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Information Technologies, New Technologies, Software

Hacking a supercharged productivity app using Thunderbird

The new Thunderbird 9 is so amazing in its capabilities and extensions that I could completely replace my browser and other desktop applications with this new multi-role productivity fighter! Enterprise users have a capable replacement for Microsoft Outlook in the new Thunderbird. Thunderbird with a few extensions provides access to Gmail, Calendar,  Web Browser, Google Docs, Online Search, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, Pandora, To-Do Lists and much more, all within a cross-platform, native application. Being able to monitor my data on the cloud, compose documents, access my calendars and listen to Pandora all within one application makes it quite exciting to use. While this may not be something that convinces people to rip out their web browsers and replace it with Thunderbird, the fact that I can run web applications and email in a native client is technically uber-cool!  The best part is that it is free unlike commercial lookalikes like Postbox.

While the basic Thunderbird install offers a fully functional email client, its secret weapon is the number of Extensions freely available. Here’s are some simple steps to morph your basic Thunderbird into a supercharged productivity app:

Installation: Download and install your flavor (MacOSX, Windows, Linux): http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/

Connecting to Gmail or Exchange:

Open File -> New -> Mail Account. Enter your email address and password, Tbird will automatically detect ports and server ids and set up your email. Use IMAP if you are not sure whether to decide between it or POP. IMAP lets you keep all your messages on the server intact.

How to Install Extensions:  Click Tools -> Add-ons -> Click the settings icon (cog wheel) -> Install Add-on from File (select downloaded file) -> Restart Tbird if needed

All of the features below are based on Extensions or Add-ons.


Google Calendar or any iCal calendar: Install Lightning from https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/2313/platform:5/addon-2313-latest.xpi?src=search

Microsoft Exchange: Install exchange plugin  https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/195279/addon-195279-latest.xpi?src=search

In Tbird, click File-> New->Calendar. In the pop-up window, select “On the Network” and iCal or Google Calendar. Go to Google Mail settings and copy and paste the iCal address (ends with .ics) in location. Complete set up and test the calendar. Follow similar steps for Exchange.

To-do Lists and Tasks:

Google To-do List: Install Google Calendar Tab from https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/70768/addon-70768-latest.xpi?src=search

Go to Tools->Add-ons->Select Google Calendar Tab -> Options -> Google Apps for your domain -> Enter https://mail.google.com/tasks/android

To view Google Tasks/To-do List, click on the Google Calendar icon on top right menu. This will let you add/edit tasks.

Google Contacts:

Download all your Gmail contacts using this extension – https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/7307/addon-7307-latest.xpi?src=search

Go to Tools->Add-ons->Select Google Contacts -> Options ->Add -> your email address. All your Google contacts will sync up with Tbird contacts manager.

Web browsing inside Thunderbird:

Install ThunderBrowse: https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/5373/addon-5373-latest.xpi?src=search

ThunderBrowse can be launched by either right clicking a web link and “Open in New Tab” or clicking the new tab icon on top right menu bar. TBrowse is a basic browser and includes Bookmarks and Shortcuts. The only downside is that you cannot create Bookmark folders. ThunderBrowse lets you connect to any website including Pandora, Facebook, iGoogle, Google Docs, Netflix, WordPress and runs rich internet applications.

Cool integrated web search feature: Right clicking any text in your email and “search the web” lets you google search without leaving Thunderbird. Prerequisite for this feature is OpenSearch. Install from https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/282629/addon-282629-latest.xpi?src=search


Instead of having to run the Dropbox client to get updates on your shared folders you can get updates via Thunderbird like emails. This is easily accomplished using an RSS feed. Go to your Dropbox account, click Events. Select the folder you like, click “Subscribe to this feed” and copy the link.

On Thunderbird, click File -> New -> Other Accounts -> Blogs and Newsfeeds -> (name it Dropbox)

On the mail menu, locate the Dropbox folder, right click and select ‘Subscribe’.  Click Add-> Feed Url-> Your Dropbox RSS link. Now all your Dropbox activities will sync and show up like regular email.

Visual Effects

There a really nice extension called Thunderbird Conversations that provides conversation views and inline responses. Download it here: https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/54035/addon-54035-latest.xpi?src=ss

Thunderbird offers a number of extensions to suit your likes. I settled for a silvery feel called Silvermel: https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/downloads/latest/7517/addon-7517-latest.xpi?src=search

While Mozilla developers have strived to create a stable platform, there are some areas that could be improved. Here’s my list of minor cribs  i) Thunderbird supports tabbed windows but they cannot be moved  around ii) ThunderBrowse is not as fast as Firefox (maybe they can port the FF engine to Thunderbird) iii) Unable to organize bookmarks into folders

PS: This article was written on WordPress listening to music on Pandora and getting Facebook updates using ThunderBrowse – all within Thunderbird. Images were created using GIMP.


- Sebastian Jayaraj, 12/17/2011

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2 thoughts on “Hacking a supercharged productivity app using Thunderbird

  1. Thank you! Very helpful informations. Thanks again and have a Happy New Year.

    Posted by Microcasca | January 3, 2012, 7:35 am


  1. Pingback: » Bacteria Engineered to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel - March 28, 2012

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