Thunderbird on OS X: I give up. This is untested crap

The title says it all really; for whatever reason, the Thunderbird developers appear not to have tested TB on OS X. So much of the basic functionality doesn’t work in the latest beta – this isn’t even alpha-quality code (on OS X). I’m sure it works fine on Windows (or else you’d have thousands of people complaining long and loudly).

I had this suspicion with Shredder 2 (the last alpha), where basic features – like sending emails, and viewing messages in a folder – would regularly crash the OS X build. Even for an alpha that should have been unacceptable, or fixed very rapidly. Where’s the regression testing?

But I hoped I was just being cynical, and so I moved on, and forgot about all that. My experiences over the past couple of months with the beta have recreated that suspicion, and cemented it. For instance, I lost a couple of hours of work today because TB on OS X has major bugs in its synch code. I watched as it silently deleted all the changes from the activity manager. No errors. Nothing. Just … gone. Even without ever having read TB source code, I can think of two or three obvious coding errors that would cause such behaviour, and none are things I’d exepect to get into a project as popular and well-known as TB.

So … what gives? What’s wrong with the OS X builds of TB? Why are they so very, very bad? Why do they have so many dataloss bugs?

Sigh. At least I can fairly rapidly re-do all the work I lost. Time to start looking for a new email application. Maybe I can find a version of Mozilla Mail that still runs on OS X? (FYI: Mozilla mail was the thing that Thunderbird was based on / supposed to replace. Unlike TB, it actually worked. It was faster, had more features, but looked a lot uglier. I’ll happily sacrifice “good looks” if it gets me “supports basic email features from 10 years ago”)

17 Replies to “Thunderbird on OS X: I give up. This is untested crap”

  1. I’m giving Postbox a try periodically – I’m usually only using personal email via gmail’s web UI. http://www.postbox-inc.com/

    Seems to be ‘ok’ at the moment, has plenty of rough edges so far. Could turn into something good though.

  2. I’m not that surprised actually. I mean really, who uses thunderbird? Hasn’t everyone switched to gmail or google apps for your domain by now? :)

    Now in seriousness, Thunderbird has always been the neglected one in the mozilla family. The one that never got much attention. Nobody wants to work on an e-mail program anymore now a days.

    I used to use Thunderbird back when I managed my own mailserver for my own domain. But I’ve since moved on to google apps for your domain. I get super fast access, the gmail interface and best of all, great spam protection… for free. Oh, and I no longer have to put up with thunderbird anymore :)

  3. “What’s wrong with the OS X builds of TB?”
    I would ask, “What’s wrong with Mozilla’s development processes that they released it for OS X at that level of quality?” And maybe “Are those who introduced those Firebird OS X bugs off the project or at least have their skills improved?”
    Besides Linux, MySQL, and Firefox, I have found that most open source software is very low quality. I’ve found simple bugs with large negative impact in almost all open source software, often within 10 minutes of using it.

  4. Adam I think you blog header needs changin
    “T=Machine
    Mostly bitching, some Internet Gaming, Computer Games, Technology, MMO, and Web 2.0

  5. @Ted: Well obviously you don’t look at much open source software.

    Off the top of my head, OGRE 3D, Firebug, sqlite, xchat, enet, eclipse, tinyxml. All very decent open source stuff I have used over the years with no problems. There’s tons more I haven’t tried, but I’ve heard are good.

    I guess it’s not as fun as bold exaggerations like your “I have found large negative impacts in almost ALL open source software”, however I like to keep an open mind on such things no matter if it’s open or closed source.

    @Adam: I can’t help you with your Thunderbird problems. I’m so used to looking at my email via a web interface that using a separate program just feels weird.

  6. @Andrew Fenn:

    You missed the big one which I recomend these days: Open Office.

    I can’t help you with your email either, Adam, but that’s because I use Pegasus Mail under windows, and have done for over a decade. Deacent /client/-side baesian filtering is nice.

  7. If it helps, the Windows version is crap too. It occasionally just refuses to update IMAP folders.

    Unfortunately the IMAP implentation in Outlook 2007 (the work-issued version) is also crap. So I’m kind of stumped as what to use at work now.

    At home I use Mail.app, which you apparently dislike but does have the virtue of working well and not choking on my gigs of email storage!

  8. it’s the end of email, we’re all doomed, I tell you! DOOMED!

    (although I’m about to try postbox)

  9. Well yes, that’s the /other/ reason I use Pegaus Mail, if email blows up then the data is stored flat file rather than in a database so I don’t have to spend an awful lot of time recovering it :)

  10. re: PostBox…

    Don’t touch it with a bargepole.

    They’re using an old Thunderbird codebase, from the Shredder builds by the looks of things.

    How can I tell?

    Well … it’s got that bug where on OS X / Macbook Air laptops it takes 100% CPU, and nukes the whole of the windowing system (takes 10+ seconds for a mouse click to register in any app). Kill the Postbox process, and … hey presto! the system comes back to life.

    (it’s some (ab)use of the window manager / xserver / something functions that seems to be the cause)

    Anything that uses those TB builds and launches as a “beta” is just perpetuating the same TB problems IMHO :).

  11. how do you access two gb of email in the hours of the day you aren’t on highspeed broadband? what do you do on the plane? how do you reference emails in day-long meetigns where you’re not allowed on the local office LAN? how do you do offline compose?

    (these are the main reasons I need a mail client. there is a bonus reason that it turns my laptop into a live backup of my webmail folders, but that’s a minor boost :))

    I know that sometime in the next three years firefox will “allegedly” and “theoretically” have FULLY working offline webapp support – and theoretically gmail “might” support that ( although google will probably break the spec, like they always do, and it will take a couple of years of google-specific workarounds)

    HOWEVER note that the devs working on FF these days still have the disk cache permanently disabled, so I hold out little hope for the near future. we’ll get there I the end, of course. but what to do in the meantime? (apparently the only way to enable disk cache in ff3 is to fix the source yourself and recompile, the official story IIRC was that you “don’t need it because everyone has so much ram these days” and of course FF3 has zero bugs and *never* crashes or restarts; oh, wait a minute… – how I LOLd)

  12. Jesus, dude, I don’t know what to tell you. The stable version of Thunderbird “never really worked properly,” the beta version is untested crap, you won’t use Mail.app, webmail doesn’t let you read email offline…

    It’s pretty exasperating to try to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, but lemme try again: Google offlineimap, dovecot, and once you’ve got that happy go back through the whole list of crappy mail clients and see if they don’t do better with a local IMAP server. That goes for webmail too, you ARE running OS X after all. I’d include links but your blog isn’t really friendly to that as I recall.

  13. I’m sorry for coming across so negative. Each mail thing I try on OS X seems to go terribly wrong – maybe I’m just cursed :), because the far more complex OS X + OSS software generally works fine. it’s frustrating and exhausting that something as simple as email is so hard to get working, and I tend to come across much more bitter than I intend because of it.

    Also, I’m doing a lot of work in Xcode at the moment, interfacing with undocumented server libraries (sob). That’s enough to make anyone short tempered.

    I appreciate all input, and will keep going through the suggestions and trying them.

  14. I’ve had a great experience with Thunderbird on the Mac since switching from Outlook on a PC a few years ago. I’ve got all my email history as a designer, so that means attachements and maybe 10gb or more of mail. I currently use the Shredder nightly with OSX Time Machine so I can roll back if something goes wrong. So far mail has never been corrupted or anything. To speed things up on tip is to turn off the Gloda indexer (Prefs > Advanced and uncheck Enable Global Search and Indexer).

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