John Topley’s Weblog

Hello Goodbye

Hello 2005, goodbye Microsoft. Don’t worry, I haven’t taken leave of my senses and ditched Windows for Linux at home—it’s a fine server OS but I don’t want it on my desktop. What I have done is finally ditch Internet Explorer and Outlook Express in favour of Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird.

I’d been using the various versions of Outlook Express (and Internet Mail and News as it used to be called) for over six years and had successfully transferred my e-mail message store from my original PC to two successive computers. I’d also been using Internet Explorer as my primary browser since version 3.0 came out and swept all before it. Prior to that I’d used Netscape Navigator when I first got online.

IE was pretty cool when it started to gain momentum, so I just stuck with it. The Netscape Communicator suite version 4.x was a dog compared to IE 5.x, so there was no reason to change. In recent years I knew that Microsoft’s browser and e-mail offerings had serious deficiencies, which prompted me to take a look at Opera and the open-source Mozilla. I then got into a crazy situation whereby I was using three different Web browsers on a daily basis.

I’d use Internet Explorer for most sites, because that’s what came up when I pressed the Web button on my Microsoft keyboard, and I could never be bothered to re-program it. For certain discussion groups where I always wanted to look at the same set of related pages, I used Opera, because it let me save those pages as a group of tabs. And occasionally I’d use Mozilla when I wanted to check how hard-wired to IE a particular site was. The only add-in I used with IE was when I recently started to use the Google Toolbar to block pop-ups and to tell me the PageRank of pages on this site.

I stuck with Outlook Express for e-mail and newsgroups because I was so familiar with it and because over the years I’d grown a complex hierarchy of 162 folders and associated message rules for routing e-mails into the appropriate folders! This coupled with the fact that I rarely delete non-spam e-mail, meant that any program I switched to had to import all this data flawlessly.

I knew that the Microsoft software I was using had security flaws that were becoming increasingly regular, serious and publicised, but it didn’t concern me because I’m careful about what I click on, use the holy triumvirate of firewall, anti-virus and spyware removal software, don’t run as administrator and keep my data backed up. There was no flash of light moment of revelation when I suddenly decided to go Mozilla, all that happened was that I’d liked Firefox for a while and had downloaded version 1.0 and decided to give Thunderbird a spin too. And then I noticed that both products had eliminated the barriers that had prevented me switching.

Firefox imported my IE favourites, cookies, browsing history and even any saved form and password data—probably an impressive piece of reverse-engineering as I doubt Microsoft document this—without any fuss whatsoever. Thunderbird too coped admirably with those 162 mail folders, my account settings and my 11,500-odd saved e-mails.

Another factor that made me switch was that unlike a lot of open-source software, these products are slick to look at and use. They use attractive graphics, the user interfaces are well-thought out and the same is true of their respective websites.

Out with the old, in with the new.
A picture of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird on my Windows XP Start menu

I like the compactness of both programs. If there’s a feature that you need, then simply bolt it on with an extension. I like the way that Firefox colours the location bar yellow when I’m using a secure site and I like its unobtrusive Find window, although this is taking me a while to get used to after six years of the IE way. Thunderbird shows some intelligence when I resize the columns in its folder view i.e. it tries to keep the information in the columns readable. Its built-in junk mail filtering is great and means that I can retire K9, the program that I was previously using as my anti-spam solution. I can also ditch OE-QuoteFix, another Outlook Express band-aid I was using. Software that leads to a simpler overall solution is a good thing in my book.

One advantage Outlook Express does have over Thunderbird is that it makes it very easy to move the entire message store to a different location. Using Thunderbird I had to edit a few settings to move the message store from my Windows partition to my data partition. I’d also like a bit more maturity in the way Thunderbird handles the selection of sub-folders within a folder hierarchy; it’s tedious having to select each sub-folder individually. There doesn’t appear to be a way of going automatically to my Inbox upon program start-up that works, and a way of applying a default column sorting order to all folder views would be handy too. Also, I really miss having one command for receiving and sending e-mails. However, these are minor quibbles and I’m sure they’ll all be addressed by future versions or by extensions.

Firefox and Thunderbird are now my default Web browser and mail program respectively and I even finally got around to re-programming the buttons on that Microsoft keyboard. I have a feeling that 2005 is going to be a good year for Mozilla. Happy New Year!

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There was no flash of light moment of revelation when I suddenly decided to go Mozilla.


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