Saturday, 3 July 2010

Opera Mail vs. Thunderbird 3.1 vs. GMail

During the last seven months I've been using the Opera Web browser and its integrated Mail Reader, but the experience started to become a bit painful, so I am going back to Firefox/Thunderbird.

Some of the things that pushed me to do this were:
  • With the Opera browser I was not aware of anything like FoxyProxy, which is very useful for me when accessing my company intranet.
  • My web bank page did not show properly (perhaps their fault?) with Opera.
  • Had issues with logging in my favourite forum with Opera (oddly enough not in all computers).
  • The full editor of blogger does not display properly in Opera.
  • I didn't notice Opera browser being particularly faster than Firefox.
  • Opera Mail did not let me put my own tags to messages, which was a bit annoying sometimes.
  • Opera Mail did not let me configure my mail servers with not standard ports, which was annoying if I wanted to access my company servers through SSH tunnels.
  • In a few occasions Opera Mail just stopped working, and after restarting all the messages would be gone (the local copy only), so it had to download them again from Google Mail.
  • Lately Opera Mail started to think that I had millions of messages and would never finish synchronizing with Gmail. After restarting it, it would recognize again properly that I have only thousands.

So, I decided to try the new Thunderbird 3.1 for e-mail, and if it was up to the job, then go back to the Firefox/Thunderbird tandem. So, I collected the things that I need from a mail reader and did a comparison of Thunderbird, Opera Mail, and Gmail. I'm not interested in doing a comparison of all their features, only the ones that I tend to use. I haven't looked in any depth at the documentation of any of the readers, so some of the things here might be wrong. If you find that any of this information is incorrect or that there are better ways of doing something, please let me know, I'd love to hear it. Thunderbird did now manage to do everything I needed, and I don't get the problems mentioned above (plus it is open source software), so I'm now migrating to Firefox/Thunderbird... for how long?

Here it is a list of things that I want my mail reader to do:

  • No folders, use tags instead
Folders are a nuisance, much better tags. You can apply several tags to the same message, and when searching for a particular tag is like you put a message in different folders at the same time.

- GMail: tags are called labels, and you can easily create arbitrary new labels and assign as many as you want to each message.

- Thunderbird: you can also create Tags and assign as many as you want to each message.

- Opera Mail: as far as I know, only the prebuilt tags.

  • Don't mark messages as read automatically

- GMail apparently marks a message as read as soon as you open it. I don't like this at all. I don't even want to mark a message as read after a given set of time. For me "unread" means that I still have to do something with it, so I want to mark it as "read" only when I decide.

- Thunderbird. No problem. In Preferences, Advanced, unmark "Automatically mark messages as read", and I have to mark them as read explicitly.

- Opera Mail. This was also easily configurable.

  • Efficient searching and filtering of messages

This is probably the most important feature for me, and for basic searches I think the three readers are very good. For "incremental searches" I think Gmail is the winner, but Thunderbird 3.1 second.

By incremental search I mean a situation like this: I want to find all mails that have something to do with "braemore statements", and once I found these, I want to find which ones have the word "winter" in the body.

- GMail. This is very good for incremental searches. Type "braemore statements" and a list of mail appears, then type "winter" and press again and bingo.

- Thunderbird. If I type all the words of an incremental search in the "Search all messages" box (thus not making it really incremental), then I also get the result, but ideally one would only type "braemore statements", then click on "Open as list" and then do a "Filter these messages", including the Body, but this does not work well and it seems to hang forever. (Filtering by body does seem to work at least in the Inbox, but it looks like it is really slow, while the Ctrl+K search is really fast. Go figure....).

- Opera Mail. The search option was very fast and quite good in general. For incremental searches it is very good. Type "braemore statements" in the general search box, then one the mails have been found, type "winter" in the quick filter, and bingo! This is what I was hoping it would work in Thunderbird as well, but for some reason it is not just yet.

  • Good keyboard shortcuts
-  Gmail apparently does have shortcuts, but I doubt that they are comparable to Thunderbird or Opera in this respect.

  • Make "read" messages disappear from view but keep them available
- GMail: I'm sure there has to be a way to do this, but it was not obvious.

- Thunderbird. In my Inbox I just click on the "Unread" quick filter and bingo. I only see the "unread" ones but all the rest are somewhere in there. Much cleaner view.

- Opera Mail also does this without any issues.

  • Good display of HTML messages
- Obviously no trouble with this in Gmail, and Thunderbird does it very well also. With Opera Mail I had trouble with quite a few HTML formatted messages. I don't like HTML messages, but people insist on sending them, so I guess I have to be able to read them.

  • Possibility of deleting attachments
- I could not find how to do this in either Gmail or OperaMail. With Thunderbird is just one of the options of the attachment itself.
  • Different personalities 
 This is useful for sending personal mails, or mails to newsgroups, etc. with different mail addresses and/or signature.

- Gmail: I don't think this is possible at all.

- Thunderbird:  it has support for different personalities, and I have used it in the past. Very convenient. This, together with the possibility of using non-conventional ports was very useful for me. Different personalities with Google Mail as SMTP server does not seem to work (Gmail at the end sends the message with you gmail address, and that's all), but when using non-standard port for my SMTP server, I can send (regardless of where I am) mail through my company SMTP server (via ssh tunnels). This allows me to fake my e-mail address (to avoid spam) when sending messages to newsgroups, and to send mail to internal mailing lists at our company (which rejects mails if coming from an outside address).

- OperaMail. I think this is only possible if you have different mail accounts, so you can select which one to use every time you send a message, but I don't think it is possible having, for instance, different signatures associated with the same mail account.

  • Automatic filtering of messages
OperaMail has something that is very useful: The automatic views of mails sent to newsgroups. With Thunderbird is not so automatic, but it does require little work: one can create Search Folders (Ctrl+Shift+F), where one can create complicated searches, and then save it as a search folder. For instance, I created a search folder called "Direct", where I only see mail that is directed personally to me, another search folder where I only see mail that has a particular mailing list address in the "To or CC" fields, etc. This is similar to the old folder mentality, but the messages don't go into any folder, they all can stay in the same folder, and this is just different filtered views of it. Much more powerful and convenient.


Anonymous said...

Good article, but it seems like you may not have used Gmail that extensively (I haven't used Thunderbird or Opera, so I can't claim I know anything about them). With deleting attachments, it is very easy. There is a "Remove" option that comes up after you have attached something, and you can even remove attachments before forwarding on an email to others.

angelv said...


thanks for the comment, but I think we are talking about a different situation (I didn't explain it properly in the post).

You are referring to removing an attachment when composing a message. I was talking about removing an attachment from an e-mail that you receive: I want to keep the text of the message, but I want to delete the attachment itself. I just looked again, and with Gmail I still could not find a way to do it, though perhaps there is an option somewhere?

Anonymous said...

hi I too have problems with opera (mail and browser) but operamail is full of any custom tag you want (just right click on labels...),

it has this from the first release, they invented this, with m2: no more folder just tags.

Anonymous said...

I have been using Opera since 2007 and Opera M2 since 2008 or so.

I have found M2 in many ways to be very good as a "bare-bones-ish" mail client, but since Opera 10.50 it has been going downhill. The progress bars love to flicker up and down and jiggle the scroll bars up and down with it, and in addition it is not very accessible (just try using it with the "High Contrast Black" color scheme)

I am considering switching back to Mozilla Thunderbird (which is a shame because I will miss a lot of the features from Opera M2) simply because the current versions are now getting impossibly harder to use as the versions increase.

There are a few reports (and I have been reporting such UI bugs; including some regressions from 10.50 pre-alpha which are STILL not fixed even in 11.50) and this issue has not been resolved yet.

I find that the attitude of some of their developers of cramming new features constantly in the browser/mail client without bothering to fix existing bugs is really going to harm Opera in the long run, and already Opera has a very small market share.

Anonymous said...

I should add that the release of Opera 10.50 is a great example of when they rushed to get it out on time for the Microsoft Browser Ballot screen thing.

They released THREE release candidates in less than 12 hours and then a final release VERY shortly afterwards.

It is a shame it has come to this; I predict that if they keep going this way then in less than 3-4 years time Opera will end up worse than Apple's Safari or Google Chrome unfortunately.

Back to Mozilla Firefox for me it will be then.

Anonymous said...

Your system of keeping things marked as read can work just fine in gmail too. Instead of using un/read use the inbox label. Everything gets the inbox label when it comes in, and it won't be removed until you manually remove it. You could then see all emails by clicking All Mail and only the ones you still need deal with by clicking Inbox.

Or you could make a custom label and a rule that applies it to every email. You could even call the label Unread.

I'm going to agree that it seems like you didn't use gmail that much.