Thunderbird has been my primary email tool on all platforms for some years now, and the relatively recent version 2.0 update was great. Let’s face it, Outlook is one of those tired old applications that was worth some money in bygone years, but email is so ubiquitous and commoditised now that pretending you can add real value in a commercial application without doing anything radical is frankly ludicrous. Its popularity continues to stem mostly from unimaginitive corporate policy, bundling with Excel & Word, and ongoing Exchange Server lock-in, and the associated spill-over into home buying preferences. And Outlook Express’s only notable feature is that it manages to simultaneously suck and blow.
While GMail is great I don’t feel like giving primary control of my inbox to an external party just yet, so I still maintain a local Debian mail server which is the final target of all my various email addresses, based entirely on open source stacks like Exim, Courier and SpamAssassin, (although you could do worse than trying Zimbra these days, particularly in larger corporate environments). I keep all my mail on the server (IMAP) so I can get to it anywhere anyway, including via webmail stacks like Horde IMP and SquirrelMail. There are a ton of really solid open source services for handling mail, you really have to be doing something pretty spectacular these days to justify charging through the nose for it, and for Outlook and to an extent Exchange Server that ship has long sailed, in my opinion. But, what do I know, there seems to be no end to their ability to milk it 😉
I use Thunderbird for calendering too and this week one of my preferred add-ons Lightning, which provides calendaring support, got an update to 0.7 and it’s definitely worth mentioning. They’ve tidied up the interface somewhat and made it much easier to switch between mail and calendar views particularly, along with better alerts and integration options. Unlike my mail, my calendar is somewhat less private so I physically store it on Google Calendar anyway, but that’s no problem with Lightning. Whilst you can use the inbuilt iCal support to read events from any remote source including Google Calendar, even better is the Provider add-on which allows 2-way synchronisation so that anything you create or alter in Lightning gets automatically synced back to Google too. For those who want a separate calendar client there’s also SunBird although I personally prefer just one app.
Overall highly recommended for the post-Outlook generation. It’s free, it’s open source, it works darned well.