Open-source mailers and groupware – Part 1

I have just finished my university assignment and thought I would share what I have picked up. The requirement of the assignment was to identify four open-source mailers (email software) and, pretending I was the head of a medium-sized business, choose one based on how well it meets selection criteria. I’ll spare you of getting into the nuts of my assignment; instead it’ll be a bit more like a quick and dirty overview and comparison of the products. In this installment, I’m just going to look into three free open-source desktop mailers for casual use at home – Mozilla Thunderbird 2, Spicebird, and Zimbra Desktop.

You may be thinking you don’t need a desktop mailer. You’ve got a webmail account and that does the trick quite nicely. But, if you’re like me and are on Windows and don’t use the native Outlook Express email, you’ve probably got annoyed with the OE pop-ups whenever you click a “mail to” hyperlink. Wouldn’t it be better if you had something decent? Something that automatically syncronized with your webmail accounts and notified you of incoming mail from any of those accounts? If you agree, here are some options to check out:


Mozilla Thundebird 2

Thunderbird features include message tagging, advanced search facilities, and easy access to webmail services like Gmail. Multiple webmail accounts can be stored in the folders list, so you can access all your email accounts from Thunderbird. However, I found the initial set up of Thunderbird a little non-intuative and had to google my way through it – especially with the integration of my hotmail account.

Thunderbird GUI

Thunderbird GUI

If you’re using Mozilla Firefox as a browser, you’ll know about the handy add-on customizability that it offers and how easy it is to add functionality. Thunderbird has the same add-on feature, which may be considered a good or bad thing, depending on what you want from a mailer. If you use Thunderbird “as is”, without any add-ons, you won’t have a calendar (reportedly, the calendar will be integrated in the next version). The plug-in for this is called Lightning, and if you want your calendar to syncronize with Google calanders, you’ll need an extra plug-in called Provider for Google Calandar. Even though add-ons are extremely easy to add, it may take you some time to trawl the huge selection of add-ons to find what you want. If you want to avoid this, the next mailer, Spicebird, may be what you’re looking for.



The beauty of open source software is that anyone can get their hands on the code and play around. Spicebird is a kind of ready-modified Thunderbird that includes add-ons that you may have wanted to install. Out-of-the-box, it already includes the Lightning add-on as well as an instant-text messaging application from Telepathy, which I didn’t try it out.

Spicebird GUI

Spicebird GUI

Spicebird uses the same API as Thunderbird so much of the functionaility is exactly the same. However, the user interface is set out differently from with the main navigation set out as tabs across the top, like a browser, instead of the bottom-left corner in Thunderbird. Consequently, the applications are presented as pages, with a handy “home” page that can be easily customized with Google gadgets.

Are you looking for more bells and whistles? If, so Zimbra Desktop may be the answer.


Zimbra Desktop

For now, I’ll just say that Yahoo have produced a very slick app, in Zimbra, with a tonne of features (too many to fit into this section). Consequently, the application is much bigger than Thunderbird (6.4MB) and Spicebird (10MB), at almost 50 megabytes, and will take up more space on your hard drive.

Zimbra GUI

Zimbra GUI

Zimbra is more groupware-oriented, focusing on facilitating collaboration between teams, so many of the features may go unused by an independent home user. However, there are still a lot of useful features and if you’ve got the space (c’mon, it’s not that much!) it’s definitely worth checking out. Zimbra’s web-based version will be covered in more depth in my next section, along with other groupware.

So, there you go. Three new toys to check out. If you have the time or inclination, download them all and keep the one you like!


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