Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thunderbird Vs. Outlook

This is a clash between an open source and a close source email clients. What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Let us find out.

Thunderbird belongs to Mozilla family together with its big brother Firefox.  Thunderbird, just like Firefox, is an open source and we can download it for free.  Every now and then they release an updated version and we can as well get that update for free.  Apart from that it has loads of add ons which we can also get for free though a few of them are just asking for a few bucks of donation.  On the other side of the ring is Outlook, a close source email client from the Microsoft family.  Outlook as part of Microsoft Office is designed for small and large scale organizations and you can get it for $$$.  It works very well with Microsoft Exchange Server as it should be.  It has some add ons however not all of them are free.

Thunderbird’s email files such as the inbox, sent items, draft, and so on are saved independently.   If one file gets corrupted the other is not affected.  On the other hand, Outlook stores its email in a single file.  As you receive many email in a day it is getting bigger and bigger just like a huge bomb that may explode at anytime.  Although you can compact your email but it does not help that much if you have a huge "outlook.pst" file already. The other solution for that is you can archive your old emails to extract it from the main email file called "outlook.pst" and store it in a separate archive file but its structure is the same as the main email file.  Usually email corruption on Outlook happens if you close it while it is in the process of sending or receiving.  Next time you open Outlook you will see a tiny gear on the lower right corner of your monitor.  That tiny gear is indicating that Outlook is repairing your email because you did not close it properly. That is not an issue on Thunderbird.

Nowadays, one of the main concerns of the users is how well secured their emails are.  Thunderbird has the capability of identifying junk email set by SpamAssasin and Spampal.  It has a built in feature that analyzes email scam. Apart from that it can be setup to let the antivirus scan the incoming email before it stores them. While Outlook has its own way of identifying junk email you just have to set it up yourself.  You can block by sender or by domain.  All the antivirus works very well with Outlook hence that is not going to be an issue.

Let us move on to backing up of email.  Thunderbird does not have a built in feature of backing up and restoring the email however there are two ways on how you can back it up.  First, you can open its hidden folder and copy the profile where the emails, contacts and settings are.  These are the same files that you will use in restoring manually. And secondly, you can download for free a third party software called MozBackup to make your backing up and restoring easier.  Outlook has a built in import and export feature which can help you backup and restore your email and contacts a little bit easier.  Alternatively, you can  open the folder where Outlook is storing the "outlook.pst" and "archive.pst" (if you have archives) files to copy and paste it to your backup drive.

Perhaps the calendar is one of the features that is being looked into by most users when choosing an email client software.  Thunderbird does not have a calendar bundled with its installer but you can download a free add on called Lightning.  It is straight forward to use you will not have a hard time figuring out on how to use it. You can customize it and publish it on the internet.  Outlook has a nice looking and more sophisticated calendar.  You just have to give a little more time to yourself before you get familiar with it because it has many features.

To make our emails organize what we normally do is to create rules so that incoming emails go to their respective folder.  Thunderbird has a straightforward of way creating rules.  Outlook on the other hand has a bit longer procedure but it is not that difficult to learn.

When it comes to signature, Thunderbird has a quite difficult way of creating signature.  You need to have a little knowledge on HTML.  Alternatively, you can use a third party add on called Wise Stamp if you want a simpler way of creating signature. This gives a lead on Outlook because it is very easy creating signature.  It is just like you are typing in MS Word.

There is one thing that makes Thunderbird stand out from the rest of email clients software and it is about portability and just like the standard version it is also free.  Did you know that Thunderbird has a portable version which you can store in a flash drive or an external hard drive?  You just have to insert the flash drive or external hard drive and you can use Thunderbird like the way you use the standard version. You can find it on this website .  Outlook has also came up with a portable version however it is not free.

Choosing an email client depends on what features the user is looking for. Usually in the corporate world they use Microsoft Exchange Server which gives an edge to Outlook because it is designed for that. If you are looking for a more stable email client that is where Thunderbird comes in because the email files are not susceptible to corruption.  Backing up and restoring of email is one of the important criteria that should be considered when choosing an email client. Outlook has its own built in straight forward backup and restore feature.  On the other hand Thunderbird with the help of MozBackup makes it possible to backup and restore the email with ease. When it comes to security both of them has their own way to safeguard the email.

You might also like:

Firefox and Thunderbird: Beyond Browsing and Email


  1. Good write up.
    you were very non-biased.
    The vast majority of comparisons sum things up "Outlook trounces Thunderbird" ... not sure why for an email application it would beat it. They both send and receive email, that is their primary goal.

    I have been using thunderbird since 2003 (before that I used the mail client in the Mozilla suite), all within the business world. Email is not that complicated, and Outlook is definitely not needed unless imap pop and smtp are not exposed to you.

    Outlook works fine, I used to use it, but stopped using it in 1999 as I switched to Linux. I hate Outlook (2003+) from a support standpoint as its much more of a pain to troubleshoot issues than Thunderbird.

    In the Workplace:
    If you have the ability to use Thunderbird, and you like it, use it. If you have outlook installed, and its not broken, use it.

    At home:
    Save your money, use Thunderbird.

    I agree the signature thing is weird.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm using both email clients. Outlook at work and Thunderbird for my personal use. Both of them has their good and not that good features. It all depends on the user's preference. With regards to POP and IMAP I prefer to use the IMAP. Even for my personal use I prefer to use the IMAP feature of GMail which works very well with Thunderbird.


  3. Restore outlook .pst data you can do owing to restore outlook. The application works under low system requirements, compatible with any version of Windows OS.

  4. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for sharing that interesting software.