Email Client Software – overlooked

Open Office, Firefox, and The GIMP were the open source tools mentioned in the last blog entry. With them, you can accomplish most of the day-to-day work of an educator.

Email was the one core educator tool not included in that opening list. It should have been. But, we can remedy the oversight now.

Most of us with a broadband link to the Internet have an email account supported by our Internet Service Provider. The email account is accessible through your browser (Firefox, Safari, IE). Similar “web-based” email is available beyond your ISP account. Hotmail, Google’s GMail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL are common examples (most, though not all, free). I know some people who create Hotmail accounts specifically so they can register for online stuff when they are worried that they will get tons of SPAM as a result. They simply dump the account as needed.

However, educators also use an email “client” that pulls in and stores email on their local computer. Many schools have their own email service, one that allows them to use their school district domain name in every address and have similar addresses like and for every teacher (sometimes students, too).

If you use Windows, you may have always used Outlook Express, the email client that comes as a “free” tool from Microsoft. Some people believe that Outlook Express is fine, but others have serious concerns about how viruses infect it and its corporate cousin, Outlook. Many SPAM attacks have happened when a virus hijacks a user’s Outlook program and sends SPAM emails to everybody in the user’s address book (often using the hapless victim’s own email address as the seeming originator of the useless SPAM. Really, it isn’t your fault…except that you still use an unpatched version of Outlook!).

Many of us prefer the email client Thunderbird which is from the same group that produced the Firefox browser. It is very similar to Outlook Express, so you will understand how to use it, but Thunderbird has more security. It also has add-on extensions that give you the chance to customize how it works. One component is called Lightning which is a calendar integrated into Thunderbird. The calendar feature is one of the common reasons cited for a reluctance to abandon Outlook. To be fair, Thunderbird/Lightning doesn’t integrate with the corporate Exchange server that is the center of the Outlook system providing for shared calendars in addition to personal ones (in addition to being an email server).

We who want to promote open source software are very happy with the capabilities that Thunderbird does have:

  • You can connect the same client to several different email accounts and get all your mail in one place.
  • You can, and you should, create folders for mail organization. Shift the mail from the inbox into appropriate folders just the way you currently (don’t you?) organize your computer files/documents into folders on your hard drive.
  • Thunderbird has a good address book with most of the fields you want to use it as your contact manager.
  • You can filter incoming messages directing them to folders to organize the mail instead of just dealing with it in the inbox. My business administrator loved this one.
  • You can even set up a filter to dump incoming unwanted mail directly to the trash. (Just be careful. One of my teachers inadvertently created a filter to dump all mail from the superintendent! She swore to me that it wasn’t intentional. Fortunately, she had not emptied the email trash for a while and we were able to recover the mail she needed…of course we also fixed the filter.)

[Be sure you check our links page (see “Links” at the top right of this blog page) where you will find the compiled links from anything mentioned in these blog entries.]

Until next time…