What exactly is this "Thunderbird" thing?

FAQs about Mozilla Thunderbird

Here we take a good look at "What is Thunderbird?" and answer some of your most Frequently Asked Questions...

Q: What is Thunderbird?
A: It's free software similar to Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express.

Thunderbird is also a great replacement for Qualcomm Eudora and many other commercially available email clients, too.

Q: What's the big deal? Outlook / Outlook Express works fine!
A: While Microsoft's most popular email clients are "fine" for many people, we don't recommend them. Outlook in particular has a poor security record.

Historically, running Outlook alone is a case for antivirus software.

It's been called, "the most efficient virus code ever devised," and despite Microsoft's efforts to patch the software and to keep it secure, most users--especially home PC users--generally do a poor job of keeping their software like Outlook patched and updated, which means it's a great way for viruses to infect your PC. A big part of the answer is just to be vigilant about keeping Outlook (and the rest of your installed software) patched.

Updating Outlook happens at: Microsoft Office Update, which is a different place from where the rest of the Microsoft software, like Internet Explorer, gets updated which is done at: Microsoft Update.

What's more, if you use the Windows Update tool built into Internet Explorer and into Windows it does not update Outlook!

As a result, Outlook is often left insecure and prone to viruses, and all it takes in some cases is to just receive an email--you don't even have to open it or click a link[!] for your computer to be infected.

Then, in some cases, Outlook viruses:
  • read your entire address book
  • compose emails to everyone in it
  • send emails on your behalf to all your contacts, friends, family, co-workers, vendors, employees... you name it.
Presto! They, too, get the virus you have if they're also running unpatched versions of Outlook.

Worst of all, though, the emails are sent as you, so everyone "trusts" emails from their friends, and the virus spreads unabated.

Q: Why do so many people think Thunderbird is safer?
A: No software can be guaranteed totally 100% safe, but even so, given how well documented the Outlook security problems are, and its infamous track record as an attack vector for spreading viruses, we urge people to move away from it as much as we encourage people to move away from Internet Explorer, too.

Further plaguing Outlook's security is that in many versions it relies heavily on Internet Explorer, where older versions in particular have never been known for high security.

Q: So if I use Thunderbird, does this mean I don't need antivirus software
A: Hardly. Switching to Thunderbird, in our opinion, just makes you a harder target, but Thunderbird alone isn't a panacea. It does mean that a lot of the ways of getting a virus that work in Outlook just won't work in Thunderbird, which is great, but running good antivirus software is still very much a necessity.

Does Thunderbird stop spam?
A: Indeed it does. Thunderbird has really great anti-spam, anti-scam, and anti-phishing technology built in.

And, because of the fact that it uses its own HTML rendering engine and doesn't rely on Internet Explorer, that also means it's less likely to be a way viruses sneak onto your computer.

It also has a "training" mode, which we love, where you can "teach" Thunderbird which of your messages are spam that have gotten by it, so it can learn to be even more effective at combatting spam. The same works with legitimate emails, too: you tell it which ones are legit, and it learns and stops marking them as spam.

We were really impressed when we first tried it; we think you'll like it, too.

(As you can see these are protective things built into Thunderbird, but it's definitely not antivirus software in its own right.)

Q: How much does Thunderbird cost?
A: It's free. No, really. It's free.

Not only is it free, it's also "open source." This means programmers and others who're interested in seeing the actual programming code that makes Thunderbird work are encouraged to download the actual innards and see them in action and to contribute code back for consideration in newer versions of Thunderbird.

This model of software development, often referred to as F/OSS (Free/Open Source Software) is new to many people but is catching on fast.

Many people believe you actually quite often get higher quality software with F/OSS software like Thunderbird, because more people can look at the source code and evaluate how it works.

In many cases, this leads to people all across the world discovering bugs and other problems in the software and helping to notify the programmers and/or to actually fix the problem themselves.

Q: OK, it's free. I get it. How does Thunderbird make money though?
A: Many F/OSS projects aren't interested in making a profit. Think of them as pure non-profit agencies working towards the greater good.

Thunderbird relies on donations of members and also a revenue sharing arrangement with Google that allows Mozilla Firefox to get a portion of proceeds Google earns from its advertisers when they access Google's advertiser links using the search box built into Firefox.

Since Firefox and Thunderbird are both distributed by Mozilla, Thunderbird is under the umbrella of this agreement and benefits from it, too.

Q: How long has Thunderbird been around? You sure this isn't some newfangled whatchamacallit?
Thunderbird 1.0 was released on December 7, 2004, and has grown in popularity since then, having been downloaded more than 75,000,000 times worldwide since then.

Q: Alright, I'd like to try this Thunderbird thing. Now what?
Simple. Here's a link: Download Thunderbird

Q: How 'bout some more free software?
A: Well, if you're taking a look at Thunderbird, you may also want to Download Firefox, which we also really recommend. Firefox has been distributed since day one by the same well-regarded community that's responsible for Firefox; we like it and think you will, too.

Q: What if I want to go back to Outlook or Outlook Express?
A: Piece o' cake. Thunderbird is just like any other software you install in Microsoft Windows: if you don't like it, don't use it!

Alternately, you can also uninstall it by going to:
Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs.