Two Against One: Firefox/Thunderbird versus Seamonkey

Firefox and Thunderbird versus Seamonkey

I’m pleased to say that it has been over a year since I’ve had much to do with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Between the switch to Apple, and the tireless work of the Mozilla open source community, I’ve had the pleasure of using Firefox to browse the Internet, and Thunderbird to check my e-mail.

But Mozilla is not perfect, and the development of its browsers have not been without controversy. Mozilla began as an outgrowth of the old Netscape Internet suite. The first several versions were a combined program which contained a browser, an e-mail program, a web page composer and, with the installation of an add-on, a calendar. Then Mozilla developed stand alone versions of its browser and its e-mail program, which it named Firefox and Thunderbird respectively. Stand alone versions of the composer and the calendar followed.

Controversy erupted on March 10, 2005, when Mozilla announced that it was discontinuing development support for its Mozilla suite and focusing on its stand-alone products. The combined nature of Mozilla’s suite had its fans, and those fans were upset at having to open up separate programs to browse and check their e-mail. I was among them. Even though Firefox has since released its version 2.0 and Thunderbird’s 2.0 is now in beta, and even though both programs are wonderful, the combined Mozilla suite still appealed to me for a number of reasons. It has a smaller memory footprint than when Firefox and Thunderbird are both open. There’s also the neat little browser sidebar, which allows me to access such content as CNN, so that the latest headlines are available at a glance while I continue my main browsing.

Fortunately, Mozilla continued to provide the base infrastructure to members of the development community, and fans stepped forward to continue to develop the combined suite through the same evolutionary processes that produced Firefox and Thunderbird 2.0. The fan-produced suite was named Seamonkey, allowing fans of the combined suite to continue to get the latest and greatest of Mozilla’s development. Version 1.0 corresponds to Firefox and Thunderbird versions 1.5 and a beta version of 1.1 is Seamonkey’s equivalent to Firefox and Thunderbird 2.0.

However, for most of time since March 2005, I’ve been using Firefox and Thunderbird. Only recently have I tried downloading the beta version of Seamonkey 1.1 (the full version has just been released). Although there was a developing community of fans behind the release, it was dwarfed by the resources available to Firefox and Thunderbird. The first release of Seamonkey was a long time in coming, and somewhat buggy on my computer, but Seamonkey 1.1 worked well enough for me to try it over the course of a few days. So where do things stand? Do fans of the combined Mozilla suite have an alternative to the stand alone browsers and e-mail clients?

Seamonkey 1.1 isn’t too far from the Firefox and Thunderbird experience. Most of the features of the new browsers are available, including a spell-checker for online forms. Seamonkey feels stable and fast, and it uses fewer resources on its own than when Firefox and Thunderbird are open at the same time.

After a few days of using Seamonkey, however, I decided to switch back to the Firefox/Thunderbird combo. I’d become used to switching between the two using Alt-TAB, and suddenly switching between browser and e-mail client required a different procedure (Alt-tilde). Also, since the sidebar has fallen out of favour with Firefox, the amount of content available for Seamonkey’s sidebar is disappearing. CNN’s latest headlines are still available, but that’s about it.

Then there is the fact that Seamonkey’s releases come much more slowly than that of Firefox, contributing to the lingering suspicion that Seamonkey is less responsive to security threats. But, finally, though it’s ironic to say this, whereas back in 2004 people were asking why Mozilla was reinventing the wheel with Firefox and Thunderbird, the same argument applies now with Seamonkey.

The jury is still out for me. The inconvenience of opening stand-alone applications to check e-mail and browse the internet isn’t really much of an inconvenience at all, though I still like to have my Internet in one easy package. The new Seamonkey 1.1 release smooths out some of the bugs from the beta and feels like a robust package, so the temptation will remain for me to stick with the suite, despite the fact that Firefox and Thunderbird feel stronger having the backing of the main Mozilla development community behind it. Work is already beginning on Firefox 3.0, and that’s where the party is, but I still don’t want to leave the room where the party used to be.

Seamonkey Notes

  • One of the greater frustrations I had about setting up Seamonkey is that its surprisingly difficult to import mailboxes or one’s address book from Thunderbird. I was eventually able to get Seamonkey and Thunderbird to share the same mailboxes, but I now have two separate address books on my computer. This is something the Mozilla foundation could fix up, in my opinion, though the incentive is probably just not there.

Further Reading

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