Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Windows Live Mail versus Mozilla Thunderbird

I like Windows Mail, the free mail client on Windows Vista. It grew out of Outlook Express, and finally does almost everything I would want. So, naturally, Microsoft has decided to discontinue it on their next operating system, Windows 7. In fact they will not be providing any email client at all, counting on the user to download something, or on the internet service provider to do that for the user.

Microsoft has developed a new mail client, apparenty based on Windows Mail, called Windows Live Mail. Sorry for the confusion in names, but I didn't cause that, Microsoft did! Users will be able to download Windows Live Mail (WLM) at no cost. But it isn't the same. So I installed Windows Live Mail Version 2009 (Build 14.0.8064.0206) alongside Mozilla Thunderbird 3 (Beta 2). Thunderbird is a free, open-source, collaborative email client developed by people who say they want to provide the "most useful and enjoyable communications tool possible." It's a mature product, certainly as mature as WLM. Thunderbird Release 3 Beta 2 is stable on my machine. The comparison between Thunderbird and Windows Live Mail is interesting.

Windows Live Mail:

THEY DUMBED IT DOWN! Windows Live Mail is Windows Mail with fewer controls. They added a calendar and included it with a large set of other applications called Windows Live Essentials. Here are some comparisons between Windows Mail and WLM:Windows Live Logo
  • WLM supports multiple POP accounts, but each is treated quite separately, with no way (that I have found) to direct mail from all or several POP accounts into a common inbox. This is most inconvenient. I have lots of POP accounts and do not use web-based accounts.
  • Further, when a new, unread email does come in, WLM says there is a new one but doesn't say which inbox it is in! Inconvenient and annoying. There is a "Quick View" that can help, but it takes space in the list of accounts, see next.
  • The list of accounts cannot be deleted or moved and has way too much space between accounts, so that scrolling to search for an email is always necessary if there are several accounts.
  • WLM has no "Send All" command. When you finish an email, it's gone. No "Outbox" unless the send actually fails. This can be good or bad, but I don't like it because I'm accustomed to clicking on Send All to really send it.
  • WLM apparently uses yet another type of address book. For sure it does not use the "Contacts" directory used by Windows Mail, though it will import that directory into its book. I'm not sure where the WLM address book is, actually, though I probably could find it if I cared. It will export its address book in only two formats: VCF and CSV.
  • The "New Mail" sound file cannot easily be changed. I like a louder one in case I'm not at my computer.
  • When I installed WLM it tried to copy all of the mail in Windows Mail into its own file system, but failed. Email POP accounts also did not transfer over. I don't know why.
  • Help, like all Microsoft help these days, is entirely web-based. Don't plan on any help without an internet connection.
  • The good news is that WLM works and seems quite appropriate for a user with one POP account, or with only web-based accounts, because the list of accounts will be trivial, and there are fewer things to screw up. Too bad Microsoft couldn't include an "expert" button of some kind to make it more configurable for the rest of us.
Mozilla Thunderbird:

I tried both Release 2.0, the current "stable" version, and Release 3b2, ending up with 3b2. Comparing Windows Mail and WLM with Thunderbird:Mozilla Thunderbird Logo
  • WLM and Windows Mail have a "drag and drop" capability, allowing the user to drag an email out of the Inbox, for example, into a normal Windows Folder as a .EML file. I love that feature and use it all the time. Thunderbird does not have that feature. Why would anyone want that? I like to keep all files for a project together, whatever their file types. For example, if I'm planning to run a marathon in Paducah, there will be a folder named Paducah containing an internet shortcut to the race web site (.url), maybe one to the hotel web site (.url), a copy of the course map (.jpg or .gif), printouts of car, air, or hotel reservations (.pdf), and copies of communications (.eml). No need to look in different places for different file types. Thunderbird will correctly display an email in .EML format, and will export them too, but not as easily as Windows Mail and WLM will do.
  • Like WLM, Thunderbird has no Send All command. In fact I haven't found anything quite like WLM's Sync command. I admit I haven't missed it though.
  • Thunderbird would not import my email messages from Windows Mail. There is a separately-installable extension called ImportExportTools, but it only imported the file structure and not the files themselves. Perhaps it would work better with a simpler file structure than I have.
  • Thunderbird would not import POP accounts. But neither did WLM.
  • It will export contacts only in LDIF, CSV, or tab-delimited formats.
  • HOWEVER, Thunderbird does have a global-folder structure called Local Folders. Any email from any account can be directed into the global Inbox on Local Folders, or the global Spam box that I created, for that matter. This allows me to pull email from any of several POP accounts into one place.
  • All three clients have filters that can be configured to redirect or simply delete known spam, or to direct email from specific addresses into specific folders. Thunderbird allows these folders to be global, hence accessible to any POP account.
  • Further, Thunderbird has a "Junk Mail Learning" feature that seems to work pretty well, far better than the simple junk filter levels in WLM.
  • Thunderbird has WAY more controls than WLM, and more than Windows Mail as well. So it's possible for a user to get things pretty screwed up. The good news is that the most dangerous options have a "restore defaults" button. I haven't needed that yet, but ...
  • Thunderbird can include "add-ons," contributed extensions which may add class and functionality for the discerning Thunderbird user.
  • Thunderbird won't go away. I hate that about Microsoft - they just want to sell new copies of operating systems, so we (obviously) can't depend on them for continuity.
For my money (they're both free), I far prefer Thunderbird over Windows Live Mail, even without drag & drop. I have already switched to Thunderbird on my Vista x64 system, even though I do have the venerable Windows Mail on it too. But there are other users on my network, people with only one POP account. It may be a while before they have computers with Windows 7 (or beyond), but perhaps I will install Windows Live Mail for them when they do. We shall see.


Saul Hudson said...

I have actually migrated from Thunderbird to Windows 7 Live Mail. Although I have no specific issues with Thunderbird, Live Mail does everything I need. I prefer individual folders for each account so the lack of a global in box doesn't affect me.

I think for most people with one email account, Live Mail will be perfect. Windows 7 is going to be around for quite a long time so with luck Live Mail will mature and become a very good mail client

Don said...

Truth be told, after trying both, I migrated to Thunderbird and then finally migrated back to Windows Mail. Not Live Mail. Thunderbird is replete with features, but is just a bit too awkward. Examples: (1) No drag & drop; (2) Adding a CC or BCC takes several mouse-clicks, whereas Windows Mail takes one at most. WM is exactly what I want - I wish they would carry it forward for us stick-in-the-muds.

If I update the opsy here to Windows 7 then I will have to make a decision, but perhaps by then Windows Live Mail will be robust enough to have a global in-box.


John said...

Don - Thank for your thoughtful analysis. I'm not very technical, but generally favor highly recommended open source products, like Firefox. I wanted to use Thunderbird, even if there was an inconvenience here or there (e.g. what seemed like a default to me that my replies begin at the bottom of an email, rather than the top, where I and I think others would expect to find them - probably just a setting I need to tweak). I'm not a power user, but have many POP accounts. Unless I'm missing something, one Thunderbird "feature" that I found insurmountable was the display of complex, messy headers when forwarding email. My Outlook Express was crumbling, which was maddening for a long time... but I bumped into Live Mail, which, although imperfect, is like coming home to an easy, clean way to manage my email. I'm pleasantly surprised that Microsoft seems to have produced a useful tool, with few strings attached (but, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop). So, if someone could set me straight on the Thunderbird header problem, I'd jump back to that in a heartbeat.

Alex said...

Once I wrote the letter and saved it,but after some hours the letter was damaged on unknown reason.And I went to inet and saw there-oe fix.Tool is free in according with site,it helped me.Moreover program compatible with Windows 2003, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows 98, Windows Me and all versions of Outlook Express.

JoJoUK said...

A very useful analysis (although WLM build 14 does have global user created folders).

I was a die-hard Outlook Express user until upgrading to Vista, so it was a shock to find that OE had been discontinued. I looked at WM and WLM and choose the latter because the calendar could, supposedly, be synced with my online hotmail calendar. That critical feature has never worked for me though. I always get an error message saying the service is not available. Any idea why?

The thing that's really annoying me however is that you can't export contact details as single VCF files. You have to export all the contacts in one go.

I run an arts group and want to be able to send the details of new contacts to other group organisers. Having entered their details into the WLM address book I then have to repeat the whole process to forward those details to someone else. It's maddening.

Crazily enough Thunderbird doesn't seem to offer that facility either. Or am I wrong? If it does I'd consider migrating that way.

Do you know of any email program compatible with Vista which enables the handling of contact details as single files?

Anyway... good job, and thanks.

Chris said...

So here I am having all sorts of trouble installing Windows Live Suite (Mail and Messenger included). I've performed about 12-14 troubleshooting steps with no good results. Somehow I believe that should for part of the comparison; that is if we can even install the application.

I'll take OE anytime. As for Thunderbird, it's a little moot for me since I need a client for my Hotmail accounts. Any suggestions?

Peter said...

I have just migrated to W7 and find live mail works fine for me. I also find the calendar easy to use. However I also have a Mac which I use quite frequently and am a little frustrated since the calendar in live mail does not sync with ical in the apple system. In fact the live mail calendar does not seem to sync with any other mail program as far as I can see. Any ideas anyone?

Don said...

I do like Mozilla Sunbird for the calendar. It is (supposedly) available for the Mac. It has its own internal calendar data base but that's buggy, so I use it exclusively with external ICAL calendars, both on the web or on my own computers.

Mozilla makes it hard to find from their own web site, for some reason, but Goggle finds it easily. It's here.

JoJoUK said...

I'm a conspiracy theorist (:-P) ... I reckon the powers-that-be want us to use online email exclusively so that they can read the mail of 'suspects' - anyone they don't like. That would explain why email clients are being 'dumbed down'... to take email out of the user's private space.

Why else would the Google mail website encourage users not to delete mail? "Keep it ALL and make it available for our little snoopers to get an eyeful of!" What do you think? :-)

(A cheery wave to MI5 and the CIA! lol)

Don said...

Hmmm - sneaky government control. In this case it doesn't matter, as far as I can tell, because WLM and Thunderbird are equally capable of reading POP mail, bringing it into the local client, and deleting it from the server.

On the other hand, most servers (including Google) do keep copies of all mail, even "deleted" mail, for some time. That alone should fuel the conspiracy theories.

Thumb-to-the-nose wave for the CIA, FBI, and MI5. You can read my mail, but you can't read my disk!

JoJoUK said...

I wouldn't be too sure they can't read your disk. I'm sure they're in cahoots with Microsoft. All they'd need to do is trigger a fictitious 'system update' and your system is well and truly compromised.

(Thinks... could that be why my system keeps running slowly for no apparent reason? :-O ... lol)

Don said...

True enough - I can trust the privacy of my disk only to the extent that I can trust Microsoft.

And I'm not a fan of Microsoft. I've NEVER seen a Microsoft product that wasn't riddled with obvious bugs, at least at first, including the WLM local client. WM is getting good, so they have to abandon it :-)

But that very mediocrity would help make it difficult for Microsoft to do as you suggest. People would figure it out! And the "update" would probably have bugs. I'm not too concerned about it. More likely that system privacy would be compromised accidentally by a screwed-up update, but then there would be an outcry and Microsoft would figure it out.

JoJoUK said...

I wasn't suggesting that ALL computer's would get the dodgy update... only those the secret services are interested in.

I once talked to a guy who said he was working for a secret branch of my local university. He said he had worked on TVs with pin-hole sized cameras which could 'watch' the occupants of the house - like the monitor screens in every house in George's Orwell's "1984". I think he'd been watching too much Spooks... but I wouldn't put it past the real like 'spooks'. If you can channel broadband around your house through the mains wiring then why can't that same wiring carry data signals to remote monitoring points?

Oh well... as they say... "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!" (lol)

YTN3rd said...

Think I'll stick with Windows Live Mail. Dont like the WLM acronym, thats Windows Live Messenger to me...

Also, pleasant to see how off topic comments get.. now im really concerned what the government is up to :(

Kiros said...

Off-topic again, my apologies. JoJoUK, I'm sorry to say this, but you're an idiot. There's not a conspiracy behind everything that's electronic. Seriously, do you believe that light bulbs are listening to you? I sure hope not. Maybe in the past when legality wasn't the biggest issue, corporations could be in "cahoots" with officials, but not in this day and age. *There are strict policies that forbid such a thing. *Also, since many people have different operating systems, it wouldn't be an effective mechanism to issue a naughty system update. *Furthermore, modern antivirus technology uses heuristics to detect keyloggers, spyware, and trojans. So something like that would just make Microsoft look bad after sending an updates with trojans. *Lastly, Google encourages users not to delete emails because it wastes time and if you ever need to look back on an email, you wouldn't be able to if you deleted it. **So please, please, please stop thinking "well THIS would explain THAT" just because you'd like to think that's possible. Use your cognitive capabilities. Think rationally. It goes a long way.

As far as the email clients go, I've been using Thunderbird for years now. I've been wondering if Windows Mail would be a better option for indexing email, since Thunderbird 3 for Vista seems to determine which emails to index for search. If anyone has compared this, please share :)

Don said...

Let's go easy on the name calling, folks. This is a genteel forum. I can't edit anyone's comments, but I can delete them if they cross the line.

I certainly do not agree with JoJoUK, but that doesn't mean he's an idiot or even wrong.

JoJoUK said...

Thanks, Don, for sticking up for 'lil-ol-me'. Kiros can huff and puff but he won't blow my house down! (lol)

He's right, of course, if a little lacking in the sense of humour department. Yes, I was being paranoid - though I hadn't thought of the possibility that light bulbs might be listening to me. Humm... ah, but then they do put listening devices in overhead lamp shades don't they!

"Hello, MI5/CIA/KGB, can you hear me?"

Someone's going to tell me now that the KGB don't exist any more. Oh yes they do! Under another name of course.

Well, it's all fun and games. And I'm still using WLM out of sheer inertia - though have been tempted to ditch it in favour of Incredimail. Yes, it may be the email client for 'toons', but if you can't have fun while you're doing this stuff then why bother doing it at all??? :-)

Joe said...

I recently rebuilt my computer with Windows 7. I have 10 years of old emails from Outlook Express that I did not want to lose so I exported them.

I know Windows Live Mail has an import feature but it would not work with my mess of emails. It kept crashing.

I then tried Thunderbird and it worked perfectly and quickly. It imported all the emails with their folder structure intact. No problem.

So I ended up using Thunderbird now as my main desktop mail client. So far, it seems OK. It does lack that bit of "polish" that I just can't put my finger on quite yet.

I was so used to Outlook Express and do miss the comfort of it and its multiple identities. Pretty weak that Microsoft's own tools would not import its own mess.

- Joe
My blog

rsc.jalconsultants said...

Only just needed to investigate WLM vs Thunderbird. Wasn't feeling Tbird after using Outlook for many years. (outlook wasn't provided on new Win7 machine. couldn't wait until IT procured it). One great feature was being able to drag eml filed created by Tbird into WLM to rebuild my email record (sent files) since WLM picked up all my incoming mail still available from my server

alex said...

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