Outlook Alternatives: Moving from Outlook to Thunderbird

MS Outlook has been around for a long time, but maybe it's time for a little change.

March 12th, 2008 at 11:00am — Comments: (8) — By: Jonathan Danylko — Tags: Open Source

Outlook Picture

Outlook is one of the best known PIM's around because it comes with and integrates nicely into MS Office. However, since Google has taken MS Office online with their Google Docs, maybe it's time to move from Outlook to Thunderbird.

But isn't Thunderbird an email client? Yes, but so is Outlook. As well as email, Outlook also includes a contact list, a to-do list, and a calendar for your appointments.

Thunderbird doesn't have these innate abilities that Outlook does. But you forget, Thunderbird has the same extension architecture as Firefox. If you search, you'll find some handy extensions that push Thunderbird past Outlook's functionality.

Here are some additional reasons why I'm moving from Outlook to Thunderbird:

  1. Outlook is not portable - Besides Pocket PC devices, Outlook is not as portable as Thunderbird. I've never seen Outlook on a USB Flash Drive yet.
  2. Outlook is a little top-heavy - Outlook contains hard-wired connections to the Windows APIs. I don't think (to my knowledge) that you can take the assemblys (or DLLs for the old-schoolers) with you without breaking a EULA.
  3. Outlook is strictly Windows-based - If you moved to another PC that was Linux-based, you are out of luck.
  4. Thunderbird is FREE - I know Outlook Express exists, but the difference between Outlook and Outlook Express is like night and day and to get the professional version of Outlook, I need to purchase MS Office.

Let's get started on moving over to Thunderbird from Outlook!

Assess your existing Outlook PST file

Since we are so close to Spring, it may be a good idea to look over your PST file and do a little "Spring Cleaning."

First, check to see if your Outlook PST is in need of repair. If so, the How-To Geek shows you how to fix your broken Outlook PST file.

If your Outlook PST file is huge (I've seen them at 2-3gb), see where you can trim it down a little.

  • Clean out your Trash - Next to your Inbox, this is the biggest storage hog you have. Clean it up!
  • Move your important "Sent" messages somewhere - In your business, you may need them. Delete ones that are completely irrelevant ("Hi, Mom, How are you?").
  • Archive your messages - Since it is the start of the year (or close to it), archive your 2007 software subscriptions and newsletters to another folder so it's not taking up any space in your Inbox.

There. Now that you've trimmed the fat, let's move on to the next step.

Installing Thunderbird (with some add-ons)

If you don't have Thunderbird, download and install it.

There are two additional downloads you need to make your transition to Thunderbird successful: Sunbird and Lightning.

Sunbird is a standalone calendar application similar to Thunderbird and Firefox, but is geared specifically towards managing your schedule. There is a nice Provider for Google Calendar extension that synchronizes your schedule with Google Calendar, so you can look at your schedule on the road.

Lightning is a Thunderbird extension that welds Sunbird's calendar into Thunderbird allowing your calendar and email to exist in one application.

After installing Sunbird and Lightning, the only thing left is to import your PST into Thunderbird.

Import your PST file into Thunderbird

As I mentioned above, Thunderbird's extension architecture is based on Firefox's architecture. This is awesome for extension authors because you can actually turn Firefox and/or Thunderbird into a completely different application.

Kevin Purdy over at LifeHacker.com found a great Thunderbird extension that imports an Outlook PST into Thunderbird. According to the site, this extension works in Windows and Linux. More reason to make yourself platform-independant. The extension is 1mb in size.

As soon as you install this extension, you are able to import your PST into Thunderbird using the Tools/Import... pulldown menu.

For my audience, are there any other extensions that make Thunderbird "Outlook-like?"

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Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes doing in his spare time, he answers..."programming."

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  1. WiMax
    March 1st, 2009 at 5:16pm
    This is March 1 2009 and the Mozilla project has come a long way over they years.

    The full version of Thunderbird is now at v.3 with the compact version that can be installed and executed from a USB key at available from www.portableapps.com

    These comments will reflect my experience with moving Outlook contacts to Thunderbird Portable v2

    Importing Outlook Express address book, mail and settings is fairly intuitive during FIRST time install and configuration. Not so easy is doing a transfer from Outlook. It can be achieved by exporting Outlook to OE and then to Thunderbird. There is an EASIER way, not just for O & OE but other mail programs.

    I spent nearly 4 hours the other day trying to find a solution to this issue and even found these comments at DCS Media, however, they did not work. Thunderbird v2+ does not like .pst files.

    I stumbled across Plaxo - www.plaxo.com

    It worked and was very efficient and accurate within the confines of TB. You see, like OE, TB does not have as many data fields as the full Outlook, it's limited to 35. So even though it worked, there were Outlook fields that were ignored.

    There are a vew other caveats that are balanced with the fact that it WORKS and Plaxo offers some other interesting features that support social networking.

    Plaxo has two services - free, which should suffice for most users, and an upscale version that supports a few other value added features.

    The process involves setting up a Plaxo account, importing your Outook address book to Plaxo and then exporting to TB.

    You need to use the Plaxo for Thunderbird toolbar for the final step and you won't see it during your first time setup with Plaxo.

    IF you are a tech nerd, you can likely figure it all out as I did. If not or you just need to get it done fast, go to the forums at www.portableapps.com and search for "Importing & syncing contacts including Outlook" While you are there, check out all the other free portable apps including Firefox and Open Office.

    Plaxo also lets you sync address books from other email clients and webmail services.

    *Disclaimer: Author is not affilliated with PortableApps.com or Plaxo
  2. Holly Hatin
    July 22nd, 2009 at 9:44am
    Can I set up different folders for each type of business categories for my address's using Thunderbird?
  3. July 28th, 2010 at 11:30am
    This import tool doesnt work anymore with TB 3.1.1 :( Got any other import tools for pst?
  4. haveaname
    September 8th, 2010 at 2:48am

    Here i found great and simple way to transfer emails, you don't need to install any plugin/addon. This guide is with screenshots http://www.trickyways.com/2010/09/how-to-transfer-emails-from-outlook-to-thunderbird/

    can you put this link above in the post.
  5. Jennifer Kidd
    March 1st, 2011 at 1:09pm
    Will using Thunderbird enable me to send hundreds of individually personalized emails with attachments up to 10MB per day?

    Entourage used to let me do that. Entourage is no longer available in the Microsoft Office Suite for Mac.

    I run a small publishing business and the majority of my interaction with advertisers around the country is via email, sharing proofs and large files. I need help!

    What are your suggestions, please?
  6. Mohamed Hassan
    September 27th, 2011 at 1:26pm
    is any max size for the PST file before importing it into TB and after importing during the normal operation/ mine is almost close to 3GB.
  7. October 15th, 2012 at 11:33am
    In XP (mail only, might also work for contacts, etc):
    1. Export the data you want from Outlook to a .pst file --> Exit Outlook
    2. Rename the "C:\Documents and Settings\\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook" folder to Outlook.orig or something else that's safe
    3. Create a new Outlook folder in "C:\Documents and Settings\\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft"
    4. Drag the exported .pst file to the new Outlook folder and name it "Outlook1.pst"
    5. Open Thunderbird --> import from Outlook --> check that import worked --> ok --> Close
    6. Move or delete the Outlook folder from step #3
    7. Rename the folder in step #2 back to "Outlook"
    8. Open Outlook & make sure all is well.

    Read this blog http://pstrepairtool.blogspot.com

  8. James T
    September 12th, 2013 at 12:29pm
    I found that Thunderbird was unable to handle importing from multiple .pst files, I had to move all my mails back manually into the "base" .pst file and then remove the others using file/data file management. Then I made sure that the antivirus was off and that OUtlook was running and set as the default mail program while I did it

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