Thunderbird Don’t Die!: The Case for Desktop Email Client Software

mozilla thunderbird logo
Image by adria.richards via Flickr

As the blogosphere debates the death of the desktop email client, I am anxiously awaiting the stable release of Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0. Like devotees of Apple or Microsoft Outlook, I have come to depend on the desktop app for speed, stability, and extensibility.

I am a longtime user of Thunderbird and I can’t wait until the 3.0 release. I am prejudiced to prefer desktop apps rather than webapps or AIR apps– especially for tasks that I spend so much time doing (like email).  The reason?
A dedicated app can have keyboard shortcuts and buttons that are ALL designed to speed up your workflow. Using email in a browser means that your keystrokes are optimized for any kindof website, not just email.
If I press [Ctrl+R] in GMail/Firefox, the screen reloads! In a real mail app, [Ctrl+R] means “Reply” as it should IMHO. IN TBird, pressing [down arrow] goes to the next message instead of scrolling down the page. Having intuitive keystrokes lets me FLY through my email in a way I just can’t do in Firefox.

A desktop app can respond to your actions faster and more fluidly than a website can because it doesn’t have to query the server every time you do something.

The killer feature of Thunderbird that sets it apart from all others is the tagging feature. I can assign GTD-influenced Tags (like @Archive, @FollowUp, @ActionItem) simply by pressing number keys 1-9. With one hand on the down arrow and one on the numbers 1-4 keys, I can quickly sort all my mail so I know what to do with it next (in proper GTD form).

Thunderbird Tags

I grudgingly admit that Gmail is quickly adding features that make the web interface more awesome. That does not, however, mean that using a general purpose browser for a site-specific task is a good thing. I would love to see Google develop apps that combine the power of their online apps with a true desktop experience.

Imagine it: a Google Docs desktop app that works like a word processor but syncs to the cloud? That would be awesome! A Gmail app (or a plugin for Chrome?) that allows you to customize keyboard shortcuts when you’re on a specific website so your app is completely optimized for the task at hand.

Until that day, I’m going to be rockin’ the Desktop app. 🙂

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Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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2 Responses

  1. Ted Curran says:

    Thanks Anca!
    Yes that’s a great point. TBird makes it possible to see separate email accounts (even from different providers) in the same window.

    At my last job, we had Google Apps for your Domain email– basically Gmail rebranded with my organization’s logo. Both my regular Gmail and my Google Apps wanted to log themselves into my browser and act as my only GMail login– my online identity for any Google related services (of which there are tons). By keeping my email out of my browser and safely in TBird where it belongs, I eliminated those conflicts.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  2. Anca says:

    You forgot to mention another reason for using a desktop email client: multiple Gmail or yahoo email accounts are a huge pain in the butt to check through the web interface.

    Thanks for showing me the Thunderbird tagging. I had to abandon TBird a couple of years ago, but Mac Mail leaves me strangely unsatisfied.


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