I decided recently to give a new mail client a whirl. Evolution, while an excellent client, appears to be a bit clunky with IMAP. I specifically have all of my mail go through GMail, and I access with IMAP. Evolution seems to be a bit slow when doing this. I had heard about the new IMAP speed enhancements in the Thunderbird 3, Beta so I figured I would give it a go.

Traditionally, I have not stuck with Thunderbird. I used to use it years ago, but I have got used to the integration niceties that Evolution gives me. I like that Evolution integrates into my desktop, gives me a nice panel applet, hooks into Tom Boy and my clock applet and other things. Right now Thunderbird still feels like an application that merely runs on top of the desktop as opposed to integrating into it. Thunderbird 3 is better with regards to this, but still has a way to go. So, I installed Thunderbird 3, installed the Tango theme Add In (to get as much integration as I can), adjusted my fonts to the same as Evolution and started trucking.

So far, it seems like a really nice client. Thunderbird offers some incredible opportunity. Messaging is a critical part of everyone’s use of computers, and Thunderbird has the opportunity to become a household name in this very area. It would be incredible to have a cross platform, native messaging application that talks to the different types of mail protocols and hooks into webmail services such as GMail. Fortunately, Thunderbird provides the guts of this approach: its IMAP and POP works well, and setting up GMail POP or IMAP access is a breeze.

There was however one snag with GMail IMAP access. Today Thunderbird threw the following dialog box at me:

Alert Dialog: Lockdown In Sector 4 (Failure)

This message is completely meaningless. Whoever is responsible for the error, Thunderbird or Google, should consider how on earth a regular user such as myself is going to interpret that message. It sounds like something from Doom III. After a bit of Googling it turns out that this error means that I have been locked out of GMail for up to 24 hours when it detects excessive traffic. This is strange for two reasons. Firstly, I have not been using excessive traffic: in fact, my email traffic dropped last week with UDS going on. Secondly, when I log into GMail via the web interface, everything works fine. So, it seems GMail is blocking access to Thunderbird. Arse.

I have never seen this when accessing GMail via Evolution. Maybe the Thunderbird folks should check into seeing if the client is hammering GMail too hard?

Overall, Thunderbird shows incredible promise, and as I said earlier, it contains pretty much all of the core functionality that I would need (of course, Windows fans will need Exchange support, and I am not sure of the progress on that). Where I would like to see Mozilla Messaging spend their time is on focusing on the integration side of the client and the user interface. In terms of integration we should see Thunderbird neatly fit into the desktop, taking on the resident theme, menu icons, accessibility, font settings, dialog button ordering, MIME types, and also have an unobtrusive panel applet for notifications (the current huge notification is ugly).

It would also be useful for Mozilla Messaging to spend some time on interaction testing. Some of the development work going into the exptoolbar is looking interesting, but I would love to see an assessment of how people work with mail, how approaches to messaging vary and how Thunderbird can capitalise on this.

Thunderbird offers an incredible opportunity for a client that feels native, effective and matches a variety of workflow approaches, making the most of Operating System integration and a consistent messaging platform. Keep us all updated Mozilla folks. :)

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