A glaring omission from OpenOffice is the absence of anything that could match Outlook for communication. If you have an account for Docs & Spreadsheets, you could use Google Mail, but if you want a one-stop-shop for communication then Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 is a useful free package.

Click here to read our analysis of the free alternatives to Office 2007.

At first glance, Thunderbird appears to be simply a replacement for Outlook Express, providing tools for email and reading newsgroup messages. However, this is to ignore its add-ons, such as search tools, ad blockers, dictionaries and miscellaneous features such as the ability to display weather reports from around the world.

Secure communication

Thunderbird is an email client and newsreader. It will handle multiple POP and SMTP accounts, so you can use it as a central point for multiple addresses. The interface is almost a regression from later versions of Outlook, but it's highly customisable and has a host of useful features.

Some features seem fairly basic, though helpful, such as spellchecking while writing and antiphishing tools. Spam protection and Kerberos authentication mean that security is treated very robustly. Thunderbird's message filters are sophisticated and it has a handy tool that strips out attachments while retaining the original mail.

While it is an excellent email client, Thunderbird's lack of calendar, meeting and contact-management tools make it inferior to Outlook for enterprise use. If you need to set up group calendars and schedules, this is one area where Office makes more sense.

Extending Thunderbird

However, extensions offer more options (addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird). Just a few of the popular extensions include: Enigmail, which allows you to encrypt your messages; Down Them All, a download manager which works from within Thunderbird; an extensive range of foreign language and English dictionaries and Image Zoom.

Adding extensions is simple: download the add-on you wish to use and then, from the Extensions manager within Thunderbird, click on Install and navigate to your file. When you restart, your extension will be installed and available from the home page.

And if you don't like the appearance of Thunderbird, as with Firefox you can change its appearance by downloading various themes to modify its look and feel.

In recent years, Outlook and Outlook Express (now Mail) have become the default clients for anyone who doesn't rely on webmail. But Thunderbird could turn your eye. Thunderbird's customisation options give it a certain appeal, but the lack of group contacts, scheduling and calendar features mean Thunderbird isn't up to the job as a replacement client for larger companies.


Plenty of add-ons make Thunderbird a great standalone package, but the lack of scheduling tools makes it unsuitable for business.