It’s a hard to solve. Hopefully we can put behind the quest for the ‘perfect desktop’ and start building tools for the free digital citizens again.
As I wrote on G+, I never liked Thunderbird. There is no email client today that I like: they’re all based on very old concepts developed at the time when people had to deal with few messages per week. The only innovation I’ve seen in email came from Google’s Gmail, with the convenient conversation view and with the great integration of chat and addressbook with Circles. Gmail is not the email client I use: I never bought into that sort of convenience. I always wished that somebody would develop a new, modern, email client for my desktop.
With Thunderbird at its sunset and GNOME Evolution its only viable substitute, I’m starting to despair. I have some hopes on Geary, Yorba Foundation’s new email client.
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I’ve talked about this often, including developers of GNOME Evolution and Thunderbird because I felt that both groups are missing an opportunity. The address book is one of the most important features of an email client as it can enrich the reading and writing experience. The list of people you have in there can be used to sort out priorities for reading your mail. For example, the client could automatically sort messages from family and put them up in the queue when you read email in the early morning while email from colleagues are demoted to low priority until you have your coffee. The address book could also fetch information about your contacts from the web and show you what that person on that mailing list has been up to lately.
I realized today that Google has finally started leveraging the address book on Gmail adding the “people widget” to the conversation view. Imagine you’re reading a discussion in your inbox: the widget shows the information you have about them in the address book, their recent activity with them and more. I think it’s awesome use of your original social network. Too bad you have to surrender your list of friends, colleagues, family etc to Google in order to use this feature.
Hopefully Thunderbird and GNOME Evolution developers will invest more energy into making the address book more meaningful than just a place to dump data in.
Thunderbird Contacts lets you pull in your “web contacts” from sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. It also lets you connect to your mail contacts inside of Yahoo or GMail. As each contact is extracted from a site, the Contacts add-on tries to merge the contacts from different sites together into a single contact on your system.
Search and indexing: Thunderbird 3 indexing is fast and very good. The interface for searching and drilling your mailbox is fantastic, very well done and fast. Check the screenshot.
Tabs: I like to be able to read messages in different tabs. Lightning calendar and tasks conveniently open in a tab and it’s also possible to run Google Wave in one. This shows the power under the hood of this client: it has the potential to become a messaging hub for all services. It’s annoying that Addressbook and compose new mail open in a new window instead of tab though.
Add-ons: just like Firefox, there are many ways to add functionalities to Thunderbird. The first add-on I installed is Funambol in order to test it and help its development. Then ThunderBrowse, in order to avoid opening Firefox only to check a link in an email and EnigMail to add GPG/PGP support. Nothing mind-blowing yet, but I hope somebody will develop a replacement of the Addressbook with more ‘social’ features. A topic for another post 🙂
Bonus reason: finally! There is an “Archive” button: once you’re done with a message or a thread, and you don’t want to delete it, you hit a button and the message goes into the archives (archiving criteria can be specified). A neat solution for Capo’s problem 🙂
The Addressbook, on the other hand, is pretty lame. It doesn’t contain enough fields, it still has space of a ‘pager number’ (anybody still using them?), it opens in a window and not in a tab. I hope it’ll improve in next version.
I’m still using Evolution as my main source of data, especially address book and calendar. Even if Funambol add-on for Thunderbird 3 works decently, it’s still unstable and it has other small issues (if you want to help, Funambol offers Code Sniper grants).
What is really annoying me though is the separation of all web activities from the files on the disk. Is an email related to a project and a client?’ Why are bookmarks and web pages so difficult to retrace? I would like to find such information grouped in the project folder, available on my disk, tagged properly. I don’t like Google’s idea to move everything online and keep my files there, out of my hands and off my disks.
I look forward to see the new Mozilla Thunderbird. They seem to start on the right foot: it’s not just an email, it’s messaging.
The name Mozilla Messaging is supposed to indicate that it’s focusing on the Internet messaging and communications space as a whole, not just e-mail.
My hope is that within a short time frame Thunderbird will innovate messaging as much as Firefox did in the browser world.