Review: Thunderbird 2.0 Beta 1 Adds New Look And Feel - InformationWeek
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Review: Thunderbird 2.0 Beta 1 Adds New Look And Feel

Mozilla's open source e-mail client tweaks the interface and adds features but doesn't lose its simplicity and usefulness.

Mozilla, the developer of the free Thunderbird e-mail client, has taken a good program and made it better with the release of the version 2.0 beta 1. It's rare that a beta release isn't buggy, clunky, and generally a mess -- especially when, as word has it, the developers are changing the code base -- but I was pleasantly surprised by its stability and the dearth of issues.

Luckily, Mozilla hasn't made the mistake of fixing what ain't broke. Thunderbird 2.0 will still include free extensions to add functionality and themes to change the look and feel at your whim. The spam filter still catches most spam before it clogs your inbox, and it still includes a terrific search function and built-in RSS. Mozilla also has made some welcome changes without breaking anything in the process, but there are features that could still use some work.

Thunderbird 2.0 Beta 1 boasts a new look, including redesigned toolbar icons.
Click image to enlarge.

I downloaded the installation program and installed without an issue. The install found all my mail, folders, and settings and imported them seamlessly into the new version without prompting. My Thunderbird 1.5 extensions and themes didn't have version 2.0 equivalents, but that's to be expected when the beta was only recently released.

There is a distinct difference in the look and feel of the application. Mozilla has updated the toolbar, brightened and changed the icons, and made the interface generally more pleasant and readable. For instance, the icon that lets you flag your e-mail messages is now a gold star, which is much more visible than the small red flag in the older version.

When mail arrives, the system tray utility not only informs you that there is new mail (as in previous versions) but also lists the first several e-mails. Unfortunately, it displays for such a short time, it's hard to read much beyond the first item or two, but the additional information lets you make an informed decision about whether or not to switch to your inbox. While you can customize how much detail you see in these alerts, you cannot affect the timing of the display, something that might be nice to add before final release.

In the in-box, you can place the cursor over any folder marked with new mail and you get a list of all the new e-mails inside, another handy new feature. Once inside the folder, you can see all new mail at a glance because of the nifty new-mail icon (an orange asterisk).

Warning Of Dangerous E-Mail
As in the previous version, Thunderbird warns you about e-mails with links to external images and those it considers possibly dangerous or false. As a result, it won't display images until you click a Show Images button. Thunderbird 2.0 enables you choose to always allow images in certain e-mails -- clicking a link opens the address book, which whitelists the e-mail. While this is a welcome change, it would have been faster if Thunderbird simply whitelisted the e-mail without opening the address book. It also would be nice if Mozilla could apply a similar principle to the mail it thinks is a possible scam, so that you can whitelist these as well.

In addition, Mozilla has expanded the Tag feature in this version, a long-overdue change. Instead of being limited to five default tags as in previous versions, you can create as many custom tags as you like, applying a different color to each one, then using the filter or sort features to organize tagged e-mail.

The RSS feature has been dressed up with new icons and the same ability to place the cursor over a feed and see the new items, but beyond that hasn't changed very much. The current system requires that you know how to access the Subscriptions dialog and makes you copy and paste the subscription link from Firefox into Thunderbird. Mozilla should provide a no-brainer subscription process that walks the user through the process of adding a new feed in 2.0.

And one small pet peeve: Thunderbird still doesn't provide the ability to create multiple signatures, a feature I miss from my Outlook Express days.

For the most part, as with previous versions, Thunderbird 2.0 Beta 1 continues to shine. While there's still plenty of work to be done, when you consider this is beta software, it's especially impressive and the new features make this free e-mail client even better.

Thunderbird 2 Beta 1
The Mozilla Project
Price: Free
Summary: Thunderbird was a great e-mail client to start with, and this new version includes improvements that make it even better.

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