a new kind of Thunder(bird)

Sometimes a very specific needs makes us challenge the tools we use for everyday work… For quite some time now I’ve been a happy user of the Mozilla Thunderbird mail user agent which prove to both reliably handle my fairly huge everday mail traffic, most important including powerful filtering mechanisms to get mail sorted, junk and spam removed. After trying to do my weekly backup, however, I discovered that my mail spool by now is using more than one gigabyte of drive storage, which is quite much for writing to a CD; anyhow, lots of those mails (like the archives of several mailing lists including debian-user and some other high-volume ones) I don’t really want to keep stored on my drive for all eternity. Unfortunately, current Mozilla Thunderbird in its stable version doesn’t offer the ability to automatically delete old mails in certain folders (which would be quite helpful in this situation).

Overally, I thought about both switching to mutt-ng or reverting to sylpheed-claws which I’ve been using for quite some years (before Thunderbird…). Both solutions seemed to be at least sub-optimal, involving a lot of configuration and migration work (and thus time, and I’m currently quite short on time for things like that) and several disadvantages I’ve already seen before: Sylpheed-Claws still isn’t very reliable talking about connecting to IMAP mail servers and overally seems to slow down whenever a mail folder contains a huge load of messages – because of the MH-style mailbox format? mutt-ng, on the other hand, is an incredibly powerful piece of software with the advantage of using vim as mail writing editor, but ends in a vast amount of work configuring mutt-ng, procmail for filtering mail and something like getmail for fetching mail using POP3. Besides the fact that, by now, I haven’t found a practical solution for encrypting POP3 passwords so I don’t have to store them as plain-text within the .getmailrc configuration or to enter them each time while fetching mail for each of my accounts, I guess one day I’ll surely get started using this sort of technology because the flexibility it provides is incredible…

Anyhow, being pointed right this way, by now I switched to the 1.5RC1 pre-release of the upcoming version of Mozilla Thunderbird and am sort of pleased. Though not being considered a “stable” release, it by now already works kind of stable, and it presents some things which are (to me) a major improvement:

  • Message aging now works; you may configure “retention policies” for each of your mail folders to automatically get rid of old messages (indeed, that’s what I initially was searching for).
  • The filtering system now also works automatically – in the “stable” 1.0.x version you always had to wait for your messages to be loaded to your inbox and then manually “filter messages” to make Thunderbird move them to the right folder. Right now, new messages automatically end up where they are supposed to.
  • The package overally seems to work faster than the old version. Though this is quite a personal impression, it is sort of nice. 🙂

So overally, though 1.5RC1 is still considered “unstable”, it is worth giving it a try (given that you don’t care that there are no language packs available yet and that some old extensions will not work anymore and have to be removed or upgraded). Fortunately, enigmail is already working with 1.5RC1 given you use the “nightly builds”.