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Mozilla's e-Mail Client Thunderbird 1.0 Launched

The Mozilla Foundation released the final version of Thunderbird 1.0, the standalone open source e-mail client application, which is available for public download.

The launch by the open source organization is quite different than the worldwide marketing blitz surrounding Thunderbird's kin, the Firefox 1.0 browser. But officials are hoping for the same amount of success.

This time around there are no launch parties, no donations for a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

"I think we're going to keep it low-key. People are having their Christmas holiday and we're still recovering from the Firefox parties," said Scott MacGregor, Thunderbird lead engineer and project co-chair.

The Tuesday launch is the culmination of nearly two years' work for MacGregor and David Bienvenu, the other project co-chair. Both started the project in February 2003, after splitting off from work being done on the Mozilla Suite, a combination e-mail/newsgroup/IRC chat client and HTML editor. Before that the two worked on the Netscape 4.x Messenger e-mail client in the mid-1990s.

While the Mozilla Suite focused on many different areas, the Thunderbird project has the benefit of tunnel vision -- the developers only had to worry about one thing, an e-mail client.

Like the Firefox Web browser, Thunderbird has picked security and functionality as a measure of its success; in the case of security, it's spam and viruses. The open source e-mail client uses the SpamBayes Project, (a Bayesian filter on SourceForge.net) as the basis for its spam-filtering technology; developers are also working on specialized work around the technology.

MacGregor said while project members are looking to add enterprise capabilities to the application, the e-mail client is geared toward consumers -- though there are a couple of companies testing Thunderbird now, he said.

In a side by side comparison, Thunderbird bears many similarities with Outlook, with adjustable layout views, icon buttons and capabilities like searchable folders, message grouping (by date, subject, sender, etc.). Users can pipe in their RSS feeds from a folder or read Web mail from both clients.

Also, like Firefox, the Thunderbird project can tap the world of independent developers who want to create extensions to the base functionality of the e-mail application. Currently, there are nine available extensions on the Mozilla.org Web site.

Unlike Firefox, however, Thunderbird doesn't have a likely competitive target. Much of Firefox's popularity -- and uptake -- in the worldwide community has been at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). IE has been deluged with one security vulnerabilities recently, prompting security experts to warn people against IE altogether.

There are a bevy of e-mail clients on the market, some proprietary, some free for use and some open source. But of the group, such as Eudora, Outlook (and Outlook Express), Netscape Messenger, Pine, Mutt -- none has experienced the level of attacks seen by IE to necessitate a switch to Thunderbird.

MacGregor, however, said the Mozilla name and Thunderbird's features could bring in new customers, over and above those already on board. Two days after the release of a preview version of Thunderbird 1.0, the company had netted more than one million downloads for the preview version and Thunderbird .9.

"Thunderbird really just adds to the momentum of Firefox; it's a really complementary application," he said. "While Firefox is geared for the general audience, Thunderbird is really geared toward the power user of e-mail. So, if you get five, six e-mails a day, you're probably better off with using Firefox for viewing your Web mail, but if you're getting hundreds a day, then Thunderbird is the application for you."

Thunderbird, however, is a cross-platform technology, running on Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, Linux, Mac OS X, OS/2 and Solaris. But beating the competition isn't the end goal for Thunderbird developers, MacGregor said.

"I think our goal was really just to offer a competitive offering and a choice for users that meets the criteria for junk mail, privacy issues and making it easy to manage large volumes of e-mail," he said. "We don't see ourselves as competing with people; we just want to offer another choice for folks."