Spicebird not quite ready to fly

Firefox has it's derivatives Flock and Songbird, so it's high time that Mozilla's open-source email client Thunderbird earned itself a fan club. Spicebird integrates calendaring, chatting, and more under a widget-based home page.

Joining the growing list of remixed Mozilla applications such as Songbird and Flock is Spicebird. Besides keeping the avian theme in Firefox and Thunderbird, open-source Spicebird takes the core of Thunderbird, the calendaring power of the Thunderbird plug-in Lightning, and integrated contact list chatting capabilities, and ties them all together with a widget-based landing page.

Spicebird's home page greets desktop users with Web 2.0 widgets. (Credit: Synovel)

Loaded with potential, but heavily in beta, India-based Spicebird has a long way to go before it's ready for general use. The bugs and challenges facing users are noticeable nearly from the moment you start up the program. The interface and most of the controls are mapped from Thunderbird, so users familiar with it should have no problem navigating Spicebird. One annoying change is that Options have been moved from under Tools in the menu bar to Edit, making it hard to find your settings.

E-mail account setup was problem-free, although the program didn't download my folder structure from the server. Importing my calendars from Google was effortless, but I couldn't get Spicebird to recognize my Microsoft Exchange-based calendar, which Lightning does, nor would Spicebird talk to CNET's LDAP global address book properly.

The chat feature worked well, importing all my Google contacts, but so far it can only work with Google Chat and other chat protocols that use Jabber. It didn't respond at all to the native AIM settings in Google Chat, which would've been an interesting solution had they worked. Searching contacts alphabetically relies on a visual card-style design that brings more life to an otherwise staid contacts spreadsheet.

Spicebird can search contacts alphabetically via visual name cards. (Credit: Synovel)

The widget-based main page is a good idea for a desktop e-mail client. The RSS feeds, clocks, mail snippets, calendar, and to-do list can be moved around and customized as in iGoogle, and tabs make it easy to jump from the home screen to the feature you want to focus on using. Unfortunately, the interface feels empty compared with the slick designs used in other Mozilla-based applications. As a Mozilla-based program, though, it does take themes and additional plug-ins, but because the source code has been altered you won't know which ones will work until you install them.

Spicebird could really appeal to the small business community or just users who don't need all the Web 2.0 bells and whistles of Flock, but there are some serious bugs that need to be addressed before I would recommend it to anybody but the most die-hard of Mozilla fans.