Mozilla, the open-source foundation behind the Firefox browser, is pulling resources from one of its other projects: Thunderbird, a popular e-mail client for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. It’s not “dead,” as some tech news sites have proclaimed, but it will remain pretty much the way it is now for the foreseeable future, with no major updates other than security and stability fixes. Thunderbird itself has always been the free alternative to Microsoft Outlook for people who just needed to pull mail from a POP or IMAP service. Though there’s nothing keeping fans from continuing to use Thunderbird, this change is a good opportunity to look at other options. Even users of Mac OS and Linux probably don’t want to use the included client if they’ve been using Thunderbird all this time.
• Windows Live Mail: When Microsoft left Outlook Express out of Windows Vista, lots of users were left without a mail client. Microsoft stepped up with Windows Live Mail, a shinier-looking replacement that you can download as part of Windows Live Essentials. Do yourself a favor and don’t ever install “Bing Bar,” as part of this or any other download. Windows only. windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-live/essentials-home
• Opera: A browser and a mail client in one, Opera is a hardened veteran of the browser wars. It’s survived with its tiny market share since 1994, becoming free in 2000. Now the built-in mail client uses “views” and “labels” instead of folders to organize mail, which can automatically learn where to place messages based on your actions. The spam filter and mailing list management learn as well. Like any good client, it has an offline mode so you can read messages you’ve already downloaded, but it also features a low bandwidth mode for when you’re stuck on a dodgy modem connection. Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris. www.opera.com
Those are the mainstream ones. They have the advantages of widespread use and files that are fairly simple to import and export between programs, so you can switch and still have all your old mail. Opera even guides you through it. With other, less common programs, that interoperability is hard to come by.
• Pegasus Mail: “The Internet’s longest-serving PC e-mail system,” according to its website, has been serving the world since 1990. It shows some of that age in its design; it shows windows within windows and lots of gray controls and buttons. Still, it has experience and does what it does well. Windows and, goodness, MS-DOS. www.pmail.com
• Sparrow: This ad-supported program takes some cues from the Gmail user interface, with conversations grouped together and stars for marking importance. It also can connect to Facebook for unified contact management and DropBox or CloudApp to make sending large attachments easy. Mac only. www.sparrowmailapp.com
There’s a bunch of other options, from IncrediMail, Foxmail, and DreamMail (which support IMAP either badly or not at all) to Alpine, a text-only program that runs in a console window on your desktop.
You can also use Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and other Web-based e-mail systems to check your POP mail, and in an increasingly online world, having local mail client becomes less relevant. Some pundits claim that we can just use Facebook and Twitter and text messages to stay in touch, but shoot, I’m old-fashioned.
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