Microsoft was fishing without a pole when it designed the mail program that comes with Windows.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Stop Paying for Software
Thunderbird and SPAMfighter are the top e-mail freebies

April 26, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   The best way to save money is to stop spending it. That's the idea behind my new series on the best free software for Windows and Macs. This week I'm recommending an outstanding e-mail program and a companion spam blocker for Windows.
   Windows users sometimes return a blank stare when I recommend this week's top e-mail software, the free program called Thunderbird. After all, Windows comes with easy-to-use e-mail software. No one has to pay for it, so why would I recommend another free program?
   Safety is why. Microsoft was fishing without a pole when it designed the mail program that comes with Windows, called Outlook Express or Windows Mail, depending on your version of Windows. Those two programs are unsafe in many ways, and the most effective way to increase your e-mail security is to use a program designed to be safe.
   And that's why I've chosen Thunderbird as the ideal replacement for the mail software that comes with Windows. Thunderbird comes from the folks who created Firefox. Download it from www.mozillamessaging.com.
   Like Firefox, Thunderbird is solid and dependable. Also like Firefox, T'bird is about as non-stodgy as any program you can find. You can dress it up (or down!) with skins (files that give it different toolbar buttons, window colors and so on) -- but beware: You can easily lose an entire Saturday afternoon playing with these skins!
   Thunderbird will try to import all your mail and account settings when you install it, and it works just like Outlook Express in most ways. I've talked to users who replaced Outlook Express with Thunderbird on their family PCs without hearing a peep from the other users in the family.
   You need a good spam blocker, and one of the best is a free program called SPAMfighter. Get it from www.spamfighter.com. Skip the "pro" version when asked -- it's a commercial version for businesses and offices -- and be sure to be patient while SPAMfighter installs. (My copy took so long I was able to brew a second pot of coffee while I waited.)
   SPAMfighter checks an Internet list of known sources of spam to set traps for spam but also relies on each user to mark spam that gets through. This way it learns of new spam sources quickly. In that in my tests, it did as well as two commercial spam blockers I use on my other home computers. That's a huge compliment, considering the fact that SPAMfighter is free.
   (What about Mac users? Thunderbird is available for the Mac, but the Mac's built-in mail program is stellar and very safe. It has its own excellent spam blocker, too.)
   Next in this series: Free Microsoft Word-compatible word processors.