Downloading and Using Mozilla Thunderbird
By Brazos Price
Spring 2005 What is Thunderbird? Why should I use it?
Thunderbird is the email client portion of Mozilla, an open-source suite of applications
that can be downloaded for free over the Internet. Using a full-featured email client like
Thunderbird offers several advantages that web-based mail interfaces like Hotmail,
Gmail, Yahoo mail, and UT Webmail cannot. Thunderbird allows a user to access and
manage multiple email accounts simultaneously. For a student at the iSchool, this means
that you can access your iSchool email, your utexas email, and even your email from
work, all using the same program.
In addition to these features, Thunderbird is an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader
that lets the user take advantage of RSS feeds, sites that distribute information using the
RSS format. Downloading news and information directly to your inbox is quite easy;
Thunderbird can access multiple websites that are updated on a frequent basis, including
news sites and blogs (weblogs). Another facet of Thunderbird service encompasses the
realm of Usenet (or Newsgroups), as Thunderbird can also access and manage multiple
Fortunately, the capabilities of this program do not stop with the above. Thunderbird also
gives increased spam or junk mail controls. With this program, you can access
government grade security features and the ability to easily parse large amounts of mail
using customizable mail filtering. Thunderbird is less susceptible to email viruses than
Outlook, or other commonly used mail programs.
Finally, Thunderbird offers extensibility and the ability to customize. You can customize
the way the program looks, alter viewing areas, and add themes. Extensions are available
to add to the Thunderbird experience. For example, you can add increased security by
downloading an extension that allows for PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) keys or add a
feature that incorporates a dictionary search within the mail client. New extensions are
coming out every week, so the ability to expand and customize this program is limitless.
This tutorial assumes Thunderbird version 1.0 running on Windows XP but other
operating systems and versions should look and act similar. Objectives of this Tutorial
Learn how to download Thunderbird and install it.
Learn how to navigate the Thunderbird interface.
Learn how to add email accounts to Thunderbird.
Learn how to use Thunderbird’s RSS reader.
Learn how to setup and optimize Filters.
Learn how to setup and optimize Spam/Junk Mail detection.
Downloading and Installing Thunderbird
First, make sure you are connected to the Internet. Open a browser and navigate to the
Mozilla homepage, http://www.mozilla.org. You will notice that the Mozilla website
offers many products, including Firefox (see our Firefox tutorial located at
http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/technology/tutorials/internet/firefox/), the Mozilla
Browser, and others. A link to the Thunderbird Homepage is located on this page.
Follow this link.
The Thunderbird homepage (http://mozilla.org/thunderbird) is where you will find links
to download Thunderbird, as well as up-to-date information about the program (including
bugs and new versions). The Thunderbird website should recognize your computer’s
operating system (this tutorial assumes Windows XP) and provide a link to download the
appropriate version of Thunderbird on this page. If the version displayed on the website
does not correspond to the operating system that you are using, follow the link that says other systems and languages
and find the right version of Thunderbird for your
operating system. Download the installer to your desktop.
Once the Installer has finished downloading, double click the installer and the installation
setup should begin. Read the software license agreement and, accept it to click the next
button and continue the installation. Go ahead and choose the standard installation and
click next. Click next one last time and the installation will begin; once this is completed,
launch Thunderbird and you will be able to import information from other email clients.
If you have been using another email client, now is the time to import your address book
and other information. Importing mail information may take some time, so please be
Otherwise, choose not to import any settings from other mail clients. Now you will be
given the option to add accounts to Thunderbird.
Start off by selecting the button to add an email account, and then click next. Now you
will be asked to enter your identity. Enter your name and your iSchool email address
(your ischool username followed by ”@ischool.utexas.edu”) and click next.
Now you need to enter the server information. The iSchool uses an IMAP server;
therefore you should select the IMAP button as the incoming server (IMAP offers several
advantages over POP; if you are interested in specifics, please visit
http://www.imap.org/imap.vs.pop.brief.html) and input “mail.ischool.utexas.edu” into
both the incoming and outgoing server. If you are not using an iSchool account, be sure
and ask your provider, as not all providers allow IMAP or use the same mail server for
both incoming and outgoing servers. Now select the next button.
Now you must enter your username again. For iSchool students, this is your iSchool user
name, the name that comes before the @ in your email address. For example, my email
address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and so my username is brazos. Not all email
providers are set up this way, so be sure and ask your provider if you do not know your
username. Choose the next button once more. Select a name for this account and choose
next. You are almost ready to begin using Thunderbird; verify that all of the information
is correct before continuing. If something needs to be changed, choose the back button
until you have reached the area that needs to be fixed and alter it accordingly. Once
everything has been entered, click the finish button.
Now you are given the option to use Thunderbird as your default Mail client. This means
that whenever you click a link on a web page that prompts an email, Thunderbird will
open up automatically to send that email. Select the “do not display this dialog box
again” button and choose yes or no. You will now be prompted to enter your password -
do so and click ok. Navigating the Thunderbird Interface
At this point, if your server has mail on it (for the purposes of this example, your iSchool
email account), your mailbox will be populated with messages. In Thunderbird,
messages that are bold
are unread and messages that are not bold have already been read.
Thunderbird’s interface looks like this:
Now, let us send a test message to ourselves, to make sure that we have configured our
mailbox properly. Click on the write button (between the get mail button on the left and
the address book button on the right). In the to:
field, type your “email address,” in the subject,
type “test message,” and in the message box,
and the message should close. If your account is configured correctly, when
you click on the Get Mail button, your message will be delivered. If the message is not
delivered, you will need to check your mail server settings again, to ensure you input the
With Thunderbird, there is no need to always type in the contact information when
sending an email. The Address Book
function allows you to collect all your contact
information in one place.
Click on the Address button to work with your address book. Once in the Address Book
click on New Card
to insert contact information. Try it out using your own address.
Input your first and last names in the appropriate fields, as well as your email address.
Compose another message. Click on the contacts button at the top of your screen. At
this point, you should see your name on the left-hand side of the screen, under the
personal contacts information. Also note that Thunderbird makes an automatic contact
list for any individual that you have sent a message to. Therefore, when you respond to
an email directed to you from someone you do not know, their email address will be
added to your contact list. You can delete them by right clicking (control + click for
Macs) on the name and selecting delete. Close the compose message box now; do not
save the message. Adding Accounts to Thunderbird
Many of you may have multiple email accounts. Thunderbird makes it easy to bring
many email accounts into the same email client. As iSchool students, you are eligible for
both an iSchool email account, as well as a utexas account. To sign up for an iSchool
account, go to http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/technology/tutorials/start/account/ or stop
by the IT lab. To get a University of Texas (@mail.utexas.edu) email account, go to
http://www.utexas.edu/computer/email/. Once you have another email account and want
to add it to Thunderbird, you must go to the file menu, select new, and then account
This brings up the account Wizard that was accessed the first time you launched
Thunderbird. Notice that from here you may add accounts for Email, RSS News and
Blogs, or Newsgroups. Choose to add an email account. This is done much like before.
Input your name, email address, and email server (ie, mail.utexas.edu). The difference
now is that it is not necessary to input an SMTP server; it uses your original account’s
server (mail.ischool.utexas.edu). Adding an RSS feed for News or Blogs
RSS or Really Simple Syndication is a way to “subscribe” to websites such as news or
blogs. This portion of the tutorial will teach you how to use Thunderbird to subscribe to
CNN Headlines, as well as the RSS feed from www.brazos.indylibrarian.net/blog, my
Thunderbird uses RSS to download information (in this case websites) directly to your
email client. It periodically checks for new information from the RSS feed so whenever
you go online, you do not need to visit the website in question in order to receive
breaking news. The RSS reader also periodically checks for new information while you
In order to add an RSS feed, go to File
Account and select RSS News and Blogs.
Follow the prompts to name your new RSS account. Once the account has been created,
select it on the Thunderbird Sidebar and right click (control + click for Macs). Then
select the option to Manage subscriptions
and the manage subscriptions frame is
opened. Use this interface to add a new news/blog subscription.
In this first example, we will be subscribing to the CNN news website.
Open up a web browser. Type in the CNN address, www.cnn.com. Most websites have
their RSS feed somewhere on the main page. Look for the CNN RSS feed. It is located at
the bottom of the main page next to an orange XML box and says, “Add RSS headlines.”
Follow this link. This page gives you some information about RSS feeds and RSS. Now
select the Top Stories link (http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_topstories.rss). If you click on this
link, it will take you to a page with XML information. The first line says
“-<rss version="2.0">”. This means that we are in the right place for an RSS feed.
Return to the Thunderbird program where you left it, managing subscriptions to RSS
feeds. Now select the Add
button. It will prompt you to enter a “feed URL.” This is the
aforementioned url (http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_topstories.rss). Enter this into the “feed
URL” field and select the OK button. Thunderbird will now populate your News and
Blog account with a CNN icon. This CNN icon represents your RSS feed. Notice that
unread news stories are darkened, while read ones are lightened. Select a news story like
you would an email. The CNN News feed downloads the actual webpage content.
If you are on a slower connection, or would like to be more discriminating, change the
options of the feed (click on News and Blogs on the side manage subscriptions select CNN.com Edit feed
check the “Show the article summary instead of loading
the Web Page”). From here, you can edit your feed or even erase it. Notice that when
selecting an article, it acts like a webpage; clicking on links in the article will in fact open
up a new web browser and take you to the linked content.
Now try adding an RSS feed for a blog, in this case http://brazos.indylibrarian.net/blog/.
Go to the website and look for the RSS feed. For this example, the RSS feed for the
entries is located at the bottom of the website, where it says, “Syndicate entries using
RSS.” Click on this link and it will bring you to a webpage that looks similar to the one
at CNN – a valid RSS feed. Copy the link (http://www.brazos.indylibrarian.net/blog/wp-
rss2.php) and go back to Thunderbird and follow the same procedure that you did with
the CNN feed in order to add it to your inbox. Once added, return to the main
Thunderbird interface. Notice how under the new blog “response”, only the text, and not
the entire webpage content is visible; depending on the feed, this may occur. Also notice
that a time stamp is used when downloading the messages, and much like those of an
email, it indicates when a blog or article was posted. Setting up Filters
Often we receive more messages a day than we know what to do with. This can become
even more difficult when one considers combining different email address and adding
RSS feeds. One way of lessening the cognitive load is creating filters. Filters can be set
up to automatically categorize email messages; due to this categorization, different
actions may be taken. For example, most School of Information students are a member
of a several email listservs, SASI being the most prominent and the most voluminous.
Fortunately, all of the emails from the SASI listserv (the Insider) begin with “[THE-
We can use this common tag to filter them down to a more cognitively acceptable level.
First go to the tools message filters
and then select your iSchool account.
Then you should select “New…” and name your filter “The Insider”. For your filter
select “Subject” “begins with” “[THE-INSIDER” under “Perform these actions:”
Do not click OK yet first you need to make a new folder. Click on “New Folder…” to
create a new folder under your iSchool account. Call this folder “Insider” and move all
messages that fit the aforementioned criteria to the “Insider” folder.
Run the Filter now.
Filtering has the ability to massively change the way that you use email. Spam/Junk Mail Detection
You can also use filters to fine tune spam and junk mail detection. The iSchool comes
with a built in spam detector, Spam Assassin. If Spam Assassin thinks that a message is
spam, then it will flag it as such in the headers. Go to your iSchool inbox. Open (double
click) a message. Go to the menu bar. Choose View Headers All
If you see a header that says “X-Spam-Flag: YES
” then Spam Assassin thinks that this
message is spam. We can filter out messages that Spam Assassin thinks are spam by
using a specialized filter.