Nine Top Tools for Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird is my day in, day out favorite email client. When most people think about email, they think Outlook.  Outlook is a great program, but it’s very expensive.  Unless you need to connect to an Exchange server, you can do better with the free Thunderbird.

In a previous post, I talked about add-ons that improve Google’s web mail interface.  Here’s a list of some tools that extend Thunderbird and make it both easier to use and more powerful.  Top 10 lists are popular. Here are my top 9 addons for Thunderbird.

  1. Folder Account  selects a default “from” account for any given folder.  I have some accounts on external systems that are forwarded to my primary email address.  Message rules move these into particular folders. When I reply, this addon selects the address on the external system as the from address.
  2. Lightning is a calendar that integrates with Thunderbird. In thas all the features you’d expect, including invitations, recurrence, etc.
  3. Provider for Google Calendar syncs my Google calendars with Lightning.  Google Calendars provide the link to the calendar on my iPhone. Changing the calendar on the desktop, on the web or on the phone is automatically synched to the other two places within seconds.
  4. .vcs Support add support for .vcs files to Lightning.  It handles .ics natively.
  5. GContactSync synchronizes my Google and iPhone address book with Thunderbird.
  6. EnigMail adds support for PGP/OpenGPG signing and encryption to Thunderbird.
  7. Signature Switch adds a toolbar button easily swaps signatures. I use it for switching among formal and informal signature lines.
  8. Manually Sort Folders lets Thunderbird override the folder ordering defined on an IMAP server. Sometimes, you just don’t want things alpabetically.
  9. Compact Headers reduces the screen geography used by message headers, providing more space for the message itself.

What do you use to make Thunderbird work better for you?


In Sync — email, contacts, and calendar

I’ve finally untethered my iPhone from iTunes, at least for keeping my calendar and contacts up to date.  I’m using Thunderbird to manage email, contacts, and calendar, and using Google as a back end to keep it all synchronized between the iPhone, my Linux desktop, my Windows Vista notebook, and Google Apps on the web.

This will work with any Google mail account, whether it’s or a google apps account like and will work with any phone that can synchronize directly with Microsoft Exchange.

  1. Contacts
    1. Import contacts into Thunderbird from Outlook.  The steps are here.
    2. Install the gContactSync addon for Thunderbird.
  2. Calendar.
    1. Install Lightning as an addon to Thunderbird. 
    2. Synchronize your Outlook calendar with Google using the free tool from Google.
    3. Install the Provider for Google Calendar as an addon for Thunderbird.
    4. Create a new calendar in Thunderbird following these directions.
  3. On the phone, create an Exchange account that points to your Google account and enable Calendar and Contacts.

Be sure to back up all of your address books, calendars, and phones first, just in case.

Thunderbird 3.0 beta 3

Some cool new features in Thunderbird 3.0, beta 3.  It seems fairly stable, too.

  • Auto archiving
  • Messages and threads can be opened persistent tabs (like Eudora)
  • Global indexing and search
  • Thread summary when looking selecting an unexpanded thread
  • Attachment reminder — YES!  If you use the word "attached" or "attachment" in your message and there’s no attachment, Thunderbird will warn you when you try to send the message.
  • Virtual folder merging to create a virtual inbox across multiple accounts.

The full list is at