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Outlook Express, you’re fired!

Posted by markharrison on July 6, 2007

A few months ago, I had some major systems problems (compounded by my own stupidity, it must be admitted), and had to declare email bankrupcy.

At the time, Nik Butler suggest that I try a piece of software called Thunderbird instead of Microsoft Outlook Express.

I’d been using Outlook Express for about five years, and Outlook for many years before that – it would appear that many people don’t realise how different they are.

  • Outlook is a “personal organisation” product. It includes mailing, contact management, task scheduling, and calendaring functionality. When used in conjunction with an Exchange server, it  provides contact list management and sophisticated group scheduling. (While you can do some “meeting request” stuff in Outlook without everyone being in the same Exchange organisation, it gets far more powerful if you all are.)
  • Outlook Express is an “email client”. It sends and receives emails. It has some contact management, but nothing like as much as Outlooks.
  • Both of them attach to a variety of non-proprietary email servers using industry-standard protocols such as POP3 and IMAP.

As a “home user”, I was happy with Outlook Express. As a “small business” user, I’ve been happy with a Linux-based (free) mail server, and each of our staff using Outlook Express. Once in a while I’d miss the functionality that the combination of Outlook with an Exchange server brought, but never enough to pay for it. (And I don’t believe in using pirated software.)
Anyway,  I’d been using Firefox for a long while, and had got used to how much better it was than Internet Explorer 6 (Internet Explorer 7 was then released, which caught up in a lot of areas, but didn’t particularly move the game forward, and it’s Firefox I’ve ended up using as my default browser.)

Thunderbird is a sister product to Firefox. Indeed, earlier versions of Firefox were actually called “Firebird”, until it was discovered that there were trademark issues, because there was other software with that name.

I was recommended Thunderbird, because I was told that it connected to my server (which uses IMAP) more reliably than Outlook Express. What I’ve actually found is that it is not only more reliable, but much, much faster when downloading and reading messages from the server.

I’ve also found that it has two other pieces of functionality that work much better than Outlook Express’ equivalents.

Firstly, the  anti-spam (or “Junk” as Thunderbird calls it) filters really work very well. About 75% of all the messages I get in automatically appear with a “flame logo” next to them, meaning that Thunderbird thinks they are junk. I then run a single menu item (on the Tools menu) to delete everything marked as Junk. Thunderbird doesn’t correctly mark up every piece of rubbish, but I’ve not had a problem with false positives, meaning that it does flag up stuff I actually wanted as spam.

Secondly,  the Rules (or “Messages Filters” as Thunderbird call them) seem to be rather better than Outlook Expresses. For example, I subcribe to several mailing lists such as Ubuntu-UK. It was easy to set up a Thundbird rule that means that messages coming in from that mailing list automatically get filed in a particular folder…. no more clogging up the inbox, and I can catch up with what’s happening on that list in one hit once or twice a day.

Apart from the fact that it came bundled with Windows, I’ve not found any area where Outlook Express worked better for me than Thunderbird now does. If you have broadband, I’d definitely recommend you download it and give it a go.

In fact, looking at the applications I have running at the moment, I run almost entirely on FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software) these days, even on my Windows machines. The key applications I use are Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice – replacements for Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Microsoft Office that work better, cost less, and have some extra features I need included rather than “extra cost” (like PDF creation in OpenOffice.)

The vision of ten years ago – that having large numbers of programmers work as volunteers on large development projects will create better applications than having smaller numbers of paid programmers – has turned up some cracking applications.

I still like the MS applications, and know they work very well, but my requirements are more than catered for in the free world. If OpenOffice does 250% of what I need, and is free, why would I pay £300 for Microsoft Office, even if it does do 260% of what I need…. “Doing everything I need, and then some” is more than enough 🙂


5 Responses to “Outlook Express, you’re fired!”

  1. Nik Butler said

    Mark, thanks for the comment its getting to be that I should think you’ll be expecting to charge me advertising rates for all these positive mentions. I am glad you are getting on well with Thunderbird and other FLOSS.

    You may be interested at looking at the following applications together with the above.

    Google Calendar , and plaxo

    With these two web applications I am able to synchronise my mobile phone with my calendar,contacts and notes. Using SyncML which is generally availalble on most modern phones It uses the phones network connection to the internet to synchronise appointments and notes with google calendar.

    Since I can share the calendar with anyone with a web access I can make sure I can synchronise my appointment with anyone whose calendar I have access to.

    Yep its all free and it all works and its been helping me help my call response team handle my appointments and availability without the overhead of exchange and a blackberry.


    Nik Butler

  2. Ah, Mr. Butler, I had been planning to blog about Calendaring software later in the month 🙂

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