Hands On Review of Thunderbird 3

After a long wait, Mozilla finally releases version 3.0 of Thunderbird. This latest version of Thunderbird brings much changes and makes it even more powerful than its ancestor. In this article, we take a look at the Thunderbird 3.0 and show you what you are going to expect in this great software.


If you are using Windows/Mac, you can download the installer and do a standard installation in your OS. However if you are using Linux, the installation method is slightly different.

There are two ways to install Thunderbird 3 in Linux (Ubuntu):

First method:

  • Download the tar file from the Thunderbird download site.
  • Extract the tar file to your Home folder. You should now see a Thunderbird folder.
  • Open up the Thunderbird folder. Locate a file with filename thunderbird
  • Right click on this file and select Properties. Click on the Permissions tab and checked the box “Allow executing file as program“. Close the dialog window.
  • Double click on the thunderbird file. When prompted, select Run.

That’s it. Thunderbird 3 should now run in your Linux OS. This is so far the easiest method to run Thunderbird 3.0 in Linux. The downside is that you have to update it manually everytime a new build is released.

Second method (PPA method):

Open up a terminal and type the following:

Add the Mozilla daily build PPA into the sources.list

If you are still using Jaunty, remember to change the karmic to jaunty

Save and close the file. Back in your terminal,

This will install Thunderbird in your Linux and it will update automatically when a new build is released. (Note: Thunderbird will be renamed as Shredder if you install via the PPA)

New features

The first thing that you will see when running a fresh install of Thunderbird 3.0 is the prompt to set up your email accounts.


Adding your Hotmail or Gmail account is very easy. You just need to enter your username and password and it will do the rest of the configuration. You don’t need to know any IMAP, SMTP, TLS settings, the wizard will check a database and find the right settings for your account. It also supports IMAP by default, so you can sync your online account with Thunderbird easily.

Tabbed content

Thunderbird 3 comes with tab support so you can open your emails in tabs. Search results are automatically opened in new tabs so you can return to your mailbox easily.


New search features

This is one of the most powerful improvement in Thunderbird 3. The search function now includes a highly customizable filter. You can now filter your search to pinpoint the exact email your are looking for.


Also, in your search result, there is a side pane where you can further filter your search result. This is very useful if you have a large number of emails in your inbox.


Activity manager

Activity manager shows all the activites taking place in the background. It gives you a quick glance of your Thunderbird status.


One-click Address Book

The concept used here is the same as the bookmarking concept in Firefox 3. Basically, for any emails, you can click the star beside the address to add it to the address book. Click it again to to add more details like a photo, birthday, and other contact information.


Smart folder

If you have set up multiple email accounts in Thunderbird 3, you can now manage all the inboxes in one place. The Smart Folders feature combine special folders like your Inbox, Sent, or Archive into one folder. Instead of going to the Inbox for each of your mail accounts, you can see all of your incoming email in one Inbox folder. Smart folder is activated by default.

Better toolbar placement

This is one of the few small changes to the interface that makes a big difference. The email toolbar now appears at the header of each email, so you can quickly decide if you want to reply, forward or simply delete the mail.



Like Firefox, Thunderbird also supports addon. The differences between Thunderbird 2 and 3 is that you can now install addon right within Thunderbird (just like how you did it in Firefox). Previously, you have to download and install the extensions manually.


Some other Gmail-like features

Here are some of the new features that are already available in Gmail, but is now integrated into Thunderbird


For long time Gmail users, you will find this feature familiar. The Archive function allows you to store your important emails in the Archive folder. This is useful if you want to keep the emails for future reference, but don’t want it to appear in the inbox.

Attachment reminder

This used to be available as an addon in Thunderbird 2, but it is now upgraded as the main feature. Basically, it will scan your email content and sense any mention of file attachments. It will then remind you to attach if you have not done so.



Like ‘Starring‘ your emails in Gmail, you can now ‘tag’ your emails according to its importance. You can also create your own tags.


Things that have been demanded but not yet integrated in Thunderbird 3

The thing that is most demanded by the public is the integration of the Lightning extension into Thunderbird. Lightning is an extension that adds Calendar features in Thunderbird. It is only with Lightning that Thunderbird becomes more complete and get a chance against Outlook, or even Evolution (in Linux).

The good thing is, you can still install Lightning in Thunderbird 3 via the addons.

Have you tried Thunderbird 3? Do you like it? Let us know in the comments.

Damien Damien

Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.


  1. I would like nothing more than to replace my Microsoft email client (Entourage on the Mac) with Thunderbird. But I just can’t. So many of us live in an Outlook world, where co-workers and clients use Outlook, and Thunderbird does not integrate seamlessly into that world:

    (1) When I reply to an email, I want it to show the full header (To, From, Date, Subject), not just “On Dec. 15, 2009, John Selden wrote:”. This is how Outlook handles reply headers, and Outlook users expect to be able to look down the email chain and see who received it at each point. This is fixable by add-on, but still.

    (2) When I reply to an email, I don’t want the text of the original message indented. Email chains can get so long, and indenting just makes it messier as the chain gets longer. Again, Outlook does not indent reply text, and I need to work in the Outlook world and have my emails “fit in.” Why can’t it be an option? It is already not indented when you forward the email.

    (3) Thunderbird has a bug (and has for years) where server-appended messages (like privacy notices) appear as an attachment in Thunderbird. I work primarily with a firm that uses such an appended message, and so every email appears to have an attachment. Annoying.

    (4) Thunderbird’s display of attachments is totally obnoxious. They show up as icons in a grid-like view, so if the file name is more than a few characters, it gets truncated and you can’t read it. Entourage does this so well, showing the attachment icons in list view so you can read long file names.

    There are so many great things about the new Thunderbird (too many to list), but these annoyances (which I doubt will ever be changed) prevent me from switching.

    1. Most of the things you posted are ‘preferences’. Thunderbird is not a clone of Outlook and does not have to do things like Outlook. With the exception of #3, like even you said, you can change these ‘preferences’ or use addons to accomplish them. That is what makes TB great is being able to change and/or add things to make it behave the way you want it too. I actually prefer the way it does things compared to Outlook. I also agree though, it may not be the best for Businesses only because not enough businesses use it.

    2. In my opinion, Thunderbird does not position itself as the ‘business email client’, instead it is best for personal use where you can customize it to what you need and want.

  2. Just yesterday I was just thinking about when you were going to post an article about this for linux and BOOM! Voila! =D

    Thanks so much for this post, very helpful. :)

  3. I’ve upgraded to Thunderbird 3 on my laptop. While I’ve used it enough to drive myself crazy closing the window instead of the tab and have to keep re-opening my e-mail client, :D, I haven’t really delved into it that much yet. I do notice that it’s constantly doing something, indexing…, determining…, downloading…, moving…. there’ll be a lot of that until each folder is used just as on any newly installed e-mail client.

    It seems much faster on Vista and Win 7, haven’t upgraded on my XP desktop yet, so the jury is still out on that though I have no reason to expect any less perkiness. I understand although haven’t used it yet myself, that the Search is second to none. I look forward to my maiden voyage.

  4. Nice enough article, but really…

    …Linux (Ubuntu)?

    Shurely “Ubuntu” or “Ubuntu Linux”? Saying Linux (Ubuntu) misguides newbs to thinking that Ubuntu *is* Linux, which it most definitely is not.

    1. “Surely” you have better things to do with your life than nitpick the name of an operating system. Then again, I have a tendency to be too generous.

    2. I am not saying that Linux = Ubuntu.

      What I was trying to say (in the article) is that the installation method is meant for Ubuntu, or any other Ubuntu-based distros.

  5. A big improvement but not big enough to move me from Evolution on Ubuntu, I was a bit disappointed that lightning wasn’t integrated(it can be added as an add-on) but still a modern email program should have calendar functions as standard

  6. Thunderbird 3 has a few problems. For instance, I work remotely a lot connected back to the network via a VPN. Everynow and again, Thunderbird chokes when saving an outgoing e-mail to the sent folder on the Imap server. It simply won’t allow it to be saved. All I can do is cancel the save thereby losing a record of that e-mail.

    Yesterday it decided that my inbox was empty. It wasn’t. There were plenty of e-mails in it, both read and unread. Could I access them? No. Could I recover or re-index the inbox? No. Even deleting the msf files failed to do the trick. In the end I had to blow that particular account away entirely and re-create it.

    1. Same with me. Inbox is empty now. I wish I could downgrade. If I have to start from scratch, I might as well pick another client. OK, not a very different one: I’ll try seamonkey as it may solve another problem: links in emails no longer open up on FF, even though I’ve set FF as the default browser. I’ve even tried the tricks: setting I.E. as default, then setting FF back as default, for example. Still the links won’t work. This upgrade has proved a disaster.

  7. Better Toolbar Placement, heck! Why do I *have* to look at all the headers of a message, taking up a third of the message window, that cannot be suppressed? What was wrong with the expandable plus sign in version 2 that let me look at them if I wanted to?

  8. I only get the From, Subject and To headers.

    Try View -> Headers -> All/Normal to change the header view.

    1. Thanks, I’ll try it. Next question: Why, when I print a message, do I get all the headers? Where the good ole pretty print we used in SunOS 4.x?

  9. Ever since I found ‘checkgmail’ I havent used email clients like Thunderbird or Evolution much. Of course if you get ALOT of emails, then ‘checkgmail’ is probably a bad choice for you. I’m lucky to receive 5 emails a day thankfully.

    However, out of curiousity, I installed TB-3.0 from the Mozilla-Daily PPA. I was completely blown away. To anyone currently using Thunderbird 2+. I highly encourage you to upgrade to version 3. It is similar to moving from IE7 to Firefox.

  10. As a linux user I have jumped back and forth between Thunderbird and Evolution, hoping for an update to one or the other that will address it’s shortcomings.

    Unfortunately Thunderbird 3 does not address a problem when configured for an IMAP server. I read my emails from several computers and an android device. When I read or delete an email I expect for that change to be reflected on all of the email clients. It works on my android device, it works with Evolution, it does not work with Thunderbird unfortunately. The only way I found to refresh is to exit and restart the application.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have many problems with Evolution as well but currently the IMAP problem is a deal breaker. Perhaps someone out there has found a solution.

    1. Strange. I use Thunderbird on a number of different computers all pointing at the same Imap server and using the same accounts. When I delete an e-mail from a folder from one computer, the change is reflected on the other computers.

    2. I’ve never run into the problem you’re referring to Raybo. I have 3 different IMAP email accounts on 3 different computers running TBird and on my iPhone (4 devices total). Any changes (mark read, delete, etc) made in any one of the email clients is reflected in the others, providing the email client is online to send/receive notifications from the IMAP server. I’ve done some testing with this and as long as TBird has an active connection to the IMAP server, the changes are reflected properly and promptly, usually within a second or two.

    3. Strange, I use IMAP in thunderbird along with webmail and microsoft products. I have never experienced the problem you are referring to.

  11. Now I am going to go on your nerves :p you are warned! xD

    “Second method: the PPA method (if you are running Ubuntu)”
    would be more correct, than the current one.
    And if we also forget about it being Ubuntu, there would be gnome-sudo gedit, but then again, what if the person aren’t using GNOME? well then there could be kdesudo Kate if the person was running KDE and wanted use Kate :P
    then some of the later things would exclude all non-debian based distroes since none of those who are not based on debian usese apt-* or deb or deb-src :P

  12. Great review. I’m using Thundebird since v0.8 (I think) and I just love it. But, I have to say, version 3 has disappointed me. I hate the fact that I can’t change the place where the buttons now appear inside the message header. They just don’t belong there! The columns in folder view are absent which is something I like very, very much. The tabs are OK but there is nothing wrong with new windows view. This is being treated as something from the past that is necessary to extirpate from every app. I don’t agree. Of course there are a lot of great improvements in TB 3 but this few things made me return to TB 2. And I am so happy with that version. I would like to ear if someone agrees with me in some point.

  13. I have just installed Thunderbird 3 and would be happy if it would work. It will not send the password. I think I may have found the problem but don’t know how to correct it. Under tools, options, security, passwords, saved passwords it shows the correct user and password. The POP appears to be wrong. My POP is POP.att.yahoo.com. It shows POP.sbcglobal.net. How can I change this and where? I have removed and reinstalled TB 3 and no help. Email worked with TB 3CR.

  14. Found the problem and fix. Tools,account settings,outgoing server(smtp), edit, check user name and password box, type in full email address, not user name only.

  15. Does anyone know how to set the font size in TB3? A lot of my inbound email ponts are also so small I can’t read the.

  16. Really hope someone can help me here, and I think lots of people having the same problem:

    Here is my situation:
    1. I was using an older version of TB, not sure which version but not too old, I guess 2.x
    2. I reinstalled vista, so I made copy of TB profile
    3. I reinstalled TB, then copy the profile folder to its place
    4. If it helps, I use IMAP for all my email accounts

    Now I can send, receive mail okie but the it always fail to save the message to sent folder. I checked the sent folder path and it all seems okie so I dont know why. I have like 10+ accounts on this profile so I dont want to start a new profile unless I can have all my mails, settings etc back

  17. How to get thunderbird launched
    I followed the “PPA’ method and then searched for and found the files, but right clicking on the desktop and entering “thunderbird” in the “launcher” box and then clicking on the resulting icon gets “no file”message.
    Thank you for all the information.

    1. I found “shredder” in the internet applications but on filling out the 3 line form I am presented with a number of windows talking about security problems.
      Perhaps you could supply some info.
      The help button (shredder) opens a window asking to choose an application.

      1. I have just spoken to my ISP. He says that thunderbird 3 tries to fill in all the required data but fails to do so and the data has to be entered manually.
        I also just tried to access my mail account through the webmail system and it also popped up a warning that the site (ISP) had no certificate etc.
        The ISP told me to get around this by going to their web page and clicking on the webmail button there.
        I am sorry but I do not remember the exact warning that popped up when I tried to install thunderbird.
        The ISP said he would give me the required settings whenever I wanted to install thunderbird 3.
        Many thanks for replying.

  18. I have thunderbird 2 set up and working. The wizard made it easy.Is there any way of either updating to 3 , or installing, without using the “3 line” program that you show in your blog?

  19. Cancel my last post
    I have been to one of the Thunderbird sites and it seems tha a number of people are having problems with TB3, some are reverting to TB2, and one suggests that TB3 should be labeled as :Beta”

  20. Apart from the non-existing Linux installation instructions this is a breeze to setup…

  21. Hello,
    You may have already figured this out by now. If not, you can change this under Tools, account settings, server settings. Look for Server Name towards the top and put in the correct POP and port (995)

  22. You might want to highlight that a side effect of using the PPA method is that your Firefox will also be updated to the daily build version and renamed to Namoroka.

  23. This version of TBird SUX… it has a run-away index tool which has reindexed my freaking mail about 30 times. This tool is SHIT – flaming merde…

    sorry its coming off my machine as soon as I get home and can loose the machine for 20 hours. What a freaklin piece of SHIT…

  24. I have had this problem too. I use popfile to classify my emails into folders other than the inbox. Thunderbird 3 shows the message both in the inbox and the folder I relocated it to. Other than shutting it down, reindexing the inbox is all I've found to fix the problem. This did not happen in TB2. That and some of the other index problems have forced me to go back to TB 2 company wide.

  25. T-bird 3 is terrible, all of the menus (eg. spam, delete, etc) leave little space for the message.

  26. I have been a great fan of TB. But TB has fallen with release of TB3. TB3 is one of the worst softwares I have seen because it crashes almost at 70-80% of installations, in our organisation. It may due to an add-on but can't TB3 have a safety feature whereby TB3 remains unaffected but the add-on becomes dysfunctional till restart/re-launch.

  27. Personally, I have used it and I find it quite useful for my day to day email management, but I am surprise at the number of comments about their dissatisfaction with TB3. I guess the Mozilla team really need to do something about it to savage the situation. Let hope it will get better in the next release.

  28. I use Thunderbird every day in combination with Gmail, and I am very happy with it.

    I much prefer Thunderbird over any of the other email clients, but of course such a choice is for a large part down to personal preference. One big difference between Thunderbird and the rest of the pack is that T-Bird works better with multiple email addresses than the other clients…

    Just thought I'd add my two positive cents :-)

  29. Thanks for your “positive” cents. It is definitely useful and helpful for others.

  30. I also use Tbird 3 every day and am very happy with it. I can see how others may not like it though. I added an email account and suddenly all the emails in my existing account were gone. Emails from my old computer, imported in, and for the last 6 months of use.

    If you ever figure out how to re-create these emails (I think they're still there somewhere), I'll be a more complete convert.

  31. Thunderbird 3.0.4, Lightning 1.0b1 with View->Display Attachments Inline checked
    I have a meeting invitation from Outlook but there is no option to accept it.
    I've read about the “Display Attachments Inline” bug, so I've set that.
    I've also read that you are supposed to enable Javascript to get this to work, but TB3 doesn't support Javascript in email attachments.
    So what is the solution to integrating Outlook invitations?
    For me this was the primary motivation for installing Thunderbird. Without this feature will have to consider TB2 or Evolution.
    Please advise.

  32. I was a total convert from Outlook to TB2 (and Outlook is a hard act to follow). But since I upgraded to 3.1.4, I’ve had more problems that I want from an e-mail client. It hangs for 30 seconds at a time and my RSS feeds… well, they just don’t work.

    My e-mail AND RSS feeds are critical to my work… I’ve searched for answers but can’t find any… Wondering if it’s time to look for something else, or go back to Outlook.

    1. I wouldn’t, if you can download version 3.0.3 its very stable, most add-ons even old ones seem to entwine smoothly. Wait for the bugs after this version to smooth out. Been with Thunderbird for 2 years years now and its bliss compared to the bloated OL.

  33. I’ve been using TB since version 1. It works absolutely fine with our IMAP-based Exchange servers, and POP3 (which is what I use exclusively). I receive/handle 100-150 emails a day, from 7 different accounts, and TB3 handles them all perfectly. Never had a single crash. Ever. And, unlike Outlook, TB3 doesn’t store everything in a proprietary format that forces you to use Outlook to look at old messages. If I can’t open up an old archive of email with nothing more elegant than an ASCII editor, I don’t want it.

    And as for webmail? Please. I use Gmail only to collect the mail, which I then download right into TB3. I have far more control in handling the mail in TB3 than I do in GMail (or any other webmail client I’ve ever tried).

    So, big thumbs up from me for TB3 (and previous incarnations).

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