Outlook alternatives: Free open source applications

Outlook can be a pricey way to accomplish mundane, critical office tasks, but alternatives are available

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Thunderbird and Lightning:


  • Best Feature: A powerful search engine makes short work of finding important emails.
  • Nice Touch: Customizable filters make it easy to sort email based upon your particular needs.

While Thunderbird and Lightning may sound like the latest superhero duo, they are actually a pair of applications that work together to handle email and scheduling. Thunderbird is an e-mail and news cross-platform client software package created by the Mozilla Foundation and is available for no charge as an open source product.

On its own, Thunderbird can manage multiple accounts for e-mail, newsgroup and RSS feeds. It also supports multiple identities within each account, making it a good fit for those working with several different email systems.

Mozilla offers Lightning as an add-on for Thunderbird, which brings calendaring capabilities to Thunderbird. Lightning, is one of many add-ons that give enhanced functionality to Mozilla's Thunderbird.

Thunderbird proves very adept at handling e-mail and offers several wizards that make installation and configuration very easy. The product works across several different platforms, including Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, and several Linux distributions.


Thunderbird makes it easy to manage spam

The Thunderbird interface uses a paradigm similar to Microsoft Outlook, offering a multi pane view of an e-mail inbox. However, Thunderbird also adds tabs that can be customized to filter, organize and better control access to e-mail. Tabs can also be used to create custom searches and timelines give better granular control over e-mail.

Other features include folders, labels, message grouping, as well as a plethora of options available through extensions and themes, which can be added to the Thunderbird core as needed. Initial setup proved to be very easy, just like spice bird, Thunderbird offers an account setup wizard that automates e-mail account set up, and eliminates the need for the end user to input esoteric settings, such as ports, IP addresses and other manually entered elements.

Thunderbird also features automated updates, spam filtering, phishing protection and add-on management, all of which makes Thunderbird one of the more complete e-mail clients available. When paired with lightning, Thunderbird becomes a complete personal information management tool, offering Microsoft outlook like capabilities, all for a very acceptable price, free.

Lightning is a basic calendaring application that can interface with multiple hosted calendars, such as those available from Google and Yahoo. Lightning also includes support for Tasks and two-way synchronization between a locally stored calendar and a calendar server using CalDAV, WCAP or via available add-ons.

Thunderbird offers a decent contact management system which can integrate with other address books, but requires add-ons to be installed for that functionality. Those add-ons can offer two-way synchronization between Thunderbird's local address book and remote address books, such as Google contacts or Yahoo address books.

Usability wise, Thunderbird proves to be a speedy e-mail client that works across multiple platforms, while still offering the same type of interface. Some very notable elements about Thunderbird include ease-of-use, simplified installation, and an abundance of add-ons which bring additional capabilities to Thunderbird. As with most open-source products, Thunderbird is a work in progress and is constantly updated with enhancements and bug fixes.

For users working with either hosted e-mail systems or open source e-mail servers, Thunderbird should prove to be more than adequate and meet most anyone's needs.

Next page: Zimbra Desktop

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