Tech for all: The quota chase: Unclogging e-mail

There’s nothing more frustrating than logging into your Colonial Mail account, only to face a stern warning that you’re coming ever closer to reaching your dreaded message quota.

At 20 megabytes of storage space, C-Mail does let you hold on to hundreds of messages, but for those who like keeping a record of everything, this just doesn’t do. Thankfully, Mozilla Thunderbird, an e-mail client created by the makers of the popular Mozilla Firefox Internet browser, allows you to store and manage your e-mail on your hard drive, ensuring you’ll never have to delete a message again.

While Thunderbird isn’t anything new – it’s been available for download in one form or another since December – it’s now starting to get major attention. In April, Harvard University made a customized version available to students and faculty, and in May, New York University’s Stern School of Business started using the program. This fall the University of Chicago will distribute Thunderbird to students.

Thunderbird allows you to manage multiple e-mail accounts, which can be useful if you are using C-Mail as well as free Web-based e-mail such as Google’s GMail. You can also create folders, search messages and create filters. Thunderbird is particularly effective at blocking spam, allowing you to teach it which messages are spam and which are not. You can choose to never receive the spam messages, or have them sent to a spam folder. You’ll have to periodically delete your C-Mail messages, but they’ll all be stored on your hard drive anyway.

Of course, all of these features are pretty standard in e-mail clients such as Outlook and Eudora, but what makes Thunderbird stand out is that is also functions as a powerful news client.

On the left side of the screen, along with a list of your e-mail folders, you can create a list of your favorite news sources along with their headlines. Today, most blogs and online news services, including The Hatchet, offer RSS feeds that allow you to subscribe to their news and receive news on your computer as soon as it’s published or posted online. The benefit of such a system is that you get all your headlines in one place as opposed to jumping all over the Internet.

In my Thunderbird client, I have a list of my news sources – the Houston Chronicle sports section, The Washington Post Metro section, and the blog Wonkette, to name a few, above a list of my e-mail folders. Each headline appears as a new message in a folder named for the news source – click on a headline and the story is opened in the message window.

To access your favorite news sources via Thunderbird, just go to a news site, find the orange button labeled RSS or XML, right click, and select “copy link location” or “copy shortcut,” and paste it into your news management section.

Thunderbird also allows you to customize the program by downloading extensions, or add-ons, to the client. For example, one key function Thunderbird lacks is a built-in calendar. A quick visit to addons.mozilla.org rectifies the situation, allowing users to download a small calendar, along with more than 100 other additions. Extensions range from the practical – one program lets you control your MP3s from Thunderbird, another includes a built-in dictionary – to the truly useless: Bork Bork Bork! (version 0.8) translates spam messages into the dialect of Bork, the Swedish chef from the “Muppets” show.

Setting up Thunderbird is simple – you can download the program for free at http://www.getthunderbird.com. To configure Thunderbird with C-Mail, just indicate you are using a POP3 server; the incoming mail server is pop.gwu.edu and the outgoing mail server is smtp.gwu.edu. That’s all there is to it.

Mozilla Thunderbird can help simplify your life – there’s no reason not to download this program.

-Ryan Holeywell

“Tech for All” is a new feature that gives ordinary students practical technology advice. It will appear whenever the features section has space to fill.

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