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February 6, 2008

7 Thunderbird Extensions that will allow you to replace Outlook

by @ 6:56 am. Filed under email clients, Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Whether you are using Linux or not, Thunderbird is a great email client. It’s been around awhile, and works well. But what if we want more than what Thunderbird offers stock? What can we do so that we can share address books between users on completely different computers? Is there a way to use calendars? Can we then share the calendars so other users can access them? With fresh-from-the-box Thunderbird, good luck. Fortunately, the folks at Mozilla have given us the ability to create extensions for this great email client. Because of this, we have a bunch of slick extensions that can provide us with some cool features. Mainly, if we don’t want to pay huge fees for proprietary solutions, but we still want to be able to share address books and calendars, we can do it with Thunderbird. We just need to know which extensions to use.

Well fasten your seatbelts. The list I’m about to give you could overhaul the way you do email. It’s a list of extensions that allow you to turn Thunderbird into a full-on communications center. Here we go…

1 – Addressbooks Synchronizer – sync your address books to multiple machines

This plugin gives you the ability to synchronize whatever address books you have in Thunderbird. You can sync between home, office, and laptop. You can sync between all your users at the office. It’s a snap to install and configure, unlike a shared directory. Especially if said directory is on a proprietary solution.

Once you get it installed, and you restart Thunderbird, go to the TOOLS menu, and select ADD-ONS. In the list that appears, select “Addressbooks Synchronizer”, and then click the PREFERENCES button.

To set up synchronization, select the SYNCHRONIZE tab at the top. In the “Addressbooks to sync” box, tick the addressbooks that you want to sync. Below that, select the “Remote” tab. Select “Synchronize with remote files”, and then the protocol you wish to use. FTP works great for me. Put in the host, username, and password, and then the path you will use to house your addressbook files. Configure your preferences below that. I just do sync on startup and shutdown, but set it to whatever works for you. Take a look:

Addressbooks Synchronizer Thunderbird Extension

2 – Lightning – manage your time and tasks with extensive calendaring features

Lightning is one of those extensions that, once you use it, you cannot live without. You can use it to schedule appointments and maintain your entire calendar. It shows you a summary of what events you have today, tomorrow, and soon. Another great feature is that it provides task management. It also offers configurable event notification reminders. Quick peek:

Lightning Thunderbird Extension

3 – Lightning Nightly Updater (Unofficial) – From the download page : “Quickly get to the latest nightly builds of Lightning relevant to the version of Thunderbird and the OS you’re on.”

This extension makes sure that you are aware of and can update to any new versions of Lightning that appear. The latest and greatest is what we like, so I highly recommend this extension.

4 – Provider for Google Calendar – connect to and sync with your Google calendar, which you can also share

This gives you the ability to sync with your Google calendars. There is no prefs box to set it up, but using it is simple. First, go ahead and install the extension. Next, you need to set up a Gmail account if you don’t already have one. Then go to http://www.google.com/calendar/render and make sure your calendar is working, maybe create an event or two. Next, go to your calendar’s settings:

Provider for Google Calendar Thunderbird Extension

A page will appear with the details of your calendar’s settings Go down to the PRIVATE ADDRESS, and right-click on the XML button. Select “Copy Link Location”:

Provider for Google Calendar Thunderbird Extension

You now have a link to your Google Calendar copied to your clipboard.

Back in Thunderbird, open the FILE menu, select NEW, and then select CALENDAR. You can also double-click or right-click in the calendar list to create a new calendar. The “Create a New Calendar” box comes up. Instead of “On My Computer,” we are going to select “On the Network”, and click NEXT:

Select : On the Network

In the next screen, select “Google Calendar”, and paste the Private Calendar URL into that box. Click NEXT:

Google Calendar : Private Calendar URL

The following screen allows you to select a name and a color for your calendar. Go ahead and set them as you wish and press NEXT.

Surprise! A calendar login appears:

Google Calendar : Login Box

You need to know the password of the account whose private calendar you are accessing. This means that you should do one of two things. First, you could set up a Gmail account that everyone in the group knows the password for. This way, they can all change things as necessary. Another alternative is to only share your calendar with people you trust. Either way, it’s a matter of preference. You could do a combination of the two, as you can have as many calendars in Thunderbird as you want. So fill in the password, check the box to remember it, and click OK.

You can now share the Calendar URL with whoever you need to. Point them to this tutorial on how to set it up for themselves.

5 – addressContext – An extension to add addressbook-related options to the context menu.

Email messages just about always have contacts associated with them. Such contacts are usually senders or recipients. This extension allows you to do things with the contact information associated with a given email message. It adds things to the context menu:

Address Context

So, for example, let’s say the HR department where I work sends out an email with every email address in the company as a recipient. If I right-click on that message, I can add every recipient therein as an address book contact. Boom, instant employee directory.

6 – Contacts Sidebar – From the download page: “Displays the address books in a sidebar in Thunderbirds 3-pane window”

Gives you the ability to make the contacts in each of the different address books show up in the main Thunderbird window. Nice for quick access to contacts:

Contacts Sidebar

7 – Duplicate Contact Manager – From the download page: “Facilitates handling of duplicates in your address book(s).”

This extension is very nice. It helps remove or combine the duplicates in your address book. I use this thing all the time:

Duplicate Contact Manager

If you want to sync contacts and calendars between many computers, these extensions will give you this capacity. These are a small handful of the available extensions for Thunderbird. There are a bunch more available for your enjoyment or to boost productivity. Check them out when you get a moment.

If you want to give Thunderbird some visual appeal, take a look at the Top 10 Best Themes for Thunderbird.

January 7, 2008

Which email client is the reigning king?

by @ 12:52 pm. Filed under email clients, My Opinion, Thunderbird

Question of the day: What is the difference between a duck?

Answer: I just called your mom.

Here’s a prediction for you: Whoever (M$ is not included here) makes the perfect email client, and has the muscle to get a huge install base for it will have unparalleled influence over the way people communicate. You see, email is the new telephone, though it will never replace the telephone. Just like the telephone will never equal talking face-to-face. But see, more people are using email than ever have before. Why do you think spammers keep on their evil deeds? They know and realize the expanding power of email. But back to the topic at hand : the perfect email client.

On September 18, 2007, I wrote a few thoughts about the Top 9 Things Thunderbird Will Need to ‘Make It.’ As far as these things are concerned, I’m still left with a feeling of, “We can put a man on the moon, so why can’t we make a stellar email client?” Determining and declaring the best email client available today is futile and pointless. Why? Because everyone has different needs. What fills my needs the best, you may abhorrently hate. What you may find to be invaluable may be totally useless to me. That said, I wanted to see if I could take a little more of an objective approach to determining the features offered by the most common email clients. This would then give people some small quantification as to how they might find the email client that meets their criteria the best.

This issue keeps surfacing because I am searching for an open source collaboration system that works for me. I have a handful of small requests. Here are the things that I imagine might be useful and important for such a setup:

Large install base – this means a lot of available support from the community. Forums, FAQs, blogs, and howtos are readily available for when you need to learn how to do something with the software.

Easily extendable – it should have an API which people can use to develop plugins or extensions for the software so as to make it more usable for their needs. This also gives the developers of the project an idea as to what is most important for people. If used properly, it can give a kind of ‘suggested development path’ provided by the community.

Synchronization / Collaboration – This one isn’t new. You need to be able to synchronize mail, schedule, tasks, notes, documents, and contacts across multiple installations of the software. It would be wonderful to invite people to appointments and assign tasks to others. How about giving varying degrees of access to my schedule, appointments, and tasks?

Core Functionality – Has to support email, schedule, tasks, notes, contacts and must aggregate my RSS feeds. And not only support them. Each area should be well into mature stages of stability and feature sets. Don’t make me work an eternity to get the thing set up and working.

Speed and Responsiveness – I once got in trouble from a reader when I said that waiting gives me cancer, so I won’t say that. Know that I do get malignant moles removed at least once a month. Do not make me wait.

That said, let’s take a look at the different email clients and what my experience has been with each of them.

Before I begin, I want to explain what UVC is. From the home page, it claims:

“The UVC Collaboration Suite is software that contains all the functionality of a Groupware solution combined with the convenience of an instant messenger. UVC brings together teams of people and allows them to work together seamlessly. Take the leap from traditional desktop contact managers and start experiencing a new level of software freedom.”

It is basically a java-driven multi-platform collaboration tool that is free for individual use, but has widely expandable capabilities for a yearly per-user fee. I’ve used it for around 4 years off and on.

That now said, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Thunderbird, UVC, and Evolution. I would include all of the KMail/KDE tools, but I have not, as yet, done much research on them. If you have links to any great tutorials, howtos, or information pages explaining those capabilities, please let me know.

Thunderbird
Pros Cons
Huge install base – ample support Slow – some things take forever
Lots of great add-ons for it – extendable Things don’t always work right
Synchronizes Address Books Has trouble with huge amounts of email
Synchronizes Calendars Must install client to use, data local
Does RSS feeds Takes a lot of system resources
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts Lots of extra setup to get it working
Absolutely free No memos
Improved task management No ability to synchronize tasks
Imports / Exports well enough  
Functionality not limited  
Able to view appointments, contacts, etc.  
Ability to back up data as necessary  
UVC
Pros Cons
Excellent management of tasks Limited capacity – light work only
Allows for almost all needs Even with paid account, limited capacity
Will run from anywhere Takes a lot of system resources
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts, notes Cannot back up data
Able to send appointments, contacts, etc.

Full functionality requires payment
Able to view appointments, contacts, etc.

 
Just works – great all-in-one solution

 
Allows for exports and imports of varying types

 
Evolution
Pros Cons
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts, memos Takes a lot of system resources
Very snappy responsive interface Needs a collaboration server
Handles huge amounts of messages Crashes periodically
Handles memos and tasks very well  
Seems much more enterprise-level  

Is there an open source collaboration server that NATIVELY will work with either Thunderbird or Evolution without too much headache or loss of precious (read non-existant) financial resources?

If there is something that is missing here, give me your feedback. Argue your point well, don’t just put a link to release notes or feature list. Tell me why something is or is not important to you personally.

September 18, 2007

Top 9 Things Thunderbird Will Need to ‘Make It’

by @ 12:39 pm. Filed under sweet tools, Thunderbird

Thunderbird

When it comes to communication, my preferred method is either email or IM. The telephone thing really doesn’t do it for me too much. While I do spend a great amount of time typing into a Gaim/Pidgin chat window each day, it’s my email application that takes the cake. Am I an email addict? Not really. It’s actually the additional functionality provided by my email client that makes it so absolutely useful.

Let me borrow a quote from my upcoming ebook on the topic:

“If you are like me, having a great personal information management system ranks right up there in necessity with Oxygen itself. Tens of thousands of email messages find their way into my inbox each week. Then there is all of the tech news which is required reading each day. Don’t forget that there are eleven full address books on my system that need to be maintained very carefully. Also, what about the appointments? We need some kind of scheduling system. How am I going to remember to pick up some milk on the way home from work? Need those task lists. By the way, reminder pop-ups would be nice, too. And please make sure that we can access all of this from different computers, and share it all with other users.”

“Truth be told, myriads of information management systems are available these days. Especially if you count all the commercial solutions. A common solution is to pay $15,000 to license Microsoft Exchange, and then another $400 per computer for Microsoft Office, which includes Outlook. Because lots of folks don’t have that kind of money, and even less tolerance for all the security risks involved with this solution, we have to find something else.”

I do all my scheduling in my email client of choice. I can even collaborate and sync calendars with other users. The address book is also synchronized with other people. Every one of my tasks has its home there. It manages each one of my 150+ RSS feeds with rules and filters.

So what is this overly amazing email client? It’s Thunderbird, of course.

Before I get flooded with comments to the effect, no one knows better than I do that Thunderbird supports almost none of this by default. It does email, address book and RSS. The scheduling, synchronizing of the schedule, synchronizing of the calendar, and task management are all provided by extensions.

How to get all this set up and working is the subject of my forthcoming ebook.

Apparently, I’m not completely up in the night with my desire to have Thunderbird as the solution for all my organizational needs. Mozilla has announced its desire for Thunderbird to enjoy the same success as Firefox. They will set up a subsidiary, tentatively called MailCo, with about $3 Million, placing David Ascher as the CEO and go from there. One of their primary concerns is having to compete with Outlook. In other words, calendar collaboration, a unified address book directory, tasks, todos, appointments, and so forth. I have spent the past 2 months learning ways to set this stuff up in Thunderbird.

With that, what will Mozilla need to put into Thunderbird to make it even more appealing in the eyes of potential users?

Calendar Collaboration – Thunderbird will need to have the ability to share calendars with other people. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who will also want to view others’ calendars, as well. We will want to be able to manage those calendars very easily. Let’s have abundant support for things like repeating events. Make it nice and easy to manage. Give us the ability to invite other people, and also allow us to notify other people of impending events. Also, it would be spectacular if I could give read-only rights to some people for my calendar, and full read-write permissions to other people. When an event is coming up, it would be nice to have a customizable notification. Oh, I will also likely want to have notifications via pop-up, email, and likely SMS (if I’m away from the desk).

Address Book Directory – How about the ability to share address books with people? I have a couple of business ventures that I am involved with. I also have quite an extended family. It would be nice to maintain different address books for the different groups. Again, read-only and read-write access would be nice to grant as necessary. How about the ability to import and export contacts from many different formats?

Mailing List Support – For years, I used a mailing list software on Windows called “Arrow Mailing List Server“. It would be really nice to have a large part of this type of mailing list functionality built into Thunderbird. There are thousands of mailing lists that exist out on the Internet. People use them quite a bit. Email clients like Foxmail have this built in. Why not Thunderbird? Personally, this has a very big appeal to me to create mailing lists for my family and friends.

Task Management – This would have the ability to classify tasks into different categories. Also, we’ll need to assign different importance to different tasks. No, I don’t mean, “low,” “medium,” and “high.” Let’s have the ability to select a number from a drop-down, say from 1 to 25. The task management system needs to have a percentage done for each task. Oh, I’d also like to sort my task list by the category, the priority, and the percent done. As well as assign tasks to other people. Along with the usual read-only and read-write privileges for me to grant other people for my task list. Of course this means that we’d also need to be able to share task lists with other people. Hey, maybe we could even put Gantt chart functionality in here?!

Real Spam Filters – Surely you could build better spam detection tools. Collaborate with the Spamato folks and they’ll hook you right up. For now, one can use their extension. But wouldn’t it be absolutely spectacular if Thunderbird shipped with that functionality right out of the box? I’m absolutely sick to death of spam. Fix this please.

Extension List – Wouldn’t it just be swell to have a list right in Thunderbird of all the extensions that are compatible with it? And whether or not they are installed. Also, let’s have as much detail on each one as possible. That way, the MailCo folks won’t have to work so hard so fast, especially when incredible functionality already exists as an extension. Such is the case with Spamato. They could focus on other areas first.

Text Chat – This could be something as simple as working with the Gaim/Pidgin (or Kopete) project to provide some amount of interactivity with that software. There is no point in reinventing the wheel, here. Simply providing information as to whether the sender of the current email message is online or offline would be nice. Maybe providing some kind of button on the Thunderbird interface to initiate a chat with that person. It then pops up your IM client and opens the chat window for you to start typing your message. It would be nice to quickly glance at a contact list to see who on that list is currently online or offline, as well.

Voice Chat – Could initially start as a collaboration with something like Skype. Again, why re-create everything? We don’t need to have the NIH attitude involved here. Plug into something that already works well. A simple API would do nicely to accomplish this. Just to let me know whether I can initiate a voice chat with them, and a small button to do just that.

Faster UI – One of the things that makes me homicidal is waiting. Do not make me wait for a button rollover to appear when I move the mouse cursor over it. The number of RSS feeds it is pulling and processing is irrelevant. I don’t care if it is in the middle of indexing 200,000 messages. Do not make me wait. When a button is clicked, let’s see it do its function.

Ok, so I threw the last one in as a personal preference. I would bet my house that, if Thunderbird does end up a huge success, you will find the majority of this functionality in it in one form or another.

Thunderbird also has some spectacular themes. Take a look at “The Top 10 Best Themes for Thunderbird 2.0.”

July 31, 2007

90,000 Email Messages and Counting

by @ 11:26 pm. Filed under SUSE Blog News, Thunderbird

Boy, you know that you are busy when you clean this many emails out of your Thunderbird trash:

55045 Messages in My Trash

What’s worse is that I still had this many messages left:

44483 Messages Left

Maybe it’s because I receive upwards of this many emails in a given 48-hr period:

Downloading Message 9418 of 10928

Tell you what… between visiting my dad (he had a stroke), the kids, and the family vacation this past weekend, it’s a wonder that I even know my own name. Wow. Anyway, I hope everyone is having a spectacular day.

I will have available very soon several e-books for anyone who wants them rather than just the people who have signed up for the course. I got a bunch of requests for the e-book last time I did that by people who didn’t want to sign up for the course.

There is some cool stuff in there, and one in particular that Novell put together (over 260 pages) for new Linux users who want to get started with openSUSE 10.2. I was very impressed with it, to be honest.

Hopefully within a day or two, I’ll have all that available for everyone who wants it.

My favorite song of the day: Demonic by Testament

That song is so blistering and abrasive, it actually peels the skin off your face. I totally love it.

June 25, 2007

The Top 10 Best Themes for Thunderbird 2.0

by @ 6:44 am. Filed under General Linux, My Opinion, review, Thunderbird
Introduction

Eyecandy is one of my favorite things. Ask Steve or Jason. I love for stuff to look just really slick. So I’m going through this Thunderbird article called “10 must-have Thunderbird Addons (+ 25 more) because I also like wicked-sick plugins with all the coolest stuff because I get extremely bored very quickly. After getting all the totally rocking extensions, I came back to the sexiness of the whole thing. If I could make my Thunderbird look like the Viper that I’ve always wanted, I’d be totally set. Pulling up the theme page on mozilla.org, lots and lots of themes jumped out at me. Granted, not all of them are compatible with Thunderbird 2.0, which is what I’m using. Nevertheless, I decided to download the most popular themes that are compatible with T-Bird 2 and give ’em a spin on my desktop here.

After a few moments, it became apparent to me that I could just as easily rush through it and quickly pick something on an impulse that appealed to me and call ‘er good. On the other hand, the possibility existed that we could go through them one by one, make a little spreadsheet with some criteria on it, and grade them on the things that are important to me, in the way that I perceive them. Because it is so subjective and highly personalized, it would come as a surprise to me if this information were useful to anyone but me. Nevertheless, the possibility that one person may find it useful and beneficial is enough for me to pour my heart out. Thus, I leave it in your hands to be exceedingly thankful for my generosity.

The criteria of my most excellent grading scale (of 1 to 10) are outlined, in detail, with full weights, explanation, footnotes, cross-references, and bibliography as follows:

The score for each category will be multiplied by the weight for that category. Each of these values will then be added all together for a total overall “Weighted Score.” With all of this deeply explanatory psychological underlying subliminally entrenched childhood tragedy now thoroughly worked out of my system, it may very well be possible to jump right into the cool stuff. With that, here we go.

#10 – Vista Mail

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Vista Mail Theme

click image for larger version
#9 – miniBird

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the miniBird Theme

click image for larger version
#8 – Aquabird Redone

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Aquabird Redone Theme

click image for larger version
#7 – Outlook 2003 SilverTB

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the  Theme

click image for larger version
#6 – Modern Modoki

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Modern Modoki Theme

click image for larger version
#5 – Noia

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Noia Theme

click image for larger version
#4 – Outlook 2003 BlueTB

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Outlook 2003 BlueTB Theme

click image for larger version
#3 – Bible Blue-bird

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the  Theme

click image for larger version
#2 – Phoenity

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Phoenity Theme

click image for larger version
#1 – Cobalt

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Cobalt Theme

click image for larger version
Conclusion

All in all, these top 10 themes all have their strengths. Some of them have some more obvious flaws than others, but overall, they provide a collection of 10 great themes to have. Again, this evaluation was made solely according to my tastes. Take a look at the link to the themes I provided above. There are quite a bit more than the ones I covered here, but these are the 10 best according to my criteria, grading, and weights. Hopefully, this has been a somewhat insightful demonstration of a perfect way to waste 3 hours of your day.

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