My Thunderbird Impressions

I have been a long time user of Outlook Express to browse and answer IIS newsgroup posts.

To be clear, that is about all I use Outlook Express for. And I run Outlook Express in a pretty locked down and minimalist fashion:

  • I login as unprivileged and non-admin user
  • The Internet Zone is hand locked down
  • All messages are plain text - no HTML, auto-loading of images, scripts, always use my fonts, etc
  • I do not even auto-preview the messages and have to manually press <space> to load/view messages based on message header interest

I know, I know, I am probably the "weirdo" 1% of the classic user persona population that uses software the way s/he works, not the way the software expects. Tough. 😛

So, I decided to give Mozilla Thunderbird a try. After all, I had a lot of fun using Mozilla FireFox recently and love the fact that I can xcopy my user settings, including cookie and cache directory, from one computer to another by simply copying a directory tree. That is the one killer feature for me because now I can easily rebuild and test beta OSes without losing my settings. But I digress from the topic of Thunderbird...

I admit that I may be a neophyte at using Thunderbird functionality, but after a couple of days using it (and looking through all its options) to perform my dedicated task of browsing and answering IIS newsgroup posts, I remain unimpressed. At this time, I simply cannot do my task of monitoring a newsgroup within Thunderbird more effectively than Outlook Express.

Now, before people knee-jerk and go jumping all over me for not giving glowing reviews of Thunderbird (I remember you crazy zealots from my recent Security discussion involving Apache and IIS that kept dragging things off-topic), remember that I am NOT saying that Thunderbird is inferior in quality, has less whiz-bang features, or is less secure than Outlook Express. Honestly, I like the general feature set that I see in Thunderbird, I love the rules/filter engine (I use it extensively in Outlook and Thunderbird is similar), and I recognize where it gives those extra little creature comforts that I have come to like (for example, quote/signature location relative to reply, offline newsgroups), and there is a simple RSS reader to boot.

In other words, I am really trying to figure out how to effectively do in Thunderbird what I currently do easily in Outlook Express. Maybe I am using it all wrong to do what I want to do; I would love to hear comments on how to do the following effectively.

The key tasks that I must perform with the aid of a newsgroup reader are:

  1. Identify newsgroup threads where I participated with a post
  2. Identify any new posts to newsgroup threads that I participated in
  3. Identify newsgroup thread with any new posts specifically in response to a post I made
  4. Identify newsgroup threads that I want to watch but have not participated with a post

I think what makes my usage scenario different is that I do NOT use the newsgroup reader as a "consumer" of information. I do not use the reader to search, filter, or otherwise aggregate information from the mountains of posts. Instead, I use the newsgroup reader as a communications assistant to help me "produce" and manage information that I have produced.

In other words, I do not initiate nor post questions; I only post answers in response to user questions. As a person that monitors newsgroups, it is very important for me to identify which threads I have participated in, whether there is any new activity (posts) on those threads, and ideally, whether anyone directly replied to my response so that I should reply back to them first. Only after taking care of answering existing threads do I even start to search/filter through my newsgroups of interest to look for new questions. And I basically go through this process a couple of different times throughout the day whenever I get at least a 30 minute block of time.

So for me, the killer feature in Outlook Express that is missing in Thunderbird is the "Ctrl-H" feature, whereby Outlook Express toggles the displayed messages based purely on whether I have participated in a given thread or not. This single feature allows me to:

  1. Quickly identify all newsgroup threads (in collapsed form) where I have responded at least somewhere
  2. If the collapsed thread is Bolded, that tells me that some new activity has happened to a thread I am involved in so I should pay attention
  3. However, it does NOT tell me whether the new activity is in direct response to my post or any other post in the thread. So, prioritization of threads to answer is not really satisfactory
  4. And of course, I toggle "Ctrl-H" to switch to display all threads and then simply start marking and answering threads I am interested in

At this point in time, I simply do not know how to effectively accomplish these tasks in Thunderbird. Alrighty, now you all know what I am looking for and where I stand on things... 😉


Comments (10)

  1. Leuze says:

    I switched from Outlook Express to thunderbird cause one day starting OE i got an error that my mail-archive is corrupt. I installed Thunderbird and i tried to import my OE archive … and it worked. Since that day i use thunderbird for mailing and i don’t miss a feature.

    I’m not using thunderbird for reading news.

  2. Sergio Pereira says:

    OK, people already started taking the discussion to the wrong direction. It didn’t take long, did it?

    So, trying to add to the discussion, I do not think your usage of newsgroups is all that different than most people. I don’t think there are many people out there that just open the newsreader and start "looking for news", you know? 🙂

    I have also tried to use thunderbird as a newsreader and had the same impression you had. Very hard to manage my threads of interest. Maybe I’m also using it the wrong way. In this case, the "right way" should be clearer to the average Joe like me.

  3. David Wang says:

    Leuze – it’s great that you switched, but I was talking about the news reader aspect and not your conversion experience. Just remember that Thunderbird also has to keep your email archive in some internal format, and what happens when it gets "corrupted"? Importers always run a little fast-and-loose with your data so they have a chance to succeed.


  4. David Wang says:

    Sergio – yeah, I expected the thread to diverge, much like my other posts involving GMail or Security where people just miss my point and start down the expected tirade.

    I was just looking at the design and features of Thunderbird, and it seems far better suited as a email client and searching/filtering/categorizing email already sent to you. It does not seem to be good at newsgroup thread management at all.

    And as I was pointing out, it could be just a single feature that makes the difference between Thunderbird being extremely useful as a news reader… and until the feature comes along, I will be sticking with my archane usage pattern in Outlook Express. 🙂


  5. Jack says:

    i try thunderbird as email client…didn’t work for me. i like Outlook Express better but my favor email client is Outlook.

    i didn’t try newsgroup…maybe i should reinstall thunderbird and try it out for newsgroup reading.

  6. David,

    I actually prefer the online MS newsgroup reader. You can request to be notified of responses via email, and it remembers "where you were".

    Here’s a sample link to the C# language group:

  7. David Wang says:

    Peter – Hmm, that is an interesting web based reader. I just hate the fact it requires me to run an ActiveX control for functionality.

    On the contrary, I like the google news reader because it is just plain text, though threading is still bad so I can only browse and not effective manage my news presence.

    I guess I am a little afraid of threading by email notifications. I get a daily deluge of email as it stands. 🙂


  8. Becky says:

    Just stumbled across your page and I am a bit late to the responses. But I have to say I completely agree with your thoughts about Thunderbird as a newsreader.

    I too am a long term user of OE6 for newsgroups. I can click on the spectacles beside a post to watch that thread. If I click on specs at the top, it will group all watched messages together at the top above new threads. This is the way that works best for me but Thunderbird is severely lacking in watched thread functionality. Yes I could mark something as being watched then I change the display order to look at watched only, but its cumbersome compared to OE.

    I have requested improvement to the watched thread functionality in the Thunderbird mozilla forums for a long time now but I guess it is a low priority thing.

  9. Lardy says:

    Thunderbird can display message threads together.

  10. Joe says:

    Mail in windows 7 is deplorable. Why don’t MS get with it and just make a patch for outlook so people can use Outlook as bundled in the Office xp programs with thier new windows 7. This would make everyone happy. I suppose a small fee would also be acceptable but buying another outlook program makes little sense and just angers customers against Microsoft.


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