should all have a familiar look and feel to them. In short it’s a home from home for OE users.


The Spam filter is programmed with a basic set of rules for identifying unwanted messages but it will also ‘learn’ how to deal with new ones as and when they arrive by monitoring your actions -- right click on unwanted messages and mark them as ‘Junk’. The Junk Mail controls are on the Tools menu and you have the option to automatically move flagged messages to a folder for later scrutiny or simply delete them straight away.


The only significant OE feature not supported by Thunderbird is the is the ability to read webmail, including of course MS Hotmail but this is a very small price to pay. Who knows, if enough people make the move it could have an impact on the volume of viruses and spam we all have to deal with, unless of course it becomes a big enough target for hackers so get in quick, while it still works so well!    


Next week – Shareware and freeware





A set of conditions, set by the user that decides how email messages are processed. For example emails from a particular person or address might be routed to a separate folder, deleted or 'flagged' with an on-screen indicator



Displays current stockmarket prices in a horizontal window or bar



Email messages sent to and from web sites, bypassing the need for special email client software




Thunderbird uses a plain text format to store messages so they can be read using any text editor or word processor. This also means it is easier to move your emails to another PC, import them into another email program, or back into OE. Thunderbird email folders and settings are kept in a single folder, called a Profile. In Windows 9x (98/SE/ME) they are stored in:

C:\Windows\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\

In Windows XP they can be found in:

C:\Documents and Settings\<yourname>\ApplicationData\



If you want to know more about Thunderbird or have any unanswered questions there are two excellent FAQs at:



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