Mozilla Thunderbird is a free and open source alternative to Microsoft Outlook. But unfortunately, as a full-fledged business email application, the default interface is often too complicated for millions of users who simply want a one-to-one address personal email client with address book functionality of base.
Fortunately, Thunderbird is highly customizable. A series of settings changes can make the user interface (UI) much cleaner. After making these changes, users accustomed to simple interfaces like Apple Mail, Windows Mail, and typical webmail accounts will feel right at home.
Add and remove inbox columns
Before you begin, you need to install Thunderbird and set up an email account.
Once this is taken care of, the first thing we need to fix is the inbox columns. Let’s change the defaults to make Thunderbird look more like a typical webmail.
- Right-click one of the Inbox column labels; for example, Matter.
- In the menu that opens, click Select Messages and Of to activate them.
- Click now Thread, Lily, Correspondentsand Unwanted status to turn them off.
- Click anywhere outside the window to close it.
Let’s review what we did and why we did it.
- We added the Select Messages checkbox next to each email so that we have a graphical way to select multiple emails; don’t worry, hotkeys still work. It might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s a major change in how Thunderbird works, which we’ll get to in later steps.
- We replaced the Correspondents column with the much simpler Of field.
As for deletions, most people won’t need (and understand) the Thread column. Since unread emails already appear in bold, the Lily indicator column is unnecessary redundancy. Because users are used to mark emails as spam in the email itself, or in bulk using the new Select Messages checkboxes, Unwanted status is another confusing column for casual users.
The Attachments is the only way to see if an email has an attachment before opening it, so it should stay. It can, however, be moved to a less important position on the interface.
Click and drag Attachment to the other side of Matter. If an email contains an attachment, the attachment indicator will appear just before Of:
Change the sort order of dates
A major complaint about Thunderbird is the default sort order. As you may have noticed in the screenshot above, the oldest emails are at the top, the newest emails at the bottom.
Click on Date to the upper right corner of the interface to reverse the sort from ascending to descending order.
Now new emails will appear first:
Now let’s focus on the toolbars. First, we want to remove or hide unnecessary items for most users. Next, we’ll add back some of the removed features in a simpler way.
- Click on the menu icon, then Seethen Toolbar.
- Click on Folder pane toolbar, Quick filter bar, Spaces toolbarand Status Bar to turn them off.
Do not be afraid; we didn’t really remove the Quick filter toolbar Where Spaces toolbar. We have simply grouped them in the Quick Filter and The spaces buttons to remove clutter from the interface.
You can reactivate the Quick Filter toolbar at any time by clicking the icon Quick Filter button. Similarly, functions previously located in the Spaces toolbar now find themselves in a menu that opens when you click the The spaces button:
The Spaces toolbar previously took up the full height of the left side of the interface. The Alternate Spaces button is much more compact, with a simple icon in the top left corner.
As for the actual deletions, the Folder pane The toolbar is probably too advanced for single account users.
The most useful measure in the Status toolbar is unread emails. However, this number already appears in parentheses next to the Mailbox in the Case pane, which makes the status bar largely redundant. Once gone, you’ll have freed up a few extra pixels across the bottom width of your screen.
Shrink local folders
Unfortunately, there is no option to delete local folders. It’s often confusing for single account users, but it’s necessary for Thunderbird to work, so the best we can do is reduce it. To do this, click the down arrow next to Local folders to collapse it.
In this step, we’ll add a few buttons to the main email toolbar to better mimic simpler email clients.
- Right-click anywhere on the Mail toolbar. It’s the space between Quick Filter and Look for.
- In the menu that opens, select Personalize.
- Slide Archive, Waste, Wipe offand To mark Customize toolbar window in the messaging toolbar. Then place them between To write and Label.
- In the Customize toolbar window, click Do.
The Mail toolbar should now have all the typical options. When used in conjunction with the Select Messages checkboxes, the new buttons make Thunderbird work like a standard webmail interface.
Last but not least, let’s enable the standard three-column layout of most modern email clients and webmail accounts.
- Click the menu icon in the upper right corner, then Seeso what Arrangement.
- Click on Vertical view to activate it.
And with that, the transformation is complete:
Although it’s already the best free desktop email client, Thunderbird now looks more accessible and functions in a more familiar way for casual personal email users.
When we started, Thunderbird had toolbars on the left and bottom of the screen. There were even toolbars below other toolbars at the top. However, there was no clear way to select multiple messages and not many useful buttons on the main toolbar.
Throughout this article, we’ve fixed all of that with a handful of simple settings changes and customizations. And along the way, we’ve also saved a ton of screen space by removing unnecessary or redundant toolbars. You’ve seen us reduce the most useful buttons to space-saving buttons, without losing functionality.
Although Thunderbird is a professional-grade alternative to Microsoft’s Outlook, it can easily be scaled down to accommodate even the most novice user.