One of the main allures of Thunderbird (beside its price) is the ability to easily manage e-mails using folders and intelligent spam filters. Thunderbird's spam filters do take some time — generally around a week — to achieve full functionality on any given user's e-mail. This is because the spam filter learns from how you tag each e-mail and what you do with it. The easy-to-set filters and comprehensive spam filtering has many people migrating to Thunderbird from other e-mail clients.
This blog post is available in PDF form in a TechRepublic download.
An ounce of planningWhile it is possible to create e-mail folders during the filter setup process, it is generally easier to create your folders before creating e-mail filters. To create new e-mail organizing folders, right-click the Local Folders icon in the folders list on the left side of the screen and choose New Folder... (Figure A).
Go to Local Folders | New FolderType the name you want for this folder in the Name field and use the menu list (Figure B) to choose where you want this file to show up.
Choose a folder
If you do not want to use e-mail filters for this folder, you will be able to drag items to this folder at your whim.
Through rose-colored glasses: Setting up your filters to organize e-mail for you
E-mail filters are a great way to streamline the organization process and save a lot of time and frustration. Each of your e-mail accounts may have several filters applied to it, allowing you precise control over e-mail organization.To set up e-mail filters, navigate the menus to Tools | Message Filters as shown in Figure C.
Navigate to Tools | Message FiltersIn the Message Filters dialog (Figure D), select the e-mail account you want to set a filter for and click New.
Select an accountIn the Filter Rules dialog (Figure E), you will need to name this filter, set the rules, and choose what action you want Thunderbird to take for that rule.
Filter RulesFrom the Message Filters dialog (Figure F), you can see all the filters you have set for each e-mail account or folder and turn filters on and off without having to delete them.
Now your electronic correspondence is even more organized!
Spam filtering: Pavlov's dog meets the Probability Drive
It was mentioned earlier that Thunderbird's spam filters are renowned as one of the best. But what makes then so great? Thunderbird uses Bayesian spam filtering — that is, spam filtering based on Bayes' Theorem of Probability, which effectively considers how likely an e-mail is to be spam or legitimate based on user-taught parameters of what constitutes spam and what is considered a valid e-mail. Because the parameters are set by the individual user, I can still get all the sales flyer e-mails I want, but that somebody else may consider spam.
This is different from preset spam filtering programs, because preset programs already have built-in parameters that do not change based on each user's preferences. Bayesian spam filtering, unlike preset spam filters, is a bit more like Pavlov's dog, in that you have to tell it what to do and then reinforce it regularly to get the desired actions. Once Thunderbird's spam filters are trained, you get accurate results every time.
Setting up the spam filtersTo get started setting up the junk mail settings, you will need to go to Tools | Account Settings (Figure G).
Tools | Account SettingsThen, find the label Junk Settings under the e-mail account you wish to set up spam controls for, as shown in Figure H.
You will have to select the Enable Adaptive Junk Mail Controls For This Account check box. Now, set up any other specific options you like. If you want Thunderbird to move junk e-mails to a specific folder, tell it which folder here. If you want to minimize the training time or are prone to a particularly large number of spam, or junk, e-mails, you may want to download and install a compatible program, such as SpamAssassin. If you do so, this is the place to let Thunderbird know to use it. When you are finished setting up the specs, click OK and you're done.
Training the spam filterTraining Thunderbird's spam filter is amazingly simple. When an e-mail comes in that you think is junk, simply right-click the e-mail in the list and choose Mark | As Junk (Figure I).
Mark | As Junk
If you make a point to do this, Thunderbird will quickly learn what you do and do not want to receive and will file spam e-mails accordingly with little more input from you after the training period.One important thing to note is that you may not consider all e-mails of a type to be spam, or junk, and do not want Thunderbird to junk, say, a sales flyer from your favorite store simply because you junk sales flyers from every other stores' lists. To ensure nothing gets junked that you want to receive, mark things you want to continue to get in your Inbox with Mark | As Not Junk. This is done the same way you Mark | As Junk, but with a different marker (Figure J).
Mark | As Not Junk
Ringing the bell
While it may be a bit of trouble and a smidgen time-consuming to set up folders and filters and to train the spam program, Thunderbird delivers accuracy and quality with its e-mail organization. Unlike spam filters that are designed to be one answer for the masses, Thunderbird is extremely customizable. Just think of it as an experiment in training your computer — similar to training a dog, but without messing up the carpet.
Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conducting science experiments at home. Nicole has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Transylvania University, and has experience in copywriting for education, print, business, and the web. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter via @HuTerra.