I’ve been using Mozilla Thunderbird as my main email client for the last couple of weeks, but the experiment is coming to an end, and I’m moving back to Outlook again. Two main reasons: spam, and unstable message filters.
I have been using SpamBayes for Outlook to filter spam for almost a year now, and it rocks. After spending a couple of months double-checking its assessments of what is spam and what isn’t, I found that it was never issuing false positives, that is, categorizing good messages (“ham”) as junk. If it encounters a message that it is unsure about, it puts it in a “Possible Spam” folder, which I check manually every couple of days. Some messages that end up here are real, and some are junk. As soon as I sort them appropriately, though, SpamBayes analyses their characteristics, and improves its odds of filing similar messages correctly in the future. Very rarely, maybe once or twice a week, an actual piece of spam will make it past SpamBayes and get into my inbox. A similar re-training process follows.
Thunderbird stacks up poorly against SpamBayes in three ways:
- It doesn’t have a “Possible Spam” middle ground. You’ve got spam and you’ve got ham, but nothing inbetween to indicate uncertainty.
- It lacks a decent interface for you to properly “train” the filter about what is spam and what isn’t.
- It doesn’t indicate what the “spam rating” was for a given message. SpamBayes allows you to see the spamminess score it has assigned to a given message, and it allows you to fine-tune the levels at which something is definitely ham or definitely spam(15% and 85% respectively, in my case).
Next up is the message filtering. It works great most of the time, but every now and then I found that a message that had been processed by a filter (either one of my custom filters, or the built-in junk filter) would be marked as unread, and bounced into the Trash. Huh? What’s up with that?
Bearing in mind that Thunderbird is still early beta software (0.5), these issues may well go away in a later release. My overall impression of the program was very favourable, though: it’s small, fast, nicely tweakable, and cross-platform. I’ll be keeping my eye on it as it develops. (That is, if I don’t get seduced by GMail in the meantime….)