Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2004 / 9 Tishrei 5765

Free software worth something

By Mark Kellner | Usually, the slogan, "you get what you pay for" can particularly apply in the software realm. There are exceptions, of course, but whatever the benefits of a "freeware" computer program, it will often fall short of the thing you pay money for.

Here's a couple of exceptions: Mozilla Firefox, a Web browser, and Thunderbird, an e-mail "client" that handles newsgroup and RSS (or Internet-based "Real Simple Syndication") feeds. Both are available for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems, from, and yes, both are free.

I've been using both, on the Mac, for about a week, and I'm highly tempted to stick with Firefox, and only less tempted to make Thunderbird my e-mail client of choice. Given a couple of tweaks, Thunderbird would top my list, too.

Here's why: these are two highly stable, feature-rich, easy-to-use programs that behave really well. The Firefox browser functions very nicely with a wide variety of Web sites, including secure ones such as my bank. There are some nice plug-ins, called "extensions," that add functions such as "picture zoom," which offers true close up views of any picture on a Web page. At the largest size, those enlargements are pixilated, becoming a series of large dots, but more normal-sized blow-ups are quite good.

Donate to JWR

I also very much like the "search" feature Firefox offers on a given Web page: there's a small search bar at the bottom of the screen with controls to search forward and backward on a page. You can enter new search terms quickly and easily. I've not seen anything like it on any other browser.

I'm told that Firefox is more secure and less vulnerable to Internet attacks than is Microsoft Internet Explorer. It won't load "Active X" control programs, which offer some conveniences but also can be used for malicious attacks. Indeed, the latest "preview release," offers users an additional protection against spoofing attacks: When a user visits a secure site, the browser window highlights the web site address and clearly displays the name of the web site: if there's a discrepancy, you see it instantly.

The pop-up window blocker works quite well, but can be selectively turned off for necessary pop-ups. The built-in Web search tool will look up things on Google, but also on eBay ,, and Yahoo - just take your pick.

Thunderbird, the e-mail client, is a no-nonsense program that supports both POP3 and IMAP accounts. Configuring each type of account was easy; the program walks you through the steps. There are plenty of options to make sure everything is handled properly, including formatting, typestyles an e-mail signatures.

The program will send e-mail in both plain text and HTML formats, which makes it suitable for just about every type of e-mail recipient. It will request return receipts on a per-email basis, something Mac applications such as Microsoft's Entourage and Apple Computer's would do very well to emulate. It offers mail filters and rules, and it's said to be good at blocking spam, though I've yet to see that fully develop.

But that's a minor quibble: overall performance for Thunderbird is outstanding and very fast. If you have a bunch of e-mail accounts, you can aggregate them into a single inbox, or your can have separate files and folders for each account. E-mails can be forwarded "inline" or as attachments; quoted copy from an e-mail to which you're replying can be placed before or after your reply text.

I like both of these programs, not least because they're, well, free. You might want to check them out for your own needs, both at home and at work.

Find this column useful? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

A TV Board For Your PC
Raising the 'dead' and the dusty
Promise of VoIP not yet total
When ideas and policy collide at work
Why not take the easy way out?
One to buy, one to skip
In Israel, high tech goes on the road
Right out of the box, little Sony camera impresses
Useful little things
Epson printer does far more than just print
Does Gmail hit the spot?
Independence Day Thoughts on computing
Still more about online e-mail
Your vacation e-mail options
Mr. Reagan's Computing Legacy
Following your heart
Power Mac G5: A powerful tool
Opera: This browser sings
Motion's new tablet a step up
Fuji's S20PRO is for you — maybe
Last week's small revolution
More small wonders bring delight, challenge
Livin' large, livin' cordless
Small wonders: Gadgets good and bad
The right tool for the right job
Office 2004 for Mac is coming
Good Computer Info? It's In Print
'Office' suite good for price
The Delightful Deja Vu of the iPod Mini
Another check creation option
Blocking pop-up ads
Apple's super-cool iBOOK G4
MSN, the AOL alternative?
It's Konfabu-lous (and other Mac joys)
The world on my wrist, courtesy MSN
Treo 600 is great business tool
How to make good computer choices this year
The year behind, the one ahead
Last minute gifts, and other thoughts
Something special in the air, again
Veterans Admin plans computer revolution
More holiday gifts
Holiday Shopping Ideas (One of a Series)
Now, Mr. Gates Joins War on Spam
Stopping "Phishers" From Scamming You
Staying safe online
Franklin Covey Brings Order to Outlook
Upgrades: Should you do it?
Time to dump Ma Bell?
Palm T3 widens users' options
Electronic reading
Lessons from a hurricane
Can the PC and phone really merge?
The case of the curious keyboard
The season ahead
New keyboard adds flair to motion tablet
Upgrade path smoothes a bit
Dreamweaver, make me a web
Experiments in upgrading
A tale of two headsets
A declaration of Mac-dependence
Fuji's Fine FinePix S602Zoom
In search of good Mac apps
Little gadgets make computing easier
Adobe Acrobat 6.0 scores
Toshiba's Twisting Tablet PC
HP printer a steady worker
iTunes store, Mailblocks are cool online services
Palm's objects of D-Zire
Gateway's Tablet a winner
Outlook 2003 beta: A promising program
Tungsten's handy "Dubya"
Lexmark's winning all-in-one
Wireless ways
Long distance tech support does trick
Tablet Planner software a hit
Up and down the road with Joyride
Clarion's "AutoPC" is no "Joyride"
Apple's Keynote is PowerPoint for less
Moving adventures
Traveling companions
HP's Compaq Tablet PC a winner
The war on spam continues
Browser for Mac users has good start
New Adobe software organizes photos
The year the PC grew up
PC meets philately: one hit, one miss
Digital Nikon camera a winner, at a price
Honey, they shrunk the COMDEX
Last-minute ideas
Microsoft's Tablet PC has promise, problems
Upgrade with a plan
Palm's New Tungsten PDA Shows Its Mettle
Nobody asked me, but ...
Love, in Quicktime
T-Mobile's sidekick a good partner
Put on a (happy, unwrinkled, tanned, whatever) face
Apple software upgrade very useful
I came, I saw, iPod
How's that? A tech critic reflects, briefly
Satellite radio gets favorable reception
HP's desktop printing marve
Mac satisfaction --- and some really good software
Off to college ... with eMachines
Have PC, must travel
After Shot manages your digital camera images
X200: Mobile worker's fantasy
Beware: Consumers face a fee for printing own checks

© 2004 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at