Thunderbird or Outlook for Email?

Chris | Live Tech Support | Video Help | Add to iTunes – I have been using Outlook since it came out in 1998. Until recently, I wouldn’t have recommended using Thunderbird, but that has changed. Both are good clients, but it depends on what exactly you’re looking for, and your preferences are.

The first email client I ever used was VMS. After that came Elm (via Unix), Eudora, Pegasus, and finally Outlook Express. When Microsoft Outlook became available in 1998, I switched to that, and have used it ever since. I currently run Outlook 2007 on Microsoft Exchange 2003 .

racedude from our live chat channel asked me today which email client he should be using… Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. He says that he doesn’t use any of the features that come with Outlook, he just reads email with it. Until recently, I wouldn’t recommend Thunderbid, as it seemed to have been left behind while Firefox was developed further. However, Mozilla has recently begun updating Thunderbird, and it’s a pretty good email client now.

Both programs will do essentially the same thing. Take a look at the features and previews of each, and see which better fit your needs and lifestyle.

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24 thoughts on “Thunderbird or Outlook for Email?”

  1. Once again, your timing is perfect. I’ve been debating Outlook vs. Thunderbird with myself for the last couple of weeks. I seem to keep going back and forth. Currently, I’m using both and I still can’t decide!

    I’m hoping that a lively debate will develop here. I’d love to hear the pros and the cons from both camps.


  2. Funny, I started on VMS as well, then to pine (UNIX), then to Microsoft Exchange, then Calypso Mail (which I used for a very long time, my parents still use it and love it), and now I’m back to using Pine and SquirrelMail ;-)

    Calypso Mail is now called Courier and is a great program still.

  3. I use thunderbird, because my servers run imap over SSL.

    more importantly, thunderbird has a plugin called Enigmail, that lets me do GnuPG/PGP encryption.

    as well, with the ‘gprovider’ and lightning plugins, i have read/write access to my google calendar from inside thunderbird

    but, the real reason i switched, is due to my volume of email.
    when i used to start outlook 2004 with my 5 accounts, and 1000+ emails a day, outlook would hardlock for about 3 minutes every time i did my morning send/receive

  4. As someone who was recently deciding on such a decision, I personally recommend Windows Live Mail, which you mentioned. The main reasons I switched from Thunderbird to WLM wes largely because of UI issues I had in Thunderbird and various other things as well.

    I did a Top 10 annoyances list of each on my blog:

    Top 10 Annoyances in Thunderbird:

    Top 10 Annoyances in Windows Live Mail:

    As I said before, I ultimately chose Windows Live Mail as it largely fit my needs much better than Thunderbird … that and the UI is much nicer.


  5. I had been using Thunderbird for a long time (probably even before the 1.0 release) and always recommended it to anyone looking for a free email client.

    Recently though I decided to try using GMail and I still haven’t gone back.

    Some of the reasons I prefer GMail over Thunderbird (or Outlook for that matter, which I still use for a work account):

    1. Spam filter – Gmail’s spam filter is way, way better than Thunderbird’s. About half of all the spam I get was sneaking through Thunderbird’s filter. With Gmail one gets through every couple days, if that. If you’re running separate filters that meet your needs this might not be an issue.

    2. Access from multiple locations – Thunderbird recently just got much better in this department. They now allow you to leave messages on the server until you delete them… not just until they are moved out of the inbox. Still though, I end up having multiple copies of things saved on different machines. With Gmail, obviously everything is in one place. Again, if you have a different setup (IMAP, etc) this might not be an issue either.

    3. Labels – After using folders for organization for so long, it took a few days to get the hang of labels, but now I’m hooked. Just the fact that I can give a single email multiple labels (ie, putting it in two different folders) makes this feature indispensible.

    4. Conversations – The way GMail handles “conversations” (multiple replies to the same email) is much more intuitive than Thunderbird. The idea is basically the same, but the way GMail handles it, just works better for me.

    There are few things I don’t like about GMail, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. A few minor annoyances:

    – The address book kinda sucks. Hopefully they’ll be fixing this someday.
    – Support for HTML emails isn’t as good as Thunderbird (but it’s way better than Outlook 2007)
    – Space limits – I’m currently only using 15MB of my almost 3GB available, but *someday* I’ll probably reach that limit. Then again maybe they’ll go unlimited by then.

  6. SC_Thor…your problem with running Outlook 2004 may have had something to do with the fact that Microsoft never produced an Outlook 2004. :)

  7. I’ve been using Thunderbird since…about version 1.02, I think. It’s been a long enough time that I can’t remember. (I’ve also been using Firefox since it was Phoenix 0.7, but that’s another story.) I used to just use Hotmail, but then I got my first ISP account, and I started using that. At some point I ended up with Eudora for a while, but when I tried Thunderbird I was hooked. Someone in a previous comment said that Thunderbird’s spam filtering isn’t very good, but I think that it’s more the ingenuity of spammers that defeats it; the occasional bit of spam comes through from Gmail (I use their POP3 server), but virtually all of my spam comes from my old ISP account, which has no filtering at all, and the content/subject is constantly changing so the filter can’t keep up. Overall, it’s a great program, and I’ll continue using it.

  8. Chris:
    I like your show and your clear communications.

    I use the following combination to good effect:

    Time & Chaos (since 1996)/ Thunderbird (since 2004), MailWasher Pro, Firefox (since 2004).

    T&C is an excellent Personal Information Manager, that had calendars, day schedules, ToDo lists and Phone lists well integrated and fully operational, at least ten years ago.

    My e-mail use grew out of early pre-internet systems. When the Net arrive, I dabbled with AOL. Then I moved to the Netscape browser/e-mail suites, which eventually gave way to Mozilla browser/ e-mail suites (I think the last one I used was MZ 1.7.1).

    Then in 2004 I standardized on TB and FF, while keeping up my use of T&C.

    Thunderbird has great features such as message filtering and there are some outstanding add-ons. I would like to see closer integration between TB and T&C. That would be a killer combination.

    I have no need to try MS Outlook, having been a captive client of Windows and MSOffice, forever. I have had quite enough of Microsoft marketing of inferior products to do me a lifetime.

  9. I used outlook (not express) for some years for my mailing needs. I liked it (even though I knew about all the security holes). Some day a couple of years ago I started to lose emails. 5 mails on server, 5 downloaded, 2 in my inbox! After search I found in forums that it happens if .pst size was over 4GB (it wasn’t but why put up with a limit anyway).

    So I switched to thunderbird, imported all my emails there, deleted them from outlook and outlook became fast and responsive again!

    It is safe, fast, free, has no limits whatsoever and there is a version for linux too (just in case). And it is customizable with plugins.

  10. I’ve been using Thunderbird both at home and at work for years. Mail filtering is much easier in Thunderbird than in Outlook Express (since I have to set up filtering for users at work that are using OE). The available extensions are super. 2.0 added message tags and “unread folders” folder view. Lets me handle large volume of mail quickly and efficiently.

  11. I use thunderbird as I can use the address book in both my Linux machines and in Windows. Makes it great that I don’t have to work with two different data bases of contacts when I switch OS’s and I need both as I have proprietary Windows software in my business and perfer Linux for its stability, resistance to viri and low price.

  12. I was using outlook express for many years one of the reasons was its ability to download hotmail. Now that I can download webmail in thunderbird with its webmail plugin I prefer Thunderbird as it has many plugins search as duplicate mail remover etc. So I do not need a lot of diffrent applications for diffrent things and I can pick and choose what options I want in my email client.

  13. I started out using pine and then went to Calypso (Now Courier) and stayed with it for several years. I had to switch a few years ago because I needed SSL which courier does not support. I switched to Thunderbird and it does everything I need to do. I use it with Linux and Windows and have it on all of my computers. I can move the same profile from one computer to another. It is a great program.

  14. Chris – I just listened to your email client discussion. I use BOTH Thunderbird and Eudora (one for legal work, away from the fun stuff). Mozilla DOES have a calendar client – Lightning, which is as a stand-alone version, called Sunbird. Because I have a Palm Treo, I don’t need the Lightning Calendar add-on, but I’ve gotten my other attorney to switch from Outlook to Thunderbird with the Lightning Calendar and he hasn’t looked back since. Thanks for your show, been watching/listening to you for years!

    Kellie D. Morgantini

  15. My first e-mail client was also running on VMS.
    The I switched ti ccmail and now we are running Lotus Notes.
    I also used elm and Thunderbird.

    I prefer Lotus Notes for it’s additional functionality.

  16. Thunderbird is easier and its easy to learn the features, you can set thunderbird to automatically check your mail. And there are many plugins for it so it has more features. You dont have to click send and receive every time you have sent e-mails. Thunderbird has the best SPAM filter.

    Outlook has many features you probably never use. Outlook costs money.

  17. This discussion is interesting.
    My PC at the office has dual boot, XP and OSX, I had the problem that I was using Outlook Express for mails and when I was using the OSX I couldn’t check my e-mails. So I decided to make a shared HDD that both XP and OSX can access and put my e-mails there. Since there is no Outlook for OSX I decided to use Thuntherbird. It’s working well and I’m happy wtih it.

    Now at home I have been using Outlook Express. Right now I have 4 accounts. Hotmail, Gmail, Gmail(another one), and Yahoo . It was working well but one day I decided to try the new Windows Live, specially because Microsoft said that they are going to unsupported Outlook Express access to Hotmail.
    Live when it works works great but frequently has some weird crashes that makes the PC instable and I have to reset it pressing the Reset button. Thinking on going back to Outlook Express but whinking about Thuntherbird too. How good it would be using it with those mails?

  18. I always used Outlook until recently. I think about switching to another mail client. There are many reasons for that. After I had removed an account some emails were moved back to the server and some remained in the mail client. Even emails which wasn’t associated with that account. The question is why? Another issue: The access to my mailbox was often blocked. After some investigation it came out that Outlook had sent the old password which had been saved in options and after 3 wrong password inputs the account had been blocked. The problem was that I cannot figure it out as a user because Outlook displayed the password input dialog after each start without any errors/warnings. Again the question is why you display it? If you cannot login, show me the message which describes the problem somehow, e.g. “Cannot login with the saved password”. There were also some synchronization issues with emails. My opinion about Outlook: probably the most used mail client with many features, but not stable and not user friendly.

  19. Thunderbird offers a much greater degree of control and flexibility. I LOVE Microsoft products, and for years I was 100% loyal to Outlook, but Microsoft keeps REMOVING a lot of the great features that made their products so useful. MS calls it an “improvement” but they’ve “improved” Outlook so much that I won’t even touch it now. Thunderbird lets YOU select which add-ons and features YOU want to keep. Thunderbird is so awesome, like the way Outlook used to be a long time ago.

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