Wednesday 13 August 2003

Thunderbird is go!

Once I discovered the wonder of UniCode, I realized I needed a new email client. Eudora is my everyday email client but it’s not Unicode-aware so for the past few years I’ve been using Rimarts Becky! to send and read Japanese email. I had no trouble creating and reading Chinese messages in Becky! (not that I understand Chinese but I’ve developed an interest how kanji are written differently in Chinese and Japanese). However, despite my best efforts, I’ve had no success with Korean (not that I understand Korean either but I suspect the WonderChicken will come up with a reason). So I went hunting for another email client. A Google search on “unicode email client” yielded a Multilingual Browsers & Email Clients page, with recommendations for Outlook Express, Netscape, Mozilla, and Opera plus several standalone email clients:

  • Scribe
  • TabMail
  • The Bat
  • Becky!
  • LingoMAIL

I’d rather give up email than use Outlook Express and I don’t like browser-based email clients. I gave Scribe a spin but couldn’t even get it to work with Japanese, let alone Chinese or Korean.

Then I recalled Phil Ringnalda saying something about Thunderbird. Who in our neighborhood, apart from Phil, wouldn’t be wary about installing a 0.1 version of an application? But I dived in and, fifteen minutes later, had sent and received a series of test messages in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. And ten of those fifteen minutes were spent locating my Berlitz Korean for Travellers Phrase Book then figuring out how to get the Korean IME to work.

I’m used to simply typing romaji to enter Japanese (and it took ten seconds or so to suss out pinyin) so I thought I’d be able to type ch’an maek⋅chu⋅rŭl chu⋅se⋅yo (“I’d like a cold beer, please”) on my English keyboard—just as I’d type bīru o itadakitai’n desu ga in romaji—and that the IME would convert the hanglish to Hangul. But the only way I could enter Korean was by referring to this keyboard map. Maybe someone can tell me where I’m going astray.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a CJK email client, look no further. The 0.1 version of Thunderbird is better than anything else I’ve tried.

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I've been using Thunderbird for a few weeks now. I don't have the same requirements as you (if I get email written in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean characters in it, it's spam) but I've been quite enamored with it.

The 0.1 is somewhat misleading, since it had a nice head start from the old Mozilla mail client.

Posted by Bill on 13 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I am not proficient with Windows, so I can only guess. There are, both on Mac and Windows, two official keyboard maps for romanisation input (although nobody uses them...). There are also a couple of Korean keyboard maps. Checking on Win 2000 Korean, there are options only for the different Korean keyboard maps. No luck here I guess :(
안됐군... (this was input with HNC Romaja... on a Mac). My educated guess would be that since Koreans don't feel the need to use romanised input, they didn't implement it -- they are also under a strong bias regarding the Korean language and foreigners.
Plus, plus, the fact that most Koreans do their typing in HWP, the national word processor (okay, they type in browsers and stuff, true, but as far as typing goes, the overwhelming majority originates from HWP), and HWP has its own input system.
Be happy to help you sort this out -- offline.

Posted by dda on 13 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Bill, you're absolutely right, I'd forgotten they were building on the Mozilla mail client.

dda, thanks for the information. I did set up Thunderbird on a Windows 2000 machine and, from what you've said, the option I was looking for simply isn't there. Interesting that I didn't allow for Korean nationalism when I assumed all the CJK IMEs allow for romanization.

Posted by Jonathon on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"they are also under a strong bias regarding the Korean language and foreigners"

dda: Could you elaborate on this? They don't like foreigners using/learning Korean?

Posted by language hat on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

They don't think we can. They like it, when we do. But their primary belief is that we can't learn Korean. We can't eat their food, etc...

I remember once visiting a University, and I couldn't find my way. I asked a student (in Korean) where Pr. So-and-So's office was. He pondered my question, then pointed to a door that had a sign hanging over it. He asked "Can you read Korean?"... Yeah, I am blind and learned the language from rote memory... Sigh. Every time I take a taxi, it's the same story. Heck, every time I speak to anybody I don't know. Quite tiring after 13 years...

Posted by dda on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Are you sure it's really Korean nationalism coming into play here? Isn't it just possible that when typewriters were made for use by Koreans, somebody said "this layout is for Americans and makes no sense for us with our language--let's modify it"? The Russian keyboard layout is not in sync phonetically with the latin layout either, but that goes pretty far back.

Posted by Chris on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

i've been using firebird for my browser for a month or so now and am enjoying it. only complaint is sometims it crashes on haloscan comments for whatever reason. i'll check out thunderbird for my chinese. thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by undertree on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Sorry Chris, my remark about "Korean nationalism" was slightly tongue-in-cheek. I think what surprised me is that even though the Japanese IME allows kana entry, similar to that available on native word processing machines (as distinct from personal computers), an extremely high proportion of Japanese computer users (perhaps the majority, I'm not sure) use romaji to write in Japanese. That is, they type n-i-h-o-n-g-o rather than に・ほ・ん・ご in order to generate the word 日本語。Since one can use the same method to enter Chinese, I assumed that Korean would be similar too.

Posted by Jonathon on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

The problem also is that even today, Koreans of the lower social classes can't read latin characters. Spelling isn't the forte of the overall spelling population either, if you've been to Korea, you've seen mispelled words and other abominations...
While this is partly a consequence of the close-mindedness of the country, it is mainly a linguistic problem: consonants can have two to four distinct values, depending on their position in a word.
For instance, ㄷ can be pronounced t,d,tt,t'
An initial is always unvoiced. Plosives between two vowels are voiced. Etc... Spelling a foreign name is excrutiatingly difficult. My given name, Didier, always comes out wrong. Same for my family name, which has two B's. There's always a P, a T, plus some other typos. So I can't imagine how they could type in Korean in romanisation!

Posted by dda on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

BTW, typewriters were of course imported from the US, and not too many Koreans at that time could read Latin characters (called English letters in Korean). So they kept the US keyboard as is and slapped Korean letters on top of it. Which is good, since today, when you buy a computer, you have a US keyboard with Korean letters in the top-right corner (I used to have such a keyboard with stickers for the japanese kana on top, which made for a very busy keyboard, believe me...:-)

Posted by dda on 14 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)


Man I'm so sorry Japanese din't work in Scribe. I've been working pretty hard to get it going and I thought I'd solved all the issues in the last few releases. I seriously hope you were using an old version (v1.86-test28 or earlier). Because people have been telling me the last release worked with the Japanese IME just fine.

Btw the Linux version doesn't have XIM (aka IME) support yet, but your comparing Win32 clients.

Well if you do want to talk to me, I'm quite friendly and don't bite. I even like to fix bugs if people tell me about them.


Posted by Matthew Allen on 15 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Matthew, I'm also sorry it didn't work for me because I very much liked the design of the program. I used version 1.84--Test 34 (dated 30 July 2003) which is the most recent version I was able to find on the Scribe web site:

After installing iconv.dll, I was able to use the Japanese IME to type Japanese characters but, when I pressed the Enter key to transfer the text from the floating panel to the email message window, nothing happened i.e. the text "disappeared" into thin air.

Posted by Jonathon on 16 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

[Removed (spam)]

Posted by ilbe on 19 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

If I was still 'here,' I'd be all over this conversation.

But I'm there, and there is biting my ass. Maybe next month. Still, good stuff as always, dda. I would note before I get up to get my next beer that the neat thing about roman/hangul keyboards is that all the Korean consonants are over on the left, and all the vowels over on the right, which actually helps me during those few occasions when I need to hunt-and-peck out something in Korean.

Posted by stavrosthewonderchicken on 26 August 2003 (Comment Permalink)

as a native Korean, I can verify what dda wrote about problems in transliteration of Korean into roman characters. However there is a `government standard' transliteration of Korean characters---although it ignores most of the phonetic problems---so I don't think making a Ramanji-style IME much difficult. Problem is, M$ Korea long stopped developing any code of M$ Windows, IIRC circa 1999, so you should complain to Redmond directly if you need Romanized Korean IME.

Posted by John Simon on 2 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Has anyone noticed in thunderbird a problem with the addressbook and Japanese/other two byte entries? Basically, if anyone had their addressbook in Japanese, and then switches to Thunderbird, the 'nickname' fields seem to display as screwy roman characters, rather than the intended kanji/kana.

Is anyone else having this problem?

Posted by deano on 2 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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