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Best of: Thunderbird edition August 23, 2009

Posted by CLibra in Articles, Email, Extensions, Gmail, Mozilla, Thunderbird.
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Although there are claims that email is dying (or more specifically, desktop email clients), Thunderbird still remains the best free and open source alternative to proprietary email clients such as Outlook; just like its cousin Firefox, Thunderbird can be extended, tweaked, and re-used in unorthodox ways to power it up, and so it’s possible to turn Thunderbird into the ultimate Outlook replacement, or make it integrate smartly with Google’s services.

A calendar is a must have for any email client, and at the moment Thunderbird doesn’t come with out out of the box. However, the Lightening project embeds a fully-featured calendar into Thunderbird, which supports CalDAV so you can synchronise Google Calendar easily; by doing this, you’ll also benefit from Thunderbird picking up event invitations sent to that GMail address. Extending the calendar further are extensions such as vcs Support, which allow you to import & export vCalendar files, multiple timezones can be managed by using FoxClocks, and tasks from Remember The Milk can be managed from within Thunderbird with the Provider extension.

A simple way to keep your contact list in the main view is the Contacts Sidebar, and you can access your Google Contacts in Thunderbird by using Zindus to keep them in sync. In fact, by using Zindus on multiple machines, you’re able to effectively keep your contacts synchronised and still access them online through Gmail.

Several annoyances can be fixed in Thunderbird easily, making it more powerful. For example, MailTweak will allow you to change so many advanced options in Thunderbird – I found it useful as it removed those pesky ‘Local Folders’ which were unused because I used IMAP. Speaking of IMAP, I recently posted about a fix I came up with to correct Thunderbird’s behaviour in the way it handled the GMail spam folder, as beforehand messages in spam were treated as new mail. Also, you can get a reminder when you forget to attach a file to an email, which I’m sure we could all benefit from, and you can remove that message sending dialog box. Finally, this extension will let you chose between inline or attached forwarding easily.

Outlook features a note-taking app and an RSS reader, and while Thunderbird has the latter, the trend is to opt for an online feed reader; using Thunderbrowse, you can embed Google Reader straight into Thunderbird so you can continue to read your updates in any browser. And the notes app? A while ago I came up with an unorthodox way of using GMail’s filters and Thunderbird’s templates to make a note-taking system tied to my email.

To send IM messages on a range of networks, or to simply use Twitter from within Thunderbird, have a look at the SamePlace extension which adds more messaging features to the client. It’s also possible to get a lightweight weather forecast from anywhere in the world in your sidebar with World Weather+; although weather extensions are stereotypically bloated and annoying, this one’s made really well.

If you’re an IMAP user and want more information & control over your messages, take a look at these two extensions: Display Quota does exactly what it says on the tin as it shows a progress bar of how much space you have in your email account, and GMailUI adds several features from GMail such as keyboard navigation, archiving and expression searching.

GMail supports IMAP IDLE in Thunderbird, so email is pushed to me as soon as it arrives. For greater control over sending & recieving of email, MagicSLR provides lots of options including a combined Get/Send button similar to Outlook. You can delay the sending of email until whenever you like by using Send Later, and you can ‘bounce’ a message to the correct recipient whilst keeping headers intact with mailredirect.

Finally, these two extensions will allow you to add extra information to your emails; you can timestamp your messages with the current date and time, and XSMTP can insert additional headers into an email to denote urgency, confidentiality and other things.

I’ve tried to compile a list of the best power tools for Thunderbird to make it suitable to replace Outlook (and GMail’s web interface to an extent), but if you have any other tips or extensions that are worth a mention, please let me know!

HowTo: Read your Google Reader feeds in Thunderbird April 18, 2009

Posted by CLibra in Email, Extensions, Google, HowTo, Mozilla, Websites.

UPDATE: My original method is now out of date and no-longer works. I’ll be keeping the original version up on my blog, but please read the new instructions in this post.

A year on, I’m finally getting around to updating this. At the beginning of this year, it was pointed out that this no-longer works (thanks Mike!) and so I’m going to introduce a Thunderbird extension that can embed any webpage, with all of the hard work taken out of it.
It’s called WAT (WebApplicationTab), and is far easier to use and more versatile than Thunderbrowse. Simply install it, and you’ll have a specific WAT menu which you can add webpages to; when you click them, they open in their own tab within Thunderbird.
It’s far neater than my original method, please check it out. You could also use it for Google Wave, Remember The Milk, whatever. And an apology for taking so long to update this!


Original post 18th April 2009:

As an avid user of both Thunderbird and Google Reader on multiple computers, I’ve searched high and low, all over the internet for a solution to synchronise Thunderbird’s RSS feeds with Google Reader; adding my feeds into Thunderbird’s reader would be no good, as I’d have double updates on both of my machines.

Lifehacker had already posted a way to do this in Outlook, but Thunderbird doesn’t have the folder home page functionality that its Microsoft counterpart does, so that route was a dead end.

Fortunately, inspired by Lifehacker, I’ve discovered a way to embed a mobile version of Google Reader into my favourite email client, and it is simple and clean to use, and does not overtake the user interface. Here is how it can be achieved.

  1. Firstly, download and install the Thunderbrowse extension and CS Lite into Thunderbird; Thunderbrowse is a tool to embed a web browser into Thunderbird, and CS Lite is used to manipulate the cookies from Google Reader.
  2. Next, open your Thunderbird preferences on the ‘General’ tab. Make sure the box labelled “When Thunderbird launches, show the Start Page in the message area” is checked, and that the location field points to http://www.google.com/reader/i/. If you are unsure, check out this image on how it should look.

    This tells Thunderbrowse that the page it should load on startup is the mobile interface for Google Reader, which a streamlined version of its full web counterpart.
  3. After configuring Thunderbird’s start page, it’s time to set up Thunderbrowse to make Google Reader work. Navigate to the Add-ons menu, and open the preferences for Thunderbrowse. On the ‘Content’ tab, make sure that “Enable SmartJavascript?” is checked, and click Ok to save; this allows Thunderbrowse to run JavaScript which is used in Google Reader.
  4. Similarly, open the preferences for the CS Lite extension, and on the ‘Global’ tab, select “Allow cookies globally” from the drop-down box. If you don’t do this, Google Reader will complain that it can’t set cookies and it won’t work, so don’t skip this step!
  5. Restart Thunderbird. You may need to log in to Google Reader in the window that’s presented to you, but after doing so, you’ll have a section like this, displaying your new feeds in the message pane.

Hooray! Obviously, the mobile version lacks some of the functions as the full version, but it’s too cluttered to embed it into Thunderbird, and the menus overlay each other, making it almost impossible to use. Essentially, any webapp could be added to Thunderbird, so lovers of Google Calendar or Remember The Milk can take full advantage of their mobile versions in Thunderbird.


3x3links, the online dial page November 7, 2008

Posted by CLibra in Extensions, Firefox, Software, Web 2.0, Websites.

Opera did it first, yes. And then there were the Firefox extensions (Auto Dial, Fast Dial, Speed Dial) which replicated the killer feature.

Fore those of you who haven’t come across it, a dial page is opens in blank tabs & the home page to provide links to oft-used websites, either manually entered or pulled from history or bookmarks, depending on the dial variation.
But there was never really any portability between them; working on both Windows & Mac, I couldn’t keep my changes current between my dial page. I’d change which websites I’d visit often, re-order them, make changes, only to find that I have to repeat again. And again.

The pages don’t have any sync functions, so they’re not really designed to be used across computers – however, there is a similar service offered online by 3x3links. You can set up a custom dial page online (all that’s needed is a Google Account), and then simply set it as the homepage on each computer you want to use it. If you want it to open in blank tabs, just set it up with the Firefox extension Tab Mix Plus, but the pages themselves can be used cross-browser. I find that using 3x3links is faster than the extensions as it doesn’t have the bloat, but a downside is that clearing browser cookies would mean you have to log in to the site again to access your dial page.

A similar service is provided by Flyapp, but I personally prefer the layout of 3x3links. Who knows, maybe this kind of start page will become as prominent as the likes of NetVibes and iGoogle.

Via [http://lifehacker.com/5074982/3x3links-is-a-speed+dial+style-start-page]

Ubiquity = YubNub + Operator September 15, 2008

Posted by CLibra in Extensions, Firefox, Mozilla, Software.
1 comment so far

Browsing Mozilla Labs, I come across Ubiquity.

It’s meant to be some flashy toolbar thingy that pops down when you press a key combination. You enter commands to make the web, well, do stuff.

For example, you invoke Ubiquity, and type “ebay Converse” to search eBay for converse shoes. It can also detect selected text & images on a page and automatically input it when you open Ubiquity?.

Sound good? Well to be honest, I’m a bit ho hum about Ubiquity. I think the concept is good, but the current delivery of it isn’t. I see Ubiquity as a forced mashup of YubNub and Operator, both of which I use daily, but Mozilla’s adaptation is without the real seamlessness that you’d expect.

Sorry Mozilla, Ubiquity ain’t for me. I love the idea and think it’s very workable, maybe in the next few versions you can win me over, but Ubiquity seems to cluttered and not as customisable or extensible as I would have envisaged; for now, I’m sticking to YubNub and Operator, but the selling point for Ubiquity (for me) would be a higher intelligence, recognising Microformats and data on pages much more fluidly, and being able to remove commands I don’t want, possible linking into the YubNub database.


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