BY BILL FERRIS

I’ve been using Thunderbird for my email since 2006. It’s a highly functional, lightweight email option. This week, however, I made the switch to Postbox. Postbox is to Thunderbird as Super Mario is to Mario — bigger, stronger, and occasionally able to shoot fireballs. Well, two of those things, anyway.

Postbox takes the best features of Thunderbird (in fact, Postbox is built on Thunderbird’s open-source code by some ex-Mozilla personnel) and creates a much more robust email program. Frankly, Postbox bears as much resemblance to Gmail as Thunderbird — the conversation view and the big, fat “Archive” button are straight out of the Googleplex.

Tagging, Searching, and other features

The archive folder works best with Postbox’s tagging system (called “Topics” in Postbox nomenclature). Just hit “T” and you can assign an email a topic. An autofill function makes this take only a second, and a press of the “A” button sends it to the archive. These features drastically reduce the amount of time you spend sorting your email — you can tag and archive any message in less than two seconds.

A quick sidenote — while you’re certainly able to create folders in which to store old emails, you’re much better off using topics. In my opinion, the more folders you have, the more places you have to look to find the message you’re looking for. Besides, any halfway-decent email program has a good enough search function to find what you’re looking for that you don’t need folders.

And Postbox’s search function is especially up to the task of finding any message in your archive. Postbox lets you run really specific searches, including setting before and after constraints on the date. If you’re trying to find an email sent last week from your principal asking you to “volunteer” to coach the track team, the search function combined with topics will let you track it down in no time.

Postbox also features tabbed email browsing, so you can deal with your inbox while you have a search running in the background. You can also create to-do items and edit emails or add notes.

Add-ons and customizations

For me, the biggest obstacle to switching platforms is always moving contacts, tags, filters, and all the other little tweaks I’ve set up in my email program that I can’t live without. I migrated from Thunderbird, and found that Postbox seamlessly installed all my carefully managed filters and tags with no snags whatsoever.

Postbox is also compatible with a few add-ons, featuring time-savers like QuickText (lets you insert boilerplate text for oft-used responses), Zindus (syncs your Google and Zimbra contact list) or Nostalgy (adds even more keyboard shortcuts, speeding up your email even more). Not all of Thunderbird’s extensions work with Postbox yet, but I’d expect that to change soon.

Email is a fast, convenient way to communicate, though sometimes it feels like a fast, convenient way for other people to give us more information to keep track of. Whether you’re a disciple of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero system, or you’re a regular teacher trying to keep track of an ocean of emails from parents, pals, and your principal, Postbox can help you get a handle on it.

Postbox

Related stuff:

Get your e-mail inbox down to zero

Read Seth Godin’s e-mail checklist before you forward that e-mail