Fighting Spam with Mozilla Thunderbird

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"I'm gettin' hard on myself, sittin' in my easy chair."
White Stripes / 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

Posted on December 09, 2003 7:37 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

This isn't the first time I've written about spam on my blog. However, the last time I was complaining, this time I've actually done something about it. Three days ago, spam had become such a nuissance in my life that I was ready for a major change in my computer-use routine, so long as it would make dealing with spam a thing of my past.

On a typical day, I get anywhere from 90 to 150 emails that would be considered by anyone who isn't into "penis patches" and "ink blowouts" nothing more than annoying spam. Also, on a typical day, I get anywhere from 0 to 5 emails that I actually care about (i.e. that I want to spend time reading). Some things that I have noticed about the spam I have received are 1) I tend to get more at night and 2) over time I have begun to notice patterns in the subject lines of most spam messages.

On Sunday night, I finally decided to stop using Microsoft's Outlook Express, a program I have been using for personal email for almost as long as I've been using Internet Explorer (a very long time), and start using the Mozilla Foundation's up-and-coming email client, Thunderbird. Before shutting down Outlook Express for the last time, though, I made sure to grab a screenshot of what my inbox typically looked like on a slow spam day. You see the result in the background of the following image.

Spam in Outlook Express vs. Spam in Mozilla Thunderbird

While that picture may seem spellbounding to someone from the mid-1990s, I'm sure it looks strikingly similar to your inbox as well. What should appear spellbounding, however, is the image shown in the inset at the picture's lower right. That is a cropped view of my email folders at Thunderbird startup after only three days of use!

Setting up Thunderbird to meet my old Outlook Express expectations was not difficult at all. In fact, I was impressed with all the extra functionality available in Thunderbird. The Qute theme, based on the default theme in Firebird is impressive as well. It didn't take much time at all to setup my mail accounts, setup my message rules, establish junk mail settings, and begin sending and receiving mail from Thunderbird.

Amazingly enough, the first time I checked my mail, all 13 messages downloaded were automatically sent to my Junk mail folder. I'm not exactly sure why, since Thunderbird junk mail handling needs time to learn what you consider to be junk mail and what you do not (one man's trash is another man's treasure), but I wasn't going to complain, considering all 13 messages were truly spam.

Yesterday was day two of using Thunderbird, and I was already picking up on some new tricks (like placement of signatures and color-coding of quoted text). Thunderbird then behaved as I had initially expected, letting some spam make its way into my inbox. All I had to do at that point was select the messages I wasn't interested in (something I'm already very used to) and then hitting the "Junk" icon in the toolbar. Each time I go through this process, Thunderbird becomes more aware of what I consider to be junk mail and stores that information for later email handling.

Tonight is only day three with Thunderbird, and as you can see by the lower right inset in the image above, 112 spam emails were automatically sent to the Junk folder when I started up the application. Not bad at all for three days! This isn't to say that the system is fool-proof already. On the contrary, I ran into my first instances of false-positives tonight. Two emails that I would have expected to arrive in my inbox actually ended up in the Junk folder. This is just as easy to remedy as blocking junk, fortunately, as I was able to select the messages and click on the "Not Junk" icon in the toolbar.

Needless to say, I am very impressed with Thunderbird after only a few days of use. I don't miss Outlook Express at all (and I really thought that I would) and I'm looking forward to the days ahead, as Thunderbird learns my preferences and starts to handle spam with more and more precision. I could have gone head-first into the technicalities of what's involved in Thunderbird's handling of junk mail, but instead I wanted to focus on the fact that it does the job. If you are finally fed up enough with spam that you are willing to make a major change to your online habits, you should seriously consider switching to Mozilla Thunderbird.


John on March 03, 2005 at 5:37 PM:

I am new to THunderbird but impressed with its spam control too but there is a problem I am having that I dont seem to be able to get around.

When Thunderbird puts an email thats not junk into the junk folder and I click on not doesnt put it back into the in box and when I try to move it it disappears and I cannot find it again.

I am not a computer buff I am 64 yrs old.

I would be very thankful for any help you can give me with this.

Thank you in advance



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