Posts Tagged ‘thunderbird’

Sunbird and Hamster are two applications by which I get most of work done. I have already talked about Hamster at Time Tracking in Linux using Hamster . In this post, I will talk about Sunbird and Lightning.

Sunbird at its heart is a simple stand alone calendar application. You can manage tasks , add events and reminders and sync calendars. Lightning is a Thunderbird extension which gives access to all of Sunbird’s features from Thunderbird. So , once you are comfortable with one of sunbird/lightning , it is very easy to work with the other.

The decision to select one is primarily based on whether you want a stand alone or Thunderbird extension. In my case, I wanted a stand alone calendar application. I was subscribed to multiple online calendars (Google, Exchange, my university’s event calendar etc) and it did not make sense to integrate all of them with Thunderbird. Also, Lightning’s remainders were not playing well when you minimized Thunderbird using AllTray . With Lightning 1.0 and Thunderbird 3.0 , the problem is no longer there but I had become used to Sunbird.

Note : Mozilla foundation will not add any more new features to Sunbird and will focus primarily on Lightning extension for Thunderbird. That is not a big deal as Sunbird, as it exists , is a very stable application. Also most of the discussion here applies to Lightning too. So if you decide to go with Lightning instead of Sunbird, the instructions in this post will still work.

Sunbird Installation

Installing Sunbird is very easy. If you are in Ubuntu (Lucid or something older) , you can use apt-get to install it.

    sudo apt-get install sunbird

I think the instructions for other operating systems is very similar. You can also check out Sunbird’s download page for more details about installing.

Sunbird Tasks

Tasks are one of the important tasks in Sunbird. You can consider a task as anything that should be completed by some due date. Tasks are very similar to Events and the difference between them is mostly pedantic. Tasks have a start date, due date, recurrence and reminders. Tasks have some additional information like the current status and completion percentage . Sunbird will very helpfully color code your tasks based on their status and due date. You can also optionally hide all the completed tasks. Also, you can classify your tasks using "Category" field and assign it to one of your local or online calendars, provided you have appropriate providers (more on that later).

If you do not use tasks much, you can always hide it by unchecking View -> Task List. (And vice versa).

Sunbird Calendars

Calendars are one of the basic ideas in Sunbird. Calendars can be local (residing in your hard disk) or online (eg Google Calendars, Outlook Exchange server or even Remember The Milk). You can optionally have more that one calendar. For eg, I have multiple calendars – one for my personal stuff, one for my research, one for my university’s events etc. It is always a good idea to have multiple calendar – one for each purpose.

Sunbird Local Calendars

The simplest type of calendar is the local calendar. To create a new local calendar, File -> New Calendar (or Ctrl + L). Select "On My Computer" for local calendar. Click Next. Select a name for the calendar and a color by which the events in this calendar will be highlighted. I usually find color coding of events is very useful when you have multiple calendars and you skim over them. Click Next and then select Finish. Your local calendar is now created. All the local calendars will be listed  at the left hand corner of Sunbird.

Sunbird Online / Remote Calendars

The other important type of calendars is the online / remote calendars where some server publishes the calendar and Sunbird acts as a client application. (Some thing like Outlook does for Exchange Server). Sunbird is versatile as it supports a variety of calendar formats (ICS, CalDAV etc). It also allows you to plug in providers if your calendar server has some different format. To add a remote calendar , File -> New Calendar -> On the Network -> Select protocol and give URL -> Next -> Select colors for this calendar -> Finish.  Some of the popular remote/online calendar providers are :

a. Google Calendar : Adding Google Calendar has become very easy recently after Google added CalDAV support. Follow the instructions at Enable Google Calendar in Mozilla Sunbird  . You can also check out Google Calendar Provider  plugin if the first instructions did not work out.
b. Outlook/Exchange server : There are two cases here. The first case is you want to move some of your outlook appointments to Sunbird. In this case, you can export your appointments into a csv/ical file from Outlook    and import it into Sunbird using File->Import .

The other scenario is you want to sync to a Exchange server. I never found a good solution to sync Sunbird and Outlook/Exchange. I finally used a indirect way to achieve it. The basic idea was to sync Exchange and Google Calendar using the instructions at Getting started with Google Calendar Sync. Then use Sunbird to sync the events from Google Calendar as discussed above.
c. Apple iCal : Lot of Apple’s apps use iCal format and it works very well with Sunbird as it supports ICS. You can import the ics file and create a new calendar.
d. Syncing with Smart Phones (IPhone / Android / Blackberry etc) : The basic idea is same. Google has apps in each of the smart phones to interact with google calendar. So use the app to sync the smart phone and google calendar. Make Sunbird sync with Google calendar.
e. Other Providers : Other calendar servers may have different format. Sunbird has lot of provider add-ons which can import/sync calendars to Sunbird. See the list of these providers  . Probably the most common is Remember the Milk. If you are interested in RTM, then check Remember The Milk’s instructions to sync tasks/events.

Other Calendar Operations

Sunbird has other calendar operations other than creating it. You can import events from a calendar file (typically ics/ical). You can export Sunbird’s calendar events and import it to other applications like Outlook. You can also publish your calendar to your own CalDAV server as an ics file. The other cool stuff is to Subscribe to be a remote calendar. This is useful if you want to follow some organization’s public schedule. For eg, I follow my university’s event calendar. For Apple’s fan boys,  they provide their events as an ICS calendar.  All these operations are available from the File menu.

You can also delete a calendar by either right clicking on it and selecting "Delete Calendar" . Online calendars are refreshed every few minutes – so if you want to get the latest events NOW, do File->Reload Remote Calendars (or Ctrl+R) .

Creating Events and Reminders with Sunbird

Once you create a calendar, the next thing to do is to set up some events and reminders. If you have multiple calendars, select the calendar in which you want the new event to reside in. File -> New Event (Ctrl+N) . This will bring up the event dialog window. You can enter the title/location of the event , the category of the event (some birthday or meeting etc) and also optionally change the calendar.

The other fields are pretty intuitive if you have used other calendar applications like Outlook. You can have very flexible (custom) recurrence and remainders which makes scheduling events pretty powerful . Sunbird also has a basic event scheduling features. When you create a new event , you can invite additional participants and check their conflicts. Again, you can make this event as public or private which is very important for online calendars like Google Calendar. All these options are available from the "New Event" dialog. There are additional options available to control the event/appointments in the Options menu of the New Event dialog.

Sunbird will show a reminder for the event at the time you have set . You can snooze the reminders or dismiss it. Sunbird can show reminders only when it is running. So I usually start it at bootup and also minimize it using AllTray. You can find the instructions at my AllTray Primer.

Advanced Stuff

If you want to play around with Sunbird’s internals – most of the stuff is present at ~/.mozilla/sunbird/<profile name> . The calendar information is usually at storage.sdb . This is a SQLite file and you can play around with it. The database schema is a bit unintuitive but you will have fun figuring out how all the stuff are organized – Try finding how Sunbird stores recurrence, remainders and other stuff like attachments.

Sunbird also has lot of extensions (or addons). You can the entire list at Sunbird’s addons page. One of my favorite addon is FoxClocks which allows me to find out times at other countries/time zones fast. This is especially needed in US as I never correctly know the time zone differences across texas/new york / california/ seattle etc. To install an addon, download the xpi file. Tools -> Addons -> Install and select the xpi file. Restart Sunbird to apply it.

Sunbird also has lot of themes. If you are not satisfied with the default theme , you can find new ones at Sunbird’s Themes page. To install an addon, download the theme file. Tools -> Addons -> Select Theme tab -> Install and select the theme file. Restart Sunbird to apply it.

Lightning Extension for Thunderbird

If for some reason you do not want to use Sunbird as a stand alone application and want to use it along with Thunderbird, then you can install the Lightning extension. The extension can be downloaded from its official homepage. If you are in Thunderbird 3 , then you can install it by Tools -> Addons -> Get Addons tab. Type "Lightning" in the search box. Install the Lightning extension. You may want to restart Thunderbird for applying it.

Note that the above steps only works if you are using a 32 bit version of Thunderbird. If you are using 64 bit computer then you need to manually download the extension file from Mozilla’s page. Go to Mozilla’s Lightning release page, select the latest stable version and select your OS. Download the lightning.xpi file. To install it , Tools -> Addons -> Install and select the xpi file and you are all set.

Once you install Lightning, there are two ways to use it. The first way is as a side pane. Enable the today pane at View -> Today Pane -> Show Today Pane (or F11) . You can cycle around through different views in Today pane (only tasks/only events or both ). This is probably the best way as it conserves space.

If you want to do lot of changes in your calendar, then it is a good idea to switch to a Sunbird-ish view. If you look at Thunderbird , at the top right corner, there will be two innocuous looking icons – One looks like a calendar and other like tasks. Clicking on them opens Events and Tasks in different tabs. People using Sunbird will be immediately comfortable with this interface.

Sunbird and Lightning are really cool applications. Have fun with them !


1. You can find lot of information at Sunbird’s  Home page.
2. More details about Sunbird can be found at its FAQ page.
3. Lightning’s release page is here.


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AllTray is a very useful Linux utility that many are not aware of. The problem it solves is this : Many a time, the Linux application (Eg Thunderbird, Subscription, Gedit) that you use may not have a tray icon. This means when you click on the application’s close button , the application is terminated. This is in contrast to some other applications like Pidgin, Empathy , Rhythmbox and others which gets minimized to system tray and stay in the background when you click on the close button.

AllTray is a Linux utility that can make any Linux application to get minimized in the system tray (and not get terminated) when you press the close icon. An alternate way to say the same thing is that , AllTray allows you to “dock” any application, although it looks more like a Mac lingo.


If you are in Ubuntu, then the easiest way to install it is
sudo apt-get install alltray
If you are in any other Linux variant, then you can go to AllTray’s homepage and get the source code and install it yourself.

Using AllTray in GUI Mode

The most common way to use AllTray is using its GUI. So start any application that you want to be minimized. Then start AllTray from Applications -> Accessories -> AllTray. You will get a small dialog box which says “Please click on the window you would like to dock ” and a “Cancel” button . The mouse pointer also changes to a “+” sign. Now click on the title bar of the application that you want to minimize (or dock). The application now moves to system tray and it is immediately minimized.

Now you can click on the icon at the system tray to maximize/minimize the application. If you want to permanently close it , then right click on the application and select  “Exit” . If you want to remove AllTray’s behavior (ie make the application behave conventionally) then right click on the tray icon and select “Undock”. The application will now be maximized, the icon is removed from system tray and if you now click on the close button , then the application is truly terminated.

Using AllTray in Console Mode

I really like the fact that AllTray also works well from the console and it has more options when you invoke from the console. You can try “alltray –help” to get all the options.

Scenario 1 : Dock/Minimize a new application
This is the typical scenario in which you start a new application from the console, and want it to be minimized to the system tray. Using thunderbird as an example,

alltray thunderbird

This makes allTray run in console’s foreground. If you want to make it run in the background , append an “&” to the command. The side effect is that if you close the console , the application gets terminated.

Scenario 2 : Dock a new application but do not minimize it immediately
Usually, for an application like Thunderbird, you do not want to minimize it immediately. You want to check your emails first and then when you close it, you want it to be minimized. To do that ,

alltray thunderbird -s

Scenario 3 : Dock an existing application
Sometimes, you might want to move an existing application to be docked. AllTray currently does not have any functionality from console to do that. (previously it had a -p pid option). So in this case, it is easier to do it using the GUI. (Refer the steps for GUI above).

Scenario 4 : Maximizing a docked application using keyboard shortcuts
Currently, once you dock an application, the only way to view it again is to click on the system tray icon. AllTray has an option that allows you to maximize a docked application using a keyboard shortcut. Using Thunderbird as an example again,

/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/thunderbird -k Alt:t

In this case, Thunderbird starts out minimized and I can press Alt+t to maximize it whenever I want. Pressing it again, minimizes it. I was not able to assign it a shortcut using the super key (ie Windows key) like super + t . This was because Super was not an acceptable modifier – I was able to assign shortcuts like Alt+Super(windows) though. For more details check alltray –help.

Scenario 5 : Using it for startup applications
I use Thunderbird and Sunbird extensively and have it in my startup applications. I used to manually minimize them using AllTray GUI. Now a days, I use the command line version to minimize it automatically. For eg, enter either of the following command at System -> Preferences -> Startup Applications

/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/sunbird -k Alt:s
/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/thunderbird -k Alt:t –s

So , when the system starts, it starts both Sunbird and Thunderbird. Sunbird is immediately minimized and I can use Alt+s to maximize/minimize it. Thunderbird starts out in a maximized form (and does not dock immediately). I can check the emails and then click on the close button and it will get minimized to system tray. I can use Alt+t to control minimizing/maximizing Thunderbird.

AllTray is  a neat utility and I hope it is useful for you !

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Note : This post is primarily for students of UTA (University of Texas At Arlington) – Even though most of the steps here should work if you have a Microsoft Exchange labs email id and want to connect using Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is an excellent Mail client for both Linux and Windows. If you are still using browser to check email (either MavMail or even GMail) then its time to try a mail client. A Mail client provides much more functionality than a browser based access can provide you. If you are in either Windows or in Linux and want to try a free mail client , I recommend Thunderbird. Linux users can also try Evolution , but with Thunderbird version 3, I have to say Thunderbird wins the competition.

The latest version of Thunderbird is version 3 and it has lot cool features like Tabbed emails, conversations , activity manager and more ! You can check Thunderbird’s site for more details and downloading.

Connecting to MavMail using Thunderbird

UTA’s OIT has a FAQ page that has instructions for connecting but they have pointed it to a wrong url. It gives the instructions for an Apple iPhone. The correct url is Access Your Account Using IMAP or POP E-Mail Programs .

If this is the first time , you are using Thunderbird then it will open a Mail Account Setup wizard. Otherwise, you can get the functionality using the menus. If you are in Linux, Edit -> Account Settings and if you are in windows , it is Tools -> Account Settings.

This will open a dialog box asking three information . Your name , email id (with @mavs.uta.edu) and password. Enter them and press Continue. Most likely , they will find the wrong settings (If server comes out as mavs.uta.edu then it is wrong). Then you need to setup the account manually. Just make sure that “Incoming” option has IMAP as the preferred protocol. By default Thunderbird selects POP, if so select IMAP. Click on “Manual Setup”. You will get a Account settings dialog box. There are two ways to setup stuff. Both of them work fine – In  the first method, you have to figure out the exact IMAP/SMTP server and in second you can enter a default one. I recommend  the first method.

Method 1

1. Login to your Exchange mail using a browser (either outlook.com or in exchangelabs.com/owa) . Notice the url of the page after your logged in. It will look like somehost.outlook.com. For me it was bl2prd0102.outlook.com . This will be your IMAP/SMTP server. An alternate way to get this information is to login to the site using IE and then click on the downward arrow near “About” to get the server name. I was not able to see the arrow in other browsers in Linux.
2. In the Server settings option , enter the IMAP server name. (Eg bl2prd0102.outlook.com) .  User Name is your full email id. (including @mavs.uta.edu) . Enter port as 993.
3. Under Security settings, select SSL/TLS as Connection Security. Also uncheck the checkbox “Use secure Authentication”.
4. Under server settings, check both the two checkboxes – check messages at startup and check every 10 mins. Having it less that 10 minutes is a overkill in my opinion.
5. Click on Outgoing Server (SMTP) option. Enter some valid description. (Mine is GoMavs 🙂 ). Enter the server name as the SMTP server you found in step 1. (Eg bl2prd0102.outlook.com) . Enter port as 587. Note that this is not the default SMTP port 25.
6. Enter username as your full email id (including mavs.uta.edu) . Uncheck “Use secure authentication”. Select STARTLS as Connection Security.
7. Once you added the SMTP details, Click on your mail account (ie the root note) and select the smtp account you created as the “Outgoing Server”. You can also change the Account Name if you wish (I have as UTA Mail) . If you are one who uses Signature, here is the place to modify it.
8. Once all the setup is done, click on “Get Mail” to get your email. The first time , it will be slow as it is downloading all your emails. After some time, it will be real snappy.

Method 2

If for some reason, you were not able to get the server name or it did not work then you can use the generic server details. Enter the IMAP server name as imap.exchangelabs.com and port as 993. For outgoing mail, the SMTP server is smtp.exchangelabs.com and port is 25. All other details are the same as detailed in Method 1.

Connecting To MavMail using Thunderbird 2

Most of the steps, I said are the same for Thunderbird 2 too. The difference is that you don’t get a setup dialog with just Name/Email/Password appear. You are dropped straight to “Account Settings” box.

Thunderbird Tweaking

The above steps are just for the basic setup. You need to tweak some other settings for best experience. One of the main issues is that Thunderbird and Exchange use different folder names and mixing them causes some duplicate folders. To avoid this issue , follow these steps :

1. Open the Account Settings again (Edit -> Account Settings or Tools -> Account Settings) .
2. In Server settings , “When I delete a message” , select “Move it to this folder” and select “Deleted Items”
3. In Copies and Folders, “When sending messages – Place a copy in ” and select “Other” and select the folder “Sent Items.
4. Similarly for Drafts select “Other” option and select “Drafts” folder.
5. In “Junk Settings” –  For  “Move junk to” , select “Other” option and select then “Junk Email ” folder.

Using GMail in Thunderbird

Setting up GMail in Thunderbird 3 is trivial. Open  Account settings. Select “Account Actions ->Add mail account”.  Enter your name, full Gmail id and the password and click on “Continue”. Thunderbird will fetch all the correct details automagically. Verify the details and click ok. You are now all set !


In the account settings, if you type wrong password then all buttons will be grayed out. Click on “Start over” and type details again.

Setting up MavMail in Thunderbird is very easy. Hopefully this post nudged you towards trying out Thunderbird !

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