Postbox: Thunderbird on steroids! [review]

Published Date
24 - Aug - 2009
| Last Updated
24 - Aug - 2009
Postbox: Thunderbird on steroids! [review]

GMail may have changed web mail forever, but a need for mail clients still remains. Even with the offline functionality available through Labs via Google Gears, GMail is still inefficient as an offline client in itself.

Thunderbird has long been a favorite of Mozilla enthusiasts, thanks to its impressive feature set, and extensive collection of addons. Being built on the same core as Firefox helps, as extension developers can easily "overflow" onto creating Thunderbird addons.

Now comes Postbox, a new mail client built on the Thunderbird code-base, meaning you can expect to find some of same amazing old features, but in a shiny new interface, with some amazing new features which take it a step above Thunderbird.

You can download Postbox from this link. Once you install and start it, you'll see that the basic interface layout resembles Thunderbird, but with a sleeker and smoother visage. The application is designed to blend in well with the operating system it is used on, and uses the usual metallic chrome on OSX, and a smooth blue theme on Windows. Postbox is currently not available for Linux.

Since it is based on Thunderbird, it quite expectedly contains all its features, however it is not just a theme for ThunderBird; the features that it adds are all the more important.

Some of the features of Postbox that immediately grab your attention are what it calls its "Search Tabs", it's archive button, and it's revamped sidebar for Accounts, Folders, and Topics.

The "Search Tabs" need a special mention, as they are an incredibly useful and powerful feature. They are essentially a collection of useful shortcuts which open tabs for quickly locating content. The Attachments, Images, Links, and Contacts search tabs allow you to quickly list your message attachments, images from messages, all links included in messages, and  all your contacts. This makes it incredibly easy and quick to locate an attachment or image you got a while back and send it to someone else, or to find a link a friend sent you.

For these features to work though, your emails need to be indexed, a process which takes considerable time, since it requires all your email be downloaded first. It is worth it however, since Postbox has some impressive search features. It allows for using tags such as "from:" and "subject:" in the search query, for powerful control over the search results. Some natural language terms like 'after:"last Tuesday"' or before:"December 2008" are also supported. However the real-time search, and saving search results as a virtual folder, are two features is a feature of Thunderbird that aren't isn't supported.

Postbox seems to be centered around finding things fast. As you view a message, you can see a sidebar which lists all the links, images and attachments present in the message(s), below the contact image and name. From this sidebar you can also click on the relevant buttons to find recent messages, attachments, images and links sent by the same person.

While you are composing a new message, you also have a sidebar for listing and sorting attachment, images, links, contacts and signatures making is very easy to include them in your message.


The new Account Wizard is very easy to use, and for GMail, it requires only one step for adding a new account. It comes with support for setting up AOL, GMail (both IMAP and POP), Hotmail, and Yahoo! email accounts without any configuration, and works very well with GMail's Archive feature. You can also add RSS feeds and Newsgroup accounts from this dialog, although unless you have very few feeds, you will probably find this feature rather limited.

With the current social networking trend, it also includes support for Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed. You can not only post updates to these, but Postbox can also look into these services to get contact images for friends automatically, and will even include Facebook status messages in its contact list.

Some of the other interesting points about Postbox are:


  • Conversation view support: Much like the conversation view for email messages in GMail, Postbox can show you all the messages in your conversation in a combined view where each message can be collapsed. It does leave out your sent messages though. This is much more powerful than the conversation view introduced in Thunderbird 3 Beta 3.
  • Threading support: Postbox groups messages as conversations automatically, however this feature works in an unconventional manner. Unlike Thunderbird which creates a tree structure showing the structure of the conversation, Postbox simply throws all messages from a conversation subject under the same header. By clicking on this virtual message, you can get a conversation view, however, the conversation structure is lost.
  • Tabs: In Postbox, you can open multiple messages or even folder in different tabs, however composing is always done in a new window.
  • To-Dos: Postbox handles starred messages differently. Starred messages from GMail are represented as To-Dos, and Postbox makes it quite easy to track and create To-Dos, and any To-Dos you create with Postbox will come as starred messages in GMail. Depending on how you use stars in the first place, this feature could be a boon, or incredibly annoying. Creating a To-Do is as simple as clicking a button and entering a Subject and Body in the popup. There is also an option to pin To-Dos so that they always remain on top no matter how the messages are sorted.
  • Topics: This feature is similar to GMail's label feature, as it allows you to associate multiple topics with messages. Assigning topics is simple, and can be done by clicking on a " " in the message header, and selecting topics from a list, or entering labels separated by commas in the text-box. However it is important to note that this does not use the GMail labels but its own, hence any labels you apply here wont show up on GMail and vice-versa. GMail labels can however be used somewhat by using GMail with IMAP, as that will show your labels as folders.


Since Postbox marks a significant change from Thunderbird, it cannot work with its plugins out-of-the-box. In-fact till before the 14th beta, it simple wasn't possible to use add-ons (which attracted significant complaints from users). Now the authors have listed a small number of add-ons on their website which will work with Postbox. Some of the popular plugins such Lightning (calender and schedules), ThunderBrowse (browsing websites in you email client), Zindus (syncing contacts with Google), have been made compatible.

Despite all its amazing features, the caveat: it's still in beta, and it's not free. 

Thunderbird, Mozilla, and other Mozilla applications come with a license which allows their usage in commercial applications. With the 14th beta the developers have unveiled the pricing details, putting the price at $40, with a family pack of five licenses available for an additional $20. People who order the software while it is still in beta, can get a discounted rate of $30 for a single license and $10 extra for a "family pack".

Postbox is definitely a brilliant email client, and you should give it a try, especially since it is free while it is in its beta period. It has come a long way in its many (15) beta releases, and you can wait and see how it develops before thinking about buying it, unless of course you feel convinced enough to buy it immediately at its discount period.



  • Refreshing sleek interface, not overly graphical or animated
  • "Search Tabs" allows you to quickly find attachments, images, and links
  • Improved contact management with contact photo's pulled in from social networks
  • Powerful indexing and search functions
  • Integrated social features from Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed
  • Fast access to previous attachments, images, links and signatures from sidebar
  • Conversation view
  • Tabbed mail browsing
  • Integrated labeling feature with Topics
  • Simplified Wizard for new mail


  • NOT FREE! Not open source either.
  • Limited support for addons
  • Not available for Linux
  • Unconventional use of starred messages as To-Dos
  • Threading support is too simplistic
  • Topic are not imported from GMail, and have to be applied again.
  • No support for importing settings and mail from Thunderbird
  • No real-time search and search folders
  • Beta version is still a little buggy


 EDIT: Search folders ARE supported in Postbox, however they add nothing to the functionality present in Thunderbird 3