With new security holes appearing every day and spy/ad-ware spreading rampantly, the combination of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express are becoming increasingly dangerous choices for safe web browsing and e-mail. Yet what is one to do if they can't or won't switch from Windows to another operating system? It's simple: bring the security and power of Open Source applications to Windows. The Mozilla Project's Firefox web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client do just that, and do it without sacrificing the easy-to-use, clean interface users demand. As associate editor Ed Hurst noted in his OpenCD review earlier this year, many of the Open Source community's best applications are available conveniently packaged for Windows, and the Mozilla Project's applications are no exception.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect the current version numbers of Firefox and Thunderbird.
While just installing Firefox and Thunderbird is fairly simple, there are extra steps that are required to get your Windows-based Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird combination to meet (and exceed) the functionality of the standard combination of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. The following guide is a step-by-step walkthrough intended to take a user from a system without Mozilla all the way through the installation of both major software programs offered by the Mozilla Project.
Step One: Rising From the Ashes
The first step in this process is to download the Firefox installer. You can do so by clicking here. After clicking the link in Internet Explorer, simply click “open” when prompted to start the process of downloading and installing Mozilla Firefox. After the installer finishes downloading, you will be greeted by a series of installation screens. Follow the on screen instructions to complete this portion of the installation.
At the end of the installation, there is an option to launch Mozilla Firefox. Leave that box checked to automatically start up Firefox for the first time. After a few moments the Firefox Import Wizard will appear. If you select the option to import from “Microsoft Internet Explorer,” Firefox will automatically grab most of your Internet Explorer settings and preserve them in Firefox, including bookmarks and your home page. After the wizard finishes, answer affirmatively to the dialog that asks if you want to make Firefox your default browser to insure that programs that send you to the web will use Firefox and not Internet Explorer in the future.
Step Two: Getting Plugged into the Features You Want
Note: Step two has been automated by the Mozilla Project since I first wrote this article in June of 2004. While you can still follow step two, it is possible to skip this step and let Firefox assist you in installing these plug-ins the first time you visit a web site that requires them.
Even if you've previously installed Macromedia Flash and Shockwave on Internet Explorer, you will need to install them again to get them working on Firefox. To do so, go to www.macromedia.com/ downloads in Firefox and click on “Macromedia Flash Player” under the “free players” heading. Next, click the “download now” link and then click “Save it to Disk.” After you see the downloads completed message, click the back button on your browser window and click the “Macromedia Shockwave Player” link also under the free players heading. As with the last download, save it to disk.
After this download also completes, close all of your web browser windows. On your desktop, you should see a “flashplayer7installer” icon. Click this icon and follow the steps presented by the installer. Likewise, when you finish that installer, double click on the “Shockwave_Installer_Full-1” file on your desktop and follow the steps through that installer. I recommend unchecking the box that installs the Yahoo! toolbar since that is designed for Internet Explorer and the whole point of what we are doing is to quit using that browser.
Some plug-ins may or may not need to be reinstalled, so we should check to see if it is necessary to install them prior to doing so. To check, open Firefox (you should have an icon on your desktop for it that has a picture of a globe with a flaming fox wrapped around it) and type “about:plugins” as the address in the address box. This will provide a list of the plugins that are installed on your computer. If you see Java, Real Player and/or QuickTime already listed in the listing of plugins, you may not need to do anything. If one or more is missing, follow the appropriate steps given below to install the plug-ins you need.
Step Three: Read My Lips, No More Spam
Now that you have escaped the world of the buggy, insecure and adware infested world of Internet Explorer, you should seriously consider moving to a more secure e-mail client than Outlook Express as well. Thunderbird is a very well designed e-mail client that takes design cues from its predecessor Mozilla Mail, as well as Apple Mail and others. To download Thunderbird for Windows, click here. When prompted, save the file to disk as we did with the plug-ins and then close Firefox once the download has completed.
You should now have a ThunderBirdSetup-22.214.171.124 file on your desktop. Click that file and follow the installer's instructions. Once Thunderbird launches, cancel out of the “New Account Setup,” and click “exit” when prompted. You will then be prompted about whether Thunderbird should be your default e-mail client. Click “yes.”
Next, go to the “Tools” menu and click “Import.” Select settings and click “next.” If you get a file selection window (what you see when opening or saving a file), as I did in preparing these instructions, close that window. Next, select “Outlook Express” (or “Outlook” if you are using that instead), and click next. Now repeat this step for importing e-mail by going back into “Tools,” clicking on “Import,” and selecting e-mail. Again select “Outlook Express” or “Outlook” and follow the process. Finally, we do this once more for the address book, going back into “Tools” and then “Import,” selecting “Address Book” and again selecting “Outlook Express” or “Outlook.”
Once you have completed these steps, old messages will be located inside the “Local Folders” folder, which is in the left column of the Thunderbird window, in a subfolder entitled “Outlook Express Mail.” New messages, on the other hand, will be located in the folder with the name of your e-mail server (perhaps “mail.sbcglobal.yahoo.com” for example).
Step Four: For Hotmail Users Only
If you are a Hotmail user, you will likely notice that all of the steps we followed did not add your Hotmail inbox to Thunderbird. If you are not a Hotmail user just skip down to the final step, step five, but if you do have a Hotmail account, a few extra steps are necessary. The reason for this is that Microsoft does not use a standard e-mail system for downloading e-mail from Hotmail and, “officially speaking,” only Outlook Express and Outlook support downloading Hotmail mail. Do not be disappointed though. A program called Hotmail Popper provides a convenient way to download your Hotmail mail into Thunderbird. While Hotmail Popper is no longer free to use (it costs $18), the last version released for free is still available to download here.
After downloading this, you should be able to close your web browser again and find a file named “hotpop-2.1.1.zip” on your desktop. In most recent versions of Windows, you should be able to right click that file and “extract” Hotmail Popper to a folder. Next, click that newly created folder and and click hotpop-2.1.1.exe to install Hotmail Popper.
After completing the installation, right click the Hotmail Popper icon next to the clock on the Windows taskbar (the icon that is a picture of a candle) and click options. You will notice an option to download folders other than the inbox as well as whether to download the junk mail folder. It is up to you whether you want to select these options. After you have made your decision, click “OK.”
Now, go back into Thunderbird, go to the “Tools” menu and click “Account Settings.” You will see an “Add Account” button on the left side of the window. Click that and then proceed through the wizard. Enter your name however you prefer and use your Hotmail address for the e-mail address. On the incoming server screen, type “127.0.0.1” and then click next. On the incoming user name screen, enter your Hotmail/Microsoft Passport ID just as you would when logging into Passport on MSN.com.
After finishing, click the “Server Settings” item in the left white column of the “Account Settings” window. If you imported one or more e-mail accounts back in step three, you will notice that there is more than one “Server Settings” item on that left column; select the one that is located under your Hotmail e-mail address heading. On the right side of the window, check “Leave messages on the server” and then check “until I delete or move them from inbox.” Finally, click “ok.”
Step Five: Practice Makes Perfect
As a contrast to Outlook Express, Thunderbird has a sophisticated junk mail (spam) filter built-in. The first time you download your e-mail in Thunderbird, you may notice a lot of messages are marked as junk mail even though they aren't junk. You can tell that a message is considered junk when there is a trash can next to its subject or, after selecting that message, you see “Thunderbird thinks this message is junk mail” above the message. You may also notice that there is junk mail that is not marked as junk. Do not worry — this is normal when you first start using Thunderbird and is nothing to worry about.
The key here is to train Thunderbird to understand what mail is junk and what mail is not. To do this, notice which messages are marked as junk incorrectly, click on them and click the “Not Junk” button right above the message. Similarly, for messages that are junk but are not marked as such, you can click on them and then click the Junk button on the toolbar.
By doing this, you are starting the learning process that will help Thunderbird eliminate spam from your mailbox. Continue training Thunderbird in this manner over the course of the next few days or weeks until it becomes highly accurate at spotting what is not junk. In other words, what we are aiming to do is make sure that absolutely no mail is being incorrectly marked as junk. In the next step, we are going to make it so that junk mail does not go into your inbox, thus the reason why we want to make sure that the mail you want to receive is not incorrectly tagged as junk mail before we do this.
Once you have achieved success in getting Thunderbird to know what mail is not junk, you can turn Thunderbird on to full junk mail control, which will move junk mail into a separate folder so that it will not bother you. To do this, go to the “Tools” menu, click “Junk Mail Controls” and then select “Move incoming messages determined to be junk mail to. You can pick out a folder to move junk mail to or leave it set as is. After clicking “ok,” you will have completed your junk mail training and Thunderbird will allow you to enjoy your e-mail free of junk mail.
Step Six: Relax
By following these steps, you will have eliminated at least most of the reasons you couldn't relax while using Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. Namely, you will no longer have problems with adware, malicious scripts, spam and pop-ups. Of course, that means you'll actually be able to get work done, which might not be so relaxing after all.