Thunderbird, Firefox, and Transitional Applications


These last few months have been extremely exciting for the talented developers at the Mozilla project. Their Firefox browser has re-ignited the browser wars and done what no one thought possible -- taken a substantial market share away from the security-problem-plagued Internet Explorer. Last week, various news outlets were reporting that Penn State University had joined a growing chorus of warnings, issuing a statement to staff and students, advising them to dump Internet Explorer and use alternate browsers such as Firefox. When I visited their site, I discovered that this is not the first time they have issued this warning. A few months ago, even US-CERT and the Department of Homeland Security suggested that users might want to use a different browser to deal with these security issues.

Still, despite a seemingly endless parade of security issues, Microsoft's browser has managed to hold on to its position for an amazingly long time. Time, however, has a habit of chipping away at the sturdiest of empires. As I write this, over ten million copies of Firefox have already been downloaded since version 1.0 was released, just over a month ago. Meanwhile, version 1.0 of the Mozilla Thunderbird email package has just become available. It will certainly be fascinating to see how well it does in enticing people away from Microsoft's email package.


Firefox and Thunderbird represent that I call "transitional applications", Linux programs that run on other operating systems (eg: Windows) thereby offering an equivalent for users who haven't yet switched to Linux. Let's face it, change is difficult for people. As with any dangerous addiction, quitting cold turkey isn't easy which is why there are products like nicotine gum and the patch -- these are a smoker's transitional applications. So it is with moving from Windows desktops to Linux desktops. Quite honestly, a move to Linux isn't nearly as difficult as some would have you believe and most people will find themselves at home very quickly, but sometimes it helps to pave the way by introducing some Linux familiarity to the Windows desktop . . . and saving yourself a small fortune in the process.

If you can't see yourself switching immediately (or you have some reluctant friends, family members, or business associates), transitional applications can be a wonderful way to ease the transition when the time comes to move entirely to Linux. Furthermore, applications like Firefox and Thunderbird can do wonders to help those users cut down on the security issues they have to deal with every time they turn their machines on. It's not as good or complete a solution as running Linux, but it is most definitely a good start.

The very first application to consider is Mozilla Firefox, the inspiration for this column. Firefox is free for the download and since it is available for Windows, it is the perfect transitional application. Another alternative worth considering is Firefox's big brother, the original Mozilla browser -- Mozilla comes with an email package, IRC client, and an HTML editor. With tabbed browsing and a pop-up ad blocker, Mozilla, or the leaner, faster, Firefox, should already be part of every desktop, Linux or otherwise. Head over to www.mozilla.org for your copy. While you are there, do your e-mail inbox a favor and download Mozilla Thunderbird. With advanced security features and built in spam filtering, there's no reason not to. You can easily import your old mail messages and be back to work in no time at all.


The next transitional application you should consider loading up is the OpenOffice.org office suite, an excellent and powerful replacement for Microsoft Office. It provides a word processor that can read and write Word documents, an Excel compatible spreadsheet package, and a PowerPoint compatible presentation graphics package. OpenOffice.org is free for the price of a download. Simply using OpenOffice.org can save a medium-sized office thousands of dollars.


I'll give you one last package to consider. An increasingly common tool in the modern office is the instant messaging (IM) client. IM is no longer strictly the playground of teenagers or friends and family looking to keep in touch across the networked world. It is rapidly becoming a serious tool for business as well. Nothing beats being in constant touch with employees and team members, even if those people are scattered in offices around the globe. GAIM is a powerful, multi-protocol, IM client that makes it unnecessary to run a package for every service you use. It supports Yahoo!, MSN, Jabber, ICQ, AOL, and others. GAIM, a free, open-source application is also available for Windows.

By using these transitional applications or suggesting them to your friends who are still running Windows, they can begin to get at least some of the benefits that people running Linux take for granted. Firefox and Thunderbird will decrease the number of viruses and spyware programs their systems are exposed to. OpenOffice.org will save them money. GAIM will save them from running six programs to do one job.

Before you walk away thinking I've lost my Linux-loving marbles, I'd like to reiterate that running these transitional applications on Windows still isn't as good as running Linux. Nevertheless, it is a huge improvement over what has become the status quo on most desktops. It's also a good start on the road to kicking a bad habit. Besides, I'm betting that once people get used to the idea that they can live without Microsoft for a handful of core applications, the Linux desktop is not far away.

Marcel Gagné - Sun, 2004-12-12 08:57.

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This is the way to go

I installed firefox/thunderbird under xp in summer 2005 and started using openoffice soon after. Jabber messaging came along. I've now just updated an older Suse 8.1 version (that I only played with) to opensuse 10.0 and have now switched primary OS to Linux. It is important to have transition seamlessly for day-to-day mail/web/office usage.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2006-01-21 06:07.

Transitional Applications

These kind of transitional applications were absolutely essential to my eventual migration to a pure GNU/Linux operating system (Ubuntu Linux).
My recommendation for users considering the switch: Grab a copy of
Microsoft's "Services for Unix". This is a fully POSIX complaint
implementation of a UNIX shell that also integrates wonderfully
with your Windows system. It's a great way to familiarize
yourself with what is perhaps the most important part of any Linux system: The command line. And the best part is it's a free download!

An - ymous (not verified) - Sun, 2005-01-02 02:52.

transitional software

I agree with the article' on transitional software
for Linux. I use Win98 with Linux MDK10 in dual boot
mode right now for an eventual webstation. What's missing is
Linux are front end applications for the UNIX command
line. Let's face it: Any window user can configure
and troubleshoot 90% of hardware problems in minutes.
with a GUI. Unfortunatly most Linux troubleshooting tools are
accessible only from the commad line.To do the same in Linux can take weeks if not months for someone without extensive UNIX
experience.

Why would I switch: affordable honest software use
is one reason. Safe webrowsing is another.

My advice to anyone who envisions a transition to
Linux: start with your hardware. Check that ALL your
peripherals work with Linux and drivers exist. And be
prepared to spend considerable time troubleshooting just to have
a linux box equivalent of what you had with Windows.

Steve (not verified) - Sun, 2005-01-09 19:42.

I use multiple PCs (at least

I use multiple PCs (at least 4 at different places, work, home, other office), running Windows, Linux, MacOS X, firefox (and thunderbird) allow me to have the same environment when browsing the web (or reading email) wherever I am, whatever OS is running simply does not matter anymore.

So I think mozilla is actually providing me (and others) with a stable platform that runs on top of the underlying OS.

An - ymous (not verified) - Wed, 2004-12-29 22:44.

Which transition?

Transitional applications, indeed! But it occured to me that what we are witnessing here might well be an other kind of transition. Because of the increasing popularity of Open Source software, the developers might be in the process of switching their focus from Linux to the "other" platform... Could it be the beginning of the end for Linux?

Frank (not verified) - Sat, 2004-12-18 16:19.

Thunderbird is good, but I'm getting a ton of SPAM

I tried Thunderbird on my Win/XP box and it is a very nice product. I don't have a particular use for it, because I am using yahoo at home. However, I do have a complaint. Once I registered with Thunderbird, I started getting a truckload of SPAM. I used to get 3 or 4 spam messages a day, now I get 30 or 40 every time I check my email! I currently have 36 unread messages, all spam, in my mailbox. I usually don't give my email address to untrusted sites, but I know that Mozilla is good. Anyone else had trouble with SPAM and Thunderbird?

John Strazzarino (not verified) - Wed, 2004-12-15 17:13.

Erm... that has nothing to do

Erm... that has nothing to do with Thunderbird, that's because you've signed up for "free pr0n britney spears!!1" (just kidding.)

Thunderbird has an excellent spam filter, but you have to educate it. Right click the spam mails and mark them as junk. There are some more advanced spam-filtering options you can fiddle with, such as immediately deleting the spam, or moving it to a specific folder automatically.

An - ymous (not verified) - Thu, 2004-12-16 15:18.

GNUWIN-II Project

The gnuwin-II project comprises an EXCELLENT compilation of GNU software for windows.

http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/en/

An - ymous (not verified) - Tue, 2004-12-14 14:53.

Additional applications to pave the change

There are as well other applications for Windows that can encourage people going away from expensive propietary apps and ease their way to Linux:

-Abiword (if you need just word processing and not a full office suite)
-Inkscape for a superb vector-graphics suite
-The Gimp Replace Photoshop for image and photo manipulation
-NVU for web-page programming and publishing

And there are dozens more!!!

An - ymous (not verified) - Tue, 2004-12-14 14:50.

O/S Agnostic

I think most users don't really want to care what O/S is running on thier workstation. People who read this probably do but in general the users I know want just a few things:

  • the applications they know how to use
  • no Blue Screens of Death
  • no worries about viruses, trojans, etc

Now, we all know which O/S does this best, right? :)

Anyway, 'Transitional Apps' are a great way to shift the focus away from the O/S. Let's face it; for most people there just isn't anything too exciting about operating systems. Apps _can_ be exciting, so if you can get them used to the speed of Firefox (for example)and then say "By the way, I can set things up so you don't need to worry about viruses, etc" people would be much more receptive to switching to Linux.

As to the familar 'too many distros/Linux apps' complaint it's true to a point. If a company were to decide to switch the IT department is going to make those decisions and the users aren't going to have to face it.

David Knickmeyer (not verified) - Tue, 2004-12-14 08:49.

Transitional programs

There is a current message thread on the
Thunderbird forum about a serious bug: I have
verified the bug as my own experience prompted
one of the inquiries and others on the forum
backed me up.

I got thunderbird installed but have not been
able to send a single message: The prompt for
a user password (like you'd see in a Windows dialer
verification routine) will take the submitted password.

So the dialog box displays over and over again.

The bug has not been addressed directly by Mozilla
staff but only addresses it's answers (these days)
to the Windows gang: i.e. turn off Norton Firewall.

I also find suspect the fact that Homeland Security
has any opinion on this issue at all.

l - inapplet - (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-13 22:50.

Believe it. "That's why

Believe it.

"That's why the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a partnership between the tech industry and Homeland Security, recently took the unusual step of advising people to consider switching browsers..."

You may read more about it on Microsoft's Slate website:

http://slate.msn.com/id/2103152/

An - ymous (not verified) - Tue, 2004-12-14 22:18.

TheOpenCD

i've burned many a copy of TheOpenCD for people who stop by LUG meetings
(occasionally more than copies of Knoppix)
it's a great way to introduce people to these "transitional" applications

trained circus idiot (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-13 20:49.

What about the GIMP?

An excellent alternative to PhotoShop, also available for Windows.

An - ymous (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-13 18:10.

I've been a Photoshop user si

I've been a Photoshop user since I was 7, and my dad was one of the Beta testers. I've tried the GIMP on Linux and tried to run it on Windows (it crashed XP - it's one of only 4 applications which has so far), and it is the one thing that is holding me back from switching. It simply isn't good compared to Photoshop... less intuitive, less compatible, less professional, and there is no equivalent to the File Browser.

That and iTunes have kept me from using Linux. Everything else (OO.org/Gaim/jEdit/Firefox/FTP/Python) would be perfect.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2005-01-08 20:19.

Gimp and iTunes

I have been using Photoshop since version 3 (professional Graphic Designer) and find the Gimp to be an incredibly powerful application for WEB graphics. Granted, if it's going to paper or film, Photoshop is the winner, but only because I can't convince the Gimp guys that CMYK support is desperately needed in the Gimp. The only other annoyance I have with the Gimp is trivial: I feel that the image window should ALWAYS have the focus, regardless of which pallette you have just been using. This would enable all of the most commonly used keyboard shortcuts (ctrl+c to paste an image in a newly created layer) to function as they are expected to. With these two problems fixed, my print shop will do a total conversion from Photoshop to the Gimp.

As for your iTunes problem, there is Rhythmbox and gtkpod. Rhythmbox doesn't connect to your iPod, but gtkpod does, and works close enough to iTunes to make it an acceptable replacement.

KevinWPeters (not verified) - Tue, 2005-02-01 22:29.

Transitional app strategy good, but two holes ...

I definitely agree with the "transitional strategy" for applications as outlined in this article.

But I see two holes, one relating to Thunderbird and one to overall LINUX migration:

  • Exchange Evolution now provides a true Exchange client interface, but for Thunderbird users this is tough. In paricular (to the best of my knowledge and experience so far, and I've tried) providing a transitional approach via Thunderbird excludes two Exchange capabilities: global directory and calendar.
    • I realize the calendar piece is separate (ala Sunbird) but the global directory piece (migration) is non-trivial.
  • Linux desktop standard(s)
    • As a dual-use person (I favor LINUX over windows) one major
      problem is the lack of out-of-the-box standardization of the
      various behaviors of the LINUX desktop system(s): KDE & GNOME
      on top of various distros.
    • Specific examples : fonts ("defaults" not standard across distros) and window / selection discipline ("double-click"? "single click"?).
    • On this latter I realize that LINUX can be configured in various ways, but my beef has been that the "standard" has not been proposed or, if so, consistently enforced. Is this part of the LSB standards effort(s) already?

Keep up the great work on the LINUX migration series!

Charlie (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-13 17:47.

Re: two holes

What do you mean by Exchange's "global directory piece"? I have Mozilla's mail client pointed at our Exchange server as an LDAP server for addresses. It does a great job of name completion, e.g., I type 'Ande' in the To: box and Mozilla queries the Exchange server and pulls up a list of names that begin with Ande, like Anderson, etc. When I installed Thunderbird, it picked up these settings from Mozilla and it works the same way. I like how it offers names before I type in the whole name. I've never been able to get similar results from Evolution.

Petre (not verified) - Wed, 2004-12-15 13:27.

Transitional apps - yes or no?

I think it's a great idea that Firefox and Mozilla and other apps are available for Windows.

For example, I am rarely in a Windows environment, although my system is dual boot. However, I would rather die that use IE, so I installed Firefox in Windows for the rare occasion that I have to be in Windows and need a browser.

I maintain my son's laptop and while he's not ready to make the migration to Linux, I've got him convinced that IE is "crud" and he uses Mozilla.

As far as migrating to Linux goes, when that happens for a Windows user, if they've been exposed to things like Firefox, etc, they will see familiar applications when they finally make the move and that's good.

Colleen (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-13 16:32.