computers and technology

by Darryl Budge

Can Mozilla Thunderbird replace Microsoft Outlook?

Short answer, at home, definitely! And there is one big scenario when you might want to.

Perhaps you’re upgrading an old computer that used Outlook Express, you are not a fan of Mail in “Windows Essentials” 2012 and don’t want pay for Outlook, then the free and very adaptable Mozilla Thunderbird can come to the rescue.

What’s to like about Thunderbird? Here are a few reasons:

  • Live chatting with contacts on Facebook, Google, Twitter and XMPP (available in version 15 - and you can search chats and emails together).
  • Automatically send large files via a free account on ‘YouSendIt’ or ‘Ubuntu One’ cloud storage and keep your emails small.
  • Equal with Outlook’s calendar, the Lightning calendar add-on (go to Tools > Add-ons, then search and install) can also mirror with your online Google Calendar with ‘Provider for Google Calendar’ add-on. Also displayed is a “Today” side pane, like Outlook.
  • Easily ‘archive’ emails with a keyboard shortcut (A) or button (like Gmail).
  • Emails, calendar, tasks, even web searches (via Search box) are displayed in tabs, not windows.
  • Like flagging an email in Outlook, you can star or custom tag (e.g. tag ‘follow up’). Use ‘save search as folder’ option to quickly create powerful smart folders, or customize for specific tags.
  • Click on the star icon next to a new contact’s name to quickly add to the address book.


The easiest selling point of Thunderbird is you can move your emails between different operating systems, as it is available on Windows XP to 8, Mac OS X 10.4+ and Linux. It is available from

Thunderbird easily imports mail from Outlook Express and Outlook on your tired old machine — so you can then copy emails to a new machine without worry.


When copying your Thunderbird data to another machine, the location of all your emails is stored under the “Tools” menu > “Account Settings” > “Local folders” listing. In that dialog box, click “Browse folder” and copy all folders nested under “Thunderbird”.

On the new machine, install Thunderbird, check the ‘Local Folders’ location in ‘Account Settings’, and copy all data in the same subfolder structure. You will need to delete the ‘profile folder’ (a random string of letters and numbers) that your new Thunderbird install created itself.

You also have extra peace of mind (and faster storage) in that every email is stored as individual text files, so you can even open them in a word processor like Notepad.


Tag an email with “Follow-up” add-on: Tag an important email to follow up on a certain date. E-mails can be set as tasks or events. The calendar events are placed on your system locally, not the Google calendar, but still very helpful.

How to use:

Sync contacts with “Google Contacts” add-on: Enable bi-directional mirroring of Google contacts with Thunderbird address book. This detects Gmail accounts used in Thunderbird and creates address books for each of them. Your local mailing lists and Google's contacts groups are synchronized in the same manner.

Get the latest version from the developer <>

Other favourite add-ons: English (Australian) Dictionary, Lookout (for Outlook format attachments), Slideshow, Change Quote and Reply Format (find this on the web), Mail Summaries, Mail Hops, Display User Mail Agent.

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