Getting the Most Out of Your Applications: Part 2 Mozilla Thunderbird

Turn Thunderbird into an Organizational and Communication Powerhouse

Goal: Take Mozilla’s Thunderbird and turn it into the digital secretary that you have always wanted.

If you don’t like (or want to pay for) Microsoft Outlook, you can still have a powerful, feature-packed communication / information organizer. Mozilla’s

Thunderbird is a program that handles basic email needs superbly. While it’s pretty basic to start, it can be extended to do just about everything that Outlook can do, along with a few things Outlook can’t.

To replace Microsoft Outlook, you’ll need the big three features: Email, Contacts, and Calendaring.

We’ll do the following things with these features:

Email – Thunderbird does a great job of handling email, but you can tweak it into an email juggernaut by doing the following:

  • Combine Outlook’s folders with Gmail’s tags
  • Search the full text of your emails with the power of Google
  • Spell check and look up definitions of email text
  • Automatically zip file attachments to shrink email size
  • Create emails and schedule when they are automatically sent

Contacts – Thunderbird handles contacts, but they’re not integrated as seamlessly as Outlook’s. Until you do the following:

  • Set up an integrated Address Book that can be used for emails, calendar appointments, and more
  • Sync your Contacts with web services like Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, and more

Calendar – Thunderbird does not come with a built in calendar, but we’

  • Install an integrated calendar
  • Sync your calendar with web services like Google Calendar, Yahoo, and more
  • View and share online calendars from your friends and popular web services

Let’s do some customizing.

Email Managment

Like Firefox, Mozilla encourages the development of extensions that improve and enhance Thunderbird’s feature set. Here are some extensions that will take Thunderbird’s email capabilities from good to great.

GMailUI – Allows you to perform Archiving and Tag Searching. You can configure folders to save certain emails and use keystroke commands to instantly send emails there. Thunderbird allows you to tag emails similar to Gmail. Now, you’ll be able to search through your email tags just like Gmail too.

Dictionary Search – Don’t you hate when you don’t know what a word means? Well, now you can select a word and get a definition right inside of your emails.

Quicktext – You can use Quicktext to easily insert strings of frequently used text. This is very helpful if you constantly have to answer the same questions or send the same instructions via email.

Signature Switch – Do you send some emails for work and others for personal reasons? Maybe you send some to friends and others to family? Well you can set up multiple email signatures and use this extension to choose the right one every time.

Auto Zip Attachments – This extension places a button on the toolbar that allows you to zip any attachments before you send emails. This helps save space on email servers and speed delivery. Very convenient.

Attachment Extractor – If you get a lot of attachments in your email, the Attachment Extractor allows you to save your attachments to specified places with one click of a button. I wish I had this on my work email program.

Send Later – Do you ever write emails that you wish you could send at a specific time? Send Later does just that. Create an email and tell it when you want it sent. This is a great way to ditch work early and have the boss think that you were there burning the midnight oil. (Not that I would ever do such a thing.)

Mail Redirect – If you ever have to change email addresses or computers, you know what a pain it is to get your old emails to your new address. Well Mail Redirect lets you export messages out of Thunderbird to another email address without forwarding. It preserves all message headers and “bounces” them to a provided email address.

SenderFace – If you’re a visual person, then you’ll love this one. Sender Face takes the profile image from your address book and puts a thumbnail in the From field of that person’s emails. This is pretty cool when you’re scanning your inbox for particular emails.

Contact Management

Thunderbird has an address book, but it’s not completely integrated in the way that Outlook’s is. Until Now!

This collection of extensions and plug-ins will place your address book at the center of everything.

Contacts Sidebar – Place your address book directly in the Thunderbird sidebar. This allows you to manage, edit, and email your contacts right from the main interface.

Plaxo Toolbar for Thunderbird – You can synchronize your existing Plaxo Address Book to your Thunderbird Address Book. Then, Plaxo will sync your address books and calendars among any of your web based services including GMail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, and others. This is great if you’re ever away from your computer and want to look up an address or appointment.

Addressbooks Synchronizer – If you have Thunderbird installed on multiple computers, you can use the Address Book Synchronizer to make sure that your data is consistent on all machines. Plaxo will do this too, and much better, but if you don’t want to use Plaxo, this will work.

Birthday Reminder – Never miss another birthday. This will show you a list of upcoming birthdays for all of your contacts.

SenderFace – Takes the profile image from your address book and puts a thumbnail in the From field of that person’s emails.

MozPod – Take your addresses to go. Use this tool to sync your contacts to your iPod.

Calendar Managment

Thunderbird does not have a calendar built in, so the first thing that you have to do is get a calendar program. Once you have the calendar, then you can make it go to work for you.

Lightning – Outlook like calendar and email all-in-one

Upgrade Thunderbird to a full Personal Information Manager with Lightning. It allows you to manage your daily schedule (events and tasks) directly within Thunderbird.

Provider for Google Calendar – You can use this extension to read and write events to your Google Calendar. If you’re using Plaxo as your online sync tool, it will go to your Google Calendar and automatically sync it to any of your other calendars (Yahoo, MSN, AOL, etc.). Now you can have all of your data in sync with a minimal amount of manual intervention.

ReminderFox – Gives you reminders of your upcoming scheduled events. This will help you stop forgetting what you have going on tomorrow.

Birthday Reminder – Never miss another birthday. This will show you a list of upcoming birthdays for all of your contacts.

Other Communication Options

Email is great, but sometimes you just need to reach out and touch someone. That’s where Skype comes in.

Skype Toolbar for Thunderbird – This toolbar lets you call or IM someone right from and email or contact. You have several different options for communicating using this toolbar.

General Interface Enhancements

There are a ton of extensions that help you customize Thunderbird’s interface. These extensions will allow you to do more stuff and gain better access to all of Thunderbird’s functionality.

Simple Search For Extension – Add a “Search for” item to Thunderbird’s context menu, like in Firefox. This will search through emails, addresses, and appointments.

Simply select a bit of text, right-click and then click the “Search for …” item. That will open your favorite search engine’s result page in the default browser or optionally in Thunderbird itself. Google is used by default, check the options to choose another engine.

Custom Buttons – Create custom buttons on your keyboard (Calculator, IM, Firefox, Skype, etc.). If you don’t like Skype’s Instant Messenger, then you can just create a custom button that launches your favorite IM client right from Thunderbird’s toolbar.

Nostalgy – This extension lets you assign single-key keyboard shortcuts to common thunderbird operations. This is a big time saver.

Interesting Articles

Here are some articles that cover other ways that you can extend Thunderbird to your heart’s content.

My Top 8 Thunderbird Extensions

Lifehacker article on “Eight Killer ThunderBird Extensions

Geek.com article on their “Best Extensions for Thunderbird

And here are a bunch of other helpful resources.

What’s Coming Next

This is the second in a six part series on “Getting the Most Out of Your Software Using Third Party Add Ons”. The next article covers Extending Skype with third party add ons.

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