GLossary Pages

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thunderbird and Exchange / OWA

Thunderbird does not work natively with Exchange/OWA.  That is the short answer I have been giving people for a long time.  In the past few days I have stumbled upon some software that is designed to sit between you and the exchange server and act as an interpreter.  That would be DavMail.  DavMail is not new, and like Thunderbird is an open source project so there are no licences to buy.   You simply download it and install it.

How does this affect the situation of using Thunderbird with Exchange servers?  It changes everything!

Until now we have been able (on some occasions) to convince the exchange server admin that turning on IMAP on exchange was a good idea, but for every success there have been probably a dozen failures and out of the box Exchange is totally inaccessible to standards compliant mail programs.  Evolution, Thunderbird, even the OSX Mail program can all benefit from this software because it make exchange 'just another mail server'.  The real beauty of this is that it does it's magic  from your computer so you don't need to go cap in hand to some system admin to ask them please do something, you simply install it an go from there.

When I installed the software it was simple, painless and just worked.  What is different is the way you set up accounts in Thunderbird.  Because you have put all he remote locations into DavMail, the server names you use are not the ones you would expect from the information provided by the Exchange administrator.  The server names for Thunderbird are simply localhost.  The user names are Domainname/username and will be the same as you use for OWA.

The instructions given for setting up mail accounts on the web site are only for version 2 of Thunderbird.
To setup in Thunderbird 6 and latter do the following.
Give the account setup wizard your mail address and your correct password and click next. it will look for settings and fail.

Once you get to the unable to detect your settings, manually edit the entries in the dialog as shown below. Remember to put your OWA signon in to the box at the bottom.

When you click the Re-test button, Thunderbird will show it has found your account settings and proceeds to allow you to create the account.

You are done, you have your Exchange/OWA account in Thunderbird. You can now add calendars and address books as shown on the MailDav web site.

 For those using Linux there are instructions on UBUNTU here 


The ExQuilla add-on supports Microsoft Exchange 2007 and later and is now available in Beta from the Mozilla Addon site. When used in conjunction with the Exchange calender provider for lightning  most Exchange features are available directly within Thunderbird

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How do I Recall my Email.

This is one of those posts that really has no solution, but it is a question that is asked over and over again.

Email has no option to recall once it is send. So you can not put the cat back in the bag once it is let out.

Microsoft Exchange email server has an option to Recall an email, and this has led many people who work in corporate environments to think that it is a feature of email.  This is a feature of Exchange server, not email and there is a big difference.  Exchange can basically do what it likes, because all the mail in in the exchange database.  Once it leaves that exchange database and going out into the wild of the internet it is no longer under the control of the exchange server and can not be recalled at all. If the mail has been seen by the person it was sent to the recall does not work If the email is send outside the domain (that is to someone outside your business, the recall will not work.  For the full details you might read what Microsoft has to say about how their recall implementation works.

Google built a recall into their Gmail system as well, but again it is a fudge.  They simply delay the sending of the email for the time they give you to change your mind;.  So you get an undo option on the send, but it is not a real recall as the mail was never sent.

So Thunderbird does not have a recall option, simply becasue it is not a part of the mail RFC's which are the core of Thunderbird functionality.  So for those that want a similar option to change their mind, there is the send latter addon, which delays sending and provides the opportunity to change your mind and delete mail from the outbox before it is sent. 

But by far the simplest method is to make Thunderbird work off line (File > offline > work offline)  this means all messages will be stored locally and not sent until you repeat the process to go back on line, or press the get mail button.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Can't delete EML files

This came up on the get satisfaction support site, and I thought it worth noting here for my own future reference.

Apparently windows search uses some sort of modified file properties to 'enhance the search experience'.  The references I have read all implicate Live mail in the installation of this enhancement, but it could just as well be a windows update or an Internet explorer update.

The side effect of the enhanced search experience is that any EML files you have saved into the file system from your mail client can't be dealt with as files and nothing you do to move or delete them works.  The solution is to change the registry key as shown below.   Once that key is set to Zero and you have rebooted you will be able to modify the EML files as normal.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Folders can be confusing

The folders view in Thunderbird appear to cause some confusion, partly because of the may views available, and partly because the behaviour is different depending on where you create folders.

Thunderbird folder can be broadly separated into two groups.

IMAP folders and Local folders

IMAP folders are folder that are created within an IMAP mail account.  These folders are the same as those shown when you log into the server and are replicated with the server.  These folders must follow the limits and restrictions imposed by the server.  All IMAP server are not created equal, some have what appear to be rather strange restrictions on where a folder can and can not be created, and these restrictions are often times contradictory from one Server software package to another.

While we never really think about the program on the server we connect to to get our mail it does have relevance when creating folders for IMAP accounts.   Things like , there appears to be a 40 character limit in Gmail to total folder names, including parents.  On Other servers all folders have to be children of the inbox, other limit folder which have child folder to not actually containing mail.

These limits actually cause some problems as Thunderbird often does not know they exist and therefore will allow you to create a folder, which disappears almost immediately as it tries to replicate it to the server and fails.

Local folders

As the name implies, these folder are local to your computer.  They are not available if you access you mail account from a web browser, as mail in them is saved on the hard disk of your computer.

Thunderbirds local folders do not suffer from the limitations imposed by IMAP servers. You can have as many of them as you like and there can have as many levels as you need.  The total content of each local folder is currently limited to 4Gb of mail and attachments, but that is the only real limitation other than disk space on your computer.  This is also a good place to store your archive folder, as it frees space on your IMAP mail account.  While this is not all that relevant to Gmail users with their Gigabytes of storage, many mail server offer relatively small IMAP storage quotas and saving or archiving to local folders is a way to free space on the server while retaining a copy of the mail.

If a folder simply can't be foound, if you enter the following code into the error console in the Tools menu and click evaluate the entire folder tree will be opened out so that you can look without having to click a million time to open the folder.

Components.classes[';1'].getService(Components.interfaces.nsIWindowMediator).getMostRecentWindow("mail:3pane").gFolderTreeView.mode= "all"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Contact Pane

One of the most frequently asked questions about Thunderbird's compose window is the contact pane.  Mysteriously it disappears. Usually this is because you have pressed the F9 key and turned it off.  The setting is to be found on the View menu as 'contact pane' and pressing F9 toggles it on and off.

The other cause is far less obvious, and that is it has been dragged to the far left of the window until the width is Zero.  Recovery from this requires a bit of fiddling with the mouse over on the left centre of the screen to locate the now basically hidden divider and dragging it back to a visible location.  The mail tweaks add-on contains an option to make these dividers flash when you move the mouse over them to make this process easier, but at the time of writing this the add-on had not been updated to support Version 6.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

XPI files:- Or how to install an add-on in Thunderbird.

The release of the new add-on manager in Thunderbird 5.0 has demonstrated that many people are not comfortable installing an add-on in Thunderbird, a part of this is the fact that the process of installing from a file is far from intuitive,  there are no associations for the file and double clicking it get the standard dumb answer from the operating system asking what to do with this odd unknown file type.

The second problem people encounter is that Firefox uses exactly the same XPI file format, so if you browsing in Firefox, simply clicking on an XPI link on the web prompts the file to be installed in Firefox.  It is for this reason that almost all download sites display a message similar to this one.

Add-ons in Thunderbird can not only be simple, they are the core of what makes these Mozilla Applications fit for the needs of almost anyone.  There are hundreds of add-ons for almost every conceivable niche function but they are greatly underused simply because people either don't know they exist, or are put off by the whole process of installing them.

Add-ons can change the theme (or skin) to introduce more colourful icons etc. or they can add functionality.  To get the full scope, take your browser here and explore the categories shown on the left of the page.  These are only the add-ons hosted on the Mozilla add-on site.  You will also find many other add-ons, which are not on the site but references in support forums or Blogs such as this.  One personal web site that contains a whole host of useful add-ons is KAOSMOS WEBSITE

There are two ways to install an add-on.and I will talk about the simplest first.

Go to the add-on manager.  You will find this on the tools menu.   It opens a new tab, which in my case flickers several times when it is opened.  From here you are presented with a screen offering some of the more popular themes and add-ons.  There is also a search box, and a hidden menu, and it is this that is the most useful part of the process. In the search box type in the name of the add-on you want to install and it will locate it (sometimes) and list it with an install button.  Nothing could be simpler.

The second and far more common approach is to install an add-on from a downloaded file. There are two main reasons for this.  People link to add-ons on the web, and most of us use a browser to find out about things.  Your browser will download the file, but as I said earlier there will be no help from the operating system in installing the file into Thunderbird.  It is assumed that if you downloaded the file you know what to do with it.

So what to do.  Again it is simple, but only once you know how to do it.

In the addon manager there is that hidden menu I refered to before and it is using this menu that you install your XPI file to Thunderbird
I am not sure what to call this wheel thingy, because while it looks like a wheel in Windows, and on a Mac it has a very different appearance on Linux.

Regardless of the name it is the tools menu for the add-on manager and it is the 'Install from file' entry on that menu that most people installing an add-on will be using. Once you have located the menu, clicking install, pointing the file dialog that opens to your downloaded file is about as simple as opening a word processing document.  There will be a short delay once you click install, and a counter will display on the install button. This is to give you a short time to change your mind, and make it hard for malicious sites to install add-ons without your express permission.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Deleting an account Thunderbird

This is an often asked question in Thunderbird support forums, and one that whilst easy to accomplish, is fraught with unexpected consequences.

Why you should be very careful in deleting accounts.

Thunderbird links messages to IMAP accounts, so if your account is IMAP then deleting the account in Thunderbird will simply see all local copies vanish.  However if your changing mail providers,  as soon as the mail provider removes your account you may well see all the mail in Thunderbird disappear with the server account.  That is because the local copies on IMAP mail are more a cache to improve performance that a permanent store.

If however your account is POP and you have deleted the mail from the server when you downloading, your only copy of mail will vanish along with the account.  This is the common unexpected consequence of deleting an account, the messages associated with that account will simply vanish.  It may be possible to recover these messages,  MozillaZine has instructions, but it is certainly not something one would elect to do through choice. So the short of it is that if you have messages you want to keep, you don't really want to delete the account.  You might want to disable the account from checking mail, you might also want to remove the outgoing server from Thunderbird, but you don't want to delete the account.

Why you might think your need to delete an account

It is not working, or has stopped working. 
This is not Outlook Express where the answer to all problems is delete and recreate, or uninstall and reinstall.  Neither approach is likely to fix the vast majority of problems, but is highly likely to loose your mail in the process.  If you are having problems with an account that does not work, post your settings, they are shown in Trouble shooting on the help menu at the Thunderbird support site with a clear statement including the actual error messages you are receiving.

You have closed the account with the provider
As mentioned earlier Thunderbird will delete your mail along with the account, so you need to copy the mail to Local folders before Thunderbird can no longer synchronise with the old mail server.  Local Folders is local storage not connected with the mail server so when mail is copied there the synchronisation link to the server ends and you have a permanent local copy.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Using a Hotmail/ Live Alias with Thunderbird.

 This topic is now included in the Mozilla knowledge base

An Alias, is a rather funny name to give to what amounts to a new email address.  This whole concept of creating a throwaway email address is not new, and to be honest the Hotmail implementation reminds me so much a AOL in the early 1990s it is just not funny.

But the question is how do I get these things to work in Thunderbird.  Actually receiving the mail from this Alias email address could not be simpler simply have Hotmail put the mail into your inbox, rather than it's own folder and your done.  What you already have it set up to use a folder, because that was the default.  Not a problem either.
1. Sign in to your  Hotmail account with a web browser

2. Click Options then More options
3. Under Customizing Hotmail, click Rules for sorting new messages
4. Delete the rule than places new messages for that account into it's own folder.

Now you are receiving mail for that account, but how do you reply to it and make it look lioke the response is coming from the Alias.  This requires a little bit of a sleigh of hand and a little used Thunderbird option.


Identities have been in Thunderbird a long time.  The whole purpose of these is to make mail sent from one address look like it comes from a mail account it does not

1. Go to your Thunderbird account settings Tools > account settings

2. Click on the account name (this is the line above Server Settings)
3. Click on the Identities button
4. Enter The name you want displayed, this name goes out with the email and appear to the sender instead of the email address. 
5. Enter the Alias email adress as both the email address and the reply to address.
6. Click on the composition and addressing tab and change the quite options to above the quote, if that is how you want to reply to mail.
7. Click ok to close this dialog and ok again to close the identities list.

Now you are done.  Thunderbird will receive the mails and automatically find the right information when you click reply and reply through your Hotmail server.

The only thing left is to move these mails to a folder of their own just as was offered in Hotmail.

1.Select File > new > Folder from the menu.
2. Enter the name of the folder you want to create.  It does not have to be the alias email address, but it can be.
3. Select the location for the folder to be created. (in the ALL folders view this folder will appear under you choice as a sub folder.
4. Select a message that has been sent to the alias account.
5. from the Messages menu select create filter from this message
6. The filter dialog will open type in a name you wish to give this filter, and check that it is set to run 'checking mail or run manually"
7. The From is and the email address should be automatically inserted if not your will need to set it to From is and the alias email address.
8. In the bottom half of the filter window select the option to "move message to" if it is not already selected.
9. In the drop down list beside the move message to select the folder you just created.
Ok your done.
Mail will be reteived from Hotmail and moved to your designated folder on arrival.
When you click reply, that account will appear as the one replying.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Article now on the official Mozilla support site:

Microsoft in their eternal quest for a competitive edge just will not stick to agreed standards.  This applies to mail as much as it does to anything else they make. Microsoft calls in Innovation,  and if you exclusively use their products it certainly can appear that way.  It is only when you have the temerity to use a non Microsoft product do you find that their innovation is not compatible with, well anything else really.

This is the case with the winmail.dat file.  It is a proprietary format for sending email attachments that only Microsoft programs  really understand. Others have spent their time and effort to try and get their programs to understand this format, decode it and present the content in a useful manner, but the Truth is that the problem is outlook.

This article on the office web site advises Outlook users how to fix the problem permanently.  Whenever you get one of these messages the best approach is to reply to the message sender that they have outlook incorrectly configured to send Internet mail and give them the link to the article on the office web site.  Most people simply don't know they don't have Outlook set correctly and will change things as soon as they hear that your can't open their attachments.

There is an add-on for Thunderbird which in some cases can read these winmail.dat files.  Lookout is not always successful, but it can usually display the attached files.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I want an old version of Thunderbird

I don't know how many times I have read this, but for some reason most people go looking at download sites for something that Mozilla has on their site.

They don't advertise it, and actually have a disclaimer that it is for archival purposes and they don't recommend people use it.  But every version of Thunderbird ever released, from 0.1 to date are all on this FTP site. This is particularly good for those moving from Version 1 to later versions, because they must install Version 2 to get the necessary conversions to their profile for Versions 3 and latter to install without errors.  The version 3 and latter upgrade process does not know how to read V1 profiles.

For those not familiar with FTP sites, they function as a file system so, clicking a link opens the folder below and to go up a folder level you click the up to higher level directory.

In most of the folders in this archive, first you click on the version, this opens a list of operating systems. Select your operating system and a list of languages by code will appear, eg EN_US is a US localised English version, fr is a french etc.  Select you preferred language and you will be presented with two files. For windows users the large file with the EXE on the end is the one you need to download and install.  You can safely ignore warning from your browser or anti virus programs about it being an executable file, because that is what it is.

Once the file is downloaded, open the file to install Thunderbird. 

22 May 2016 : Mozilla have decommissioned FTP on from the 5th Ausugt 2015.   See their blog post announcing the change here.

Thanks to Andy Plotkin  for making me aware this link was out of date.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Outlook Express DBX files

Thunderbird can only import mail from Outlook Express if the two programs are on the same computer.  This creates something of a catch 22 for those that have backed up their DBX files from Outlook Express, and no longer have access to the program.

In the past few days, I was lurking on a Microsfot Support Forum, and mention of theUnDBX utility came up.  Now the internet is full of paid utilities that will read DBX files and convert them, but really who wants to pay for a program that they will probably use only the once. This one is free, and released under the GNU GLP V3 open source license.

How does this help in getting DBX mails into Thunderbird,  it converts them to the industry standard EML file format.  The addon Import/Export Tools can import EML files into Thunderbird.

So the round trip is use the UnDBX tool to convert your mail into EML and then Use the Import Export tools to import it into Thunderbird.

I think I have finally figured out how to do the WAB to Thunderbird part of the process.  A small largely undocumented program called Dawn. I have linked to the download site that does contain some instructions for use,  in my own case I had to unzip the package and double click on the MSI file.  The setup program did not appear to do anything.  I would love to hear from anyone how Dawn went for them. Other than the quirk on the setup it worked flawlessly for me.

Addendum 17 March 2013
Philip Sargent has advised me that under Windows 7 Dawn needs to run in XP compatibility mode.

Addendum 30 January 2016
I think these days using the windows contact to import the WAB file and then instructing Thunderbird to use that is a better way to go with address books. See my Devember 2013 post on the Windows address book here 

Anti Virus/Firewall Programs

We all have them, and they are one of those things we all love to hate. One of the things about these security programs is that they can wreak havoc with other applications.  Email programs such as Thunderbird are particularly vulnerable dues to the fact that they interact almost exclusively with the internet and anti virus vendors love to stick little widgets into the Mail program 'for your convenience'.

Should you even have mail scanning enabled in your Anti Virus program?

This is the question that I have been asking now for a number of years.  My conclusion, after researching the topic is a resounding NO.  I am now not even really sure why it is included in almost very anti virus program in existence.

Now you probably think I am mad to come out any say this, so let me explain.  All modern anti virus programs have some sort of resident protection, something that blocks the nasties as soon as you try and execute them, or they try and run.  This is essential.  What good is an anti virus program that does not scan files that come in on that portable drive your friend lent you with the latest block buster movie on it.  Or the files your teenager downloaded using file sharing or even the file someone passed to you in MSN or Yahoo messenger.

For some reason that I can not fathom, email is treated differently.  This resident protection that protects against file sharing and casually inserted USB devices is suddenly not good enough for email.  Email is just another file.  You connect to the internet and download it.  Your mail program will most likely store the file in some sort of database, but it is still a file (and a text file at that).

Instead we have all these widgets and button and proxies, all of which make a simple file process complex and fraught with inexplicable glitches.  I had thought that being a Thunderbird person that it was Thunderbird that had all the problems.  But no that is not the case.  I stumbled upon this quotation from Tom Koch who was an MVP for Outlook Express.

"...When encountering the symptoms of DBX corruption, many people immediately fear that their computer is infected with a virus. As surprising and ironic as it may seem though, the most common cause of DBX corruption is not a virus, but rather anti-virus programs that are configured to scan incoming or outgoing e-mail. Even the most well-known anti-virus programs have exhibited this problem from time to time. To lessen the risk of such corruption you should disable the e-mail scanning module in your anti-virus program. This is usually easy to do by looking at the user-configurable options in the anti-virus program. It is not at all necessary to scan e-mail for viruses to protect your computer.Now before you dismiss me as mad, let me explain why e-mail scanning is unnecessary. Almost every anti-virus program for Windows installs by default a system scan that runs in the background every time Windows starts. This scan is necessary to protect your computer. If you receive a virus in an e-mail attachment, the virus cannot do anything at all until you actually open the attachment. ..." .

To add to my ever dimming view of email scanning I stumbled upon this thread over a cnet where a Symantec Tech support was assisting someone with Incredimail.

To quote from the reply he made there "If your email server requires the use of SSL than you need to disable the email scanning feature in Norton 360, as SSL is not supported. Even if you disable this feature, the real-time scanning engine called Auto-Protect will still scan both your incoming and outgoing email for threats."

What this makes clear is 'your protected' even if you disable mail scanning.  This advice was given for SSL connections, but the only difference between a normal email connection and SSL is that under SSL the data is transported in an encrypted state.  So if your safe not scanning encrypted connections, your just as safe not scanning unencrypted mail.

In program buttons and tool bars 

The greatest difficulty with these little widgets that play with SPAM and virus checking from within the mail program is that the companies release them for a specific version and are very slow to update them when the mail program is updated.  I see in forums all the time complains about a new version of Thunderbird 'breaking' this SPAM tool or that Anti virus checker.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the things that is made very clear to anyone that writes add-ons for Mozilla applications (and this is what these things are) is that it is their responsibility to ensure their add-on works. So next time you have something break, don't complain to Mozilla, complain where the onus lies.  With the supplier of the add-on.

You are paying these companies for their expertise and their software. If they are not going to keep it up to date with the mail client you use they should make this very clear when they sell it to you. With the rapid release schedule for Thunderbird bringing out a new release every six weeks, it is highly likely that these companies will never get their stuff updated quickly enough for it to actually work on the day you buy it. Unless they significantly improve their performance in this area.


I am not going to explain what they are.  There are plenty of good explanations in the internet.  Most people have heard of a firewall, most also know that there is one in their operating system.  This however is all to often where the knowledge ends.  These days, the average computer does not have one firewall, it has many.

Anti virus companies now routinely include a firewall component into their products.
Your Operating system has one.
Usually your wireless access point/router has one
Most DSL modems have one.

When things go wrong, it is often one of these firewall that is blocking communications (after all that is their job)  The hardware firewalls in routers and modems are normally open, although there was a US ISP that blocked certain ports in the Modem as an anti SPAM measure.  If you are a comcast customer, take note.

The most common cause for problems is one supplied by the anti virus companies, this is because normally a firewall is set up to block incoming connections.  The ones that come with your anti virus program also block programs and outgoing connections.

I can see where from a security perspective having a 'white list' of programs makes life easier. After all there is no better way to stop rogue malware from using your computer as a base to send SPAM that to have a white list  of programs that are allowed to connect to the internet.

I updated Thunderbird and now nothing works.

This is here because it is almost always an over eager security program causing the problem.  Thunderbird has a new version and the program is blocking it from accessing the internet.

To be fair, in most cases the program actually asks you it you want to block it,  but it does so while you are typing. As most of us are not touch typists we are not looking at the screen, we are looking at the keyboard.

Because the default of block, we never actually see the question, our next key stroke or press of the enter key just blocks it and we have a mysteriously non functional mail program.


If Thunderbird suddenly stops getting mail, your password that has been fine for years suddenly is not accepted or you get time out errors instead of action the first place to look is in these ubiquitous security programs.

Further rambling on the topic here 


Why would there be a need for advise on Passwords.  Simple they are really not intuitive at all.  So here we have what I see as the most asked questions about Passwords in Thunderbird, and perhaps a little background on the passwords used.

How do I change my password.

The simple answer is you don't. You delete your password.

On the toolbar >  Options > Security >Passwords  there is a show saved password button.  Clicking it shows all the saved passwords and offers the opportunity to delete them.  If the password Thunderbird has is wrong this is what you must do. Next time you check your mail Thunderbird will ask you for your password.  If you click the save option in the box asking for your password your new password will be saved.

Master Password does not protect my Mails.

This is 100% correct.  The master Password is not designed as an application password.  It's sole purpose is to protect your saved passwords with a password of their own. There is a really good article on Master Passwords on the MozillaZine web site.

The people who code Thunderbird are very unlikely to provide an application password.  Why? Well the truth is that Thunderbird stores all of your mail in plain text files. Having an application password protecting your mail is fairly pointless when all of the mail is available to anyone who has a text editor and access to your computer.  If you want to protect your mail and I mean seriously instead of with a dinky password such as is offered by the Profile password add-on, use the user accounts and passwords built into your operating system.

File attachments in Thunderbird

File Attachments appear to cause far more difficulties in Thunderbird than they should.  Part of this is the somewhat quirky way Thunderbird deals with attachments and part is due to most  Quirks in Other email applications that send not quite standard email to Thunderbird.

The main causes of difficulties are the 'Helper Application not found' error message and winmail.dat files which are discussed below. as well as the newer problem of attachments simply not appearing at all.


This is another of those innovative ideas that Microsoft had that just didn't work out well for the average user.  Microsft invented the winmail.dat file for use in corporate networks using Microsoft Exchange servers.  Unfortunately, most of the use of Outlook that the average person sees is in Internet Mail.  Internet mail is not a closed environment so proprietary solutions such as this just don't work.  The result is you get this silly file attached to your mail, with no really simple way to either open it or view it.

There is an add on LookOut, which tries to do something useful with these files and display their content. But the only real solution is to contact the person sending you the mail and explaining to them that  their mail client in not configured correctly and that they need to fix it so you can read the attachments they are sending you.

When telling someone their software is not configured correctly it can be a bit difficult, but if you give them this handy link to KB138053 on the Microsoft web site they should be able to fix things so they are not sending out mails that no one can read easily.

Helper Application not found

This is one of Thunderbird's Quirks. It actually stores a list of applications to associate with file types (based on the MIME information in the email).  This works quite nicely most of the time, until a new version of one of these programs come out that moves the location it is installed in.  Then this message rears it's head. Thankfully it is easy to cure.

On the Tools Menu, you will find options. In option there is a button called attachments, this is where all this file type association stuff is stored in Thunderbird.  There is nothing  needed to fix this problem other than to locate the association for the file type and delete it.  Next time you ask Thunderbird to open a file of that type it will ask you what to do with the file and you get to select the correct application.  You can also click the save and have Thunderbird remember exactly what to do with that file type.

Thunderbird tries to open the file with the wrong program

This is usually caused by the senders email program incorrectly identifying the attachment file type in the MIME encoding of the file.  The simple answer for this, if you get mail from the same people that cause this problem all the time is to install the Open Attachment By Extension add-on.  This add-on opens the file based on the extension in the mail, not the MIME type which is how Thunderbird normally selects the application to open an attachment

Attachments don't Appear.

Following the fixing of a bug in Thunderbird that caused you to be unable to detach an attachment from a mail, attachments generated by many email programs have stopped being displayed.  The underlying cause is complex and the discussion I have seen on the topic indicates that it is 'non trivial to fix'.  My experience with Thunderbird leaves me to translate that as 'it will be a long time before we fix this' to good news is that there is an add-on that allows the attachment to be displayed. Simply installing this add-on adds a new entry to the "message body as" on the view menu to allow all 'parts' of a message to be viewed.  Because of the way it works, all sorts of parts of a message are displayed as an attachment, including digital signatures and images embedded in HTML messages.  For more information on the problem and the issues,  the meet the developer page from the add-on is full of background.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Compacting :- What is it and Why must I do it.

What is it?

Thunderbird stores all of your local messages in a file on the local computer.  One file for each folder that appear in Thunderbird.  When you delete or move a message it is marked as deleted in the file that contains it and ignored by Thunderbird.  This is great for performance, if  the program stopped to actually write a new file without the message in question every time you moved or delete a message it would be so slow as to be unusable.  But like all good things there is a price to pay.

Over time the file wastes a significant amount of space, becomes bloated and unwieldy. The only real solution for this is to create a new file without all of the left over junk.  This is called compacting in Thunderbird.  Those who have used Outlook will be familiar with a prompt asking to compress.  This is exactly the same thing with a different name.

Why Must I do it?

There are some general housekeeping reasons such as to save space.  But the main reason is to maintain Thunderbirds speed and to make the file small enough for Thunderbird to actually use.  Files over 4Gb in Windows and 2Gb ion Linux and Mac systems are unreadable and present either error messages, or can appear as mail simply downloading and never getting to your inbox.  So compacting is an essential part of the process of keeping Thunderbird not only working, but working effectively.

Edit:  I have had some people point out that the capacity of the NTFS file system is in exabytes and that this is rubbish. Nothing could be further from the Truth.  Thunderbird has this limitation and ignoring it will increase your chance of data loss at some future point in time.

Edit 2: Bug 462665 has finally been fixed for release in Thunderbird 12.  This brings to an end the 4Gb limit for local files.  It does not remove the need to compact, but it does remove on of the major  side effects of not compacting, that of having the file exceed to 4Gb limit.

Making it less frequent

Thunderbird compacts when a file contains deleted messages that total a preset size.  The default in Thunderbird 5 is 100Mb, but those who go through the upgrade process don't don't necessarily get the benefit of this change, all they see is the regular request to compact because their threshold is still set to the pre V5 level of 100kb.

On the tools Menu go to Options > advanced > Network and disk space and change the 'compact when it will save over' entry to 100Mb or more.  If you get lots of mails with large attachments you may have to double or triple the 100Mb.

If Thunderbird appears bent on compacting every time you delete something.  There is the possibility that the compact process is not completing, either through interruption (new mail arriving or your anti virus scanner scanning the file)

On the file menu, select offline and then work offline.
Allow any download or sync to occur.
On the View menu, select folders and then ALL
From the file menu select Compact Folders
Go make coffee, this might take a while. Particularly if you have lots of mail
In the bottom left hand corner of your Thunderbird screen eventually a Done Compacting message will appear.

Now you can change your folder view back to whatever it was originally and go back online.

In some circumstances Thunderbird can hang when the compact prompt appears.  This hang apparently affects version 3.x.x - 6.0.1.  A fix was implemented in version 7 

I lost my mail when Compacting

Please complete my survey of those that hard lost data after compact. and see my post on what this is all about

This does appear to happen,  the first obvious point is that Thunderbird can not read the index for the file while compacting is in progress, so the mail in the folder will simply disappear while the compact is in progress. Following the completion of the process the mail will reappear.  At other times after the compact there will be no messages show in the folder due to some sort of interruption the the process causing an empty index to be created.  The cause of this is not really understood, but right clicking the folder and selecting properties and then repair will force a re-index and the mail will reappear as if by magic.

More Fatal apparent data loss can occur when compacting.  If the  underlying file is corrupt then the compact will write a file that can at best be described as truncated.  This is not compact loosing your mail, it is compact showing you the corruption and demonstrating the extent of that corruption.  One leading cause of this sort of corruption is anti virus programs that think they understand Thunderbird's filing system quarantining mails and leaving the file in a corrupt state.

Other symptoms of corruption in the mail store are;
  • Previously deleted messages reappearing
  • Messages with the date of 1969
  • Message bodies containing bits of other messages
  • Messages in the message list not matching what is displayed when clicked
  • Thunderbird apparently going off to sleep before messages in a folder are displayed

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blocking a sender in Thunderbird

This topic is now included in the Mozilla knowledge base

Thunderbird does not have a block option that can be used from the menu or toolbar, but it can be made to dispose of unwanted mails using message filters.

Message filters operate on a per account basis, so it is important when you first set up the filter to set it to act on the correct account.  The easiest way to do this is select a message from a sender you wish to block and choose Create a filter from message from the message menu.  This will open the filter settings windows with the email address already inserted into the filter.  Name the filter.  My preferred name is "block list". Simply change the action in the bottom half of the window to delete and you are all done.  Save the filter and next time that person sends you mail it will be deleted.

Message filter that you have created can be opened and edited by selecting the message filters entry on the Tools menu. It is not necessary to create an individual filter for each address you want to block.  
 Now you have the block list filter, next time you want to block someone you can add their address into the top of the filter by pressing the plus button and thus creating a new field to enter the new address to be deleted.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Black Icons are Yucky

Well it would appear the the Jury is in and a number of people think the default Theme used for Thunderbird is actually ugly, or just plain difficult on their Windows setup. Note that I said windows. It is the Aero theme that has got people shaking their heads.

There is a fairly simple solution however.

Change to a non default Theme.

The Thunderbird Theme web site lists 81 current themes, I would assume with that sort of number of Themes one of them would suit most people.

If it is just the transparency that is the issue,  then the no glass theme may be what you want, or even the no Aero

Here are a couple of standouts that appeal to me for various reasons, they might appeal to you as well.

Classic Toolbar Icons for WinXP
Outlook 2003 BlueTB
Silver Skin (for Thunderbird)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Account settings

Account Settings

Account Name

This is the text Thunderbird will use to Identify this account. The default will be your email address as shown, but you can change it to anything that makes sense to you. This name will also appear in the mail folders to identify the account.

Your Name

This is the name that will be sent along with your mail as a display name, that others will see rather than just you email address appearing at their end

Email address

This address is used to complete the from part of your email. It must be a valid email address or you mail risks either not being delivered or marked as SPAM.

Reply-to Address

This email address is used to complete the replyto: header in email you send. If it is not a valid email address, you significantly increase your risk of having your mail flagged as SPAM. This is also the email address that replies to you will use, so if you want to send messages with one account and receive the replies in another, this is where you place second email address to replace the original.


This is an entirely optional field, but whatever text is included in this field is included in the message header. Unless the recipient look in the message header they are most unlikely to actually see what is in this field

Signature Text

Enter any simple plain text signature in the dialog. That is to be appended onto the end of your emails. Html can be used in signatures, but its use is complex enough to have a topic of it's own

ToDO link to Html Signatures

Attach vCard

A vCard is a virtual business card. When you click the edit button you are presented with the vCard data entry window. All of the information entered in this card will accompany every email you send. So use it with care.

Outgoing Server (SMTP)

When you send a mail it uses an outgoing server, usually referred to as an SMTP server to send the mail. Each account in thunderbird has it's own SMTP server and this dialog provides access to change the server associated with the account. This is particularly handy if your home ISP does not allow you to use their SMTP server when you are not connected to their network, but to a WiFi hotspot. You can change the outgoing server to something like Gmail and still send mails from that account.

Manage Identities

Many mail providers allow for the the use of Plus addressing, and aggregation of your email from other account into their mail server. For example Gmail offer to forward your mail to another address, while also offering to collect POP email from other addresses. Once this mail arrives in your inbox, you will want to reply to it using the correct email address, return address etc.

Identities is where this magic can be made to happen. Basically Thunderbird will look in the identities list to work out if there is an entry for the email address that the message was originally sent to. If there is a match then the identity information you have entered will be used to send the reply. It is sort of an account within an account. The field in the identify are the same as those used in your main account settings.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Add ons to fix common issues

 This little list is really only a few highlights.   I strongly recommend you have a look at my add-on collection at Mozilla.  These are the add-ons I keep recommending  in the support forum, so they are basically commonly requested 'features' that already exist as add-ons, and don't be shy about using the search button on the top of the site.  There are thousands of add-ons. for just about anything you can think of.

Also be sure to have a look at this is one of the largest and most useful collections of add-ons I have encountered not hosted by Mozilla. I have the same level of trust (perhaps even more)  for Keosmos add-ons as those from the official add-on site.  There is no nasty stuff there.

Printing Tools A handy add on that provides many options to modify the layout of printed email, as well as the address book. For those frustrated with the lack of printing options in Thunderbird, this is one for you.

Import / Export Tools One of those must have extensions, adding a simple interface that allows individual mails, or whole folders full to be exported from Thunderbird in a variety of formats, and it can import them again as well. A great tools for archiving old mails.

Send Later  Many people dislike the fact that Thunderbird sends messages as soon as you click on the send button.  They instead prefer full control over their sending as to time.  This extension provides that control.

Quote and Compose Manager  This add-on adds functionality to the composer in Thunderbird.  It also has an option to stabilize fonts which is a long running bug which drives many to distraction.

A little about how email Clients get Email from the server

I am writing this because there appears to be considerable misunderstanding about just how the process works. I see in support forums comments like

"My mail works just fine, I have logged into it from my providers web site"

All this does is prove that you know the current account password and the login name your provider has supplied. It also gives a reassurance that their mail system is still working. Other than that it does not help with the process of making your mail client work.

Before we can talk about how, a little about the protocols involved

Mail is really a collection of communication protocols. Mail clients 'talk' to the mail server to get your mail, and unless they talk to same language as the mail server nothing works. There are three common communication protocols in use that most of us use at one time or another.

This is a closed protocol owned by Microsoft and is the native language that outlook uses to talk to Microsoft Exchange servers. Because it is proprietary very few mail clients even attempt to use it. A large part of the reason is that Home users (the biggest segment of mail users who have control of their own mail) don't, as a general rule, have an exchange server running in the corner of the lounge room to supply their own mail domain.

A sychronised mail access method which is designed from the ground up to keep your messages on the mail server. This is ideal for the folks that like to get their mail on a computer a phone and other devices and have things just synchronise between them so that every device shows the same thing. The draw back of this protocol is that if the provider deletes your account you may loose everything because of the synchronisation.

The oldest of the mail protocols, and by far the one most people have been using until the last few years. This protocol is designed to act in a very similar way to the snail mail service. You address a letter (email) and it is delivered to the recipients mail box where they download it and it is deleted from the server.

POP does not keep messages anywhere but in the mail client that downloaded them. It is very difficult do synchronise messages between devices but is quite reliable, for a protocol that does not guarantee delivery.

Connecting the pieces

When you get your email client, it knows nothing of you or your mail. You need to tell it about you and your mail provider and in the process tell it which of these protocols are to be used and exactly how to find your mail out there in the internet. There are about a dozen different setting and methods of connecting. These options are set by the mail provider and the client MUST match them exactly for the process to work.

The authors of mail clients understand that the average person is somewhat daunted by the intricacies of these setting and try and streamline the process to expose their newest convert to as little of the process as possible. Hence wizards appear to guide us through what is a veritable mine field of accounts, password protocols and ports.

So how does it go so wrong?

There are a number of reasons for this. From good old fashioned human error right through to computer programs that think they know better and use the wrong settings.

It is the computer programs that think they know better that is my interest here. With the advent of ubiquitous anti virus programs and firewalls downloading your mail has just become a lot harder because now we have a couple of other hurdles to step through before the mail client can actually talk to the server.

Have you ever wondered how your anti virus program manages to 'scan' your incoming and outgoing mail?
It is a shame that most people never even consider this as it is something of a wonder, and a nasty imposition at the same time. Almost all anti virus programs set themselves up as what is known as a proxy server. As a proxy, ALL communications are routed through that proxy. This is very good for the anti virus program (and you in not getting virii) but it can be bad for the email client. Those protocols I mentioned earlier rely on things happening in a set order in a timely fashion. If the proxy spends to much time scanning and re routing messages, things go to hell in a hand basket. You get a message from your mail client that simply says timeout. No mention of the fact that it is the anti virus program is causing it. Your mail client does not even know that the anti virus has insinuated itself into the process.

Other problems can occur if the proxy is in any way less than perfect. Messages can be truncated, not delivered to the mail server or simply just disappear into the ether. Again your mail client will have no knowledge of this occurring and will continue to think it has done it's job or that the mail server has a problem and give you erroneous error messages about the mail server.


A firewall is supposed to control message traffic to and from your computer and restrict it to what you have approved. Very simple and quite effective in principle. Very complex and exceedingly tiresome to set up in practice. It used to be a specialty in computing and still is in big organisations and data centres. The average person however is not going to pay a specialist to come in an set up their firewall, so again with the wizards. The vendors of firewalls have done a huge amount of work to take what is a complex process and turn it into a point and click process. It is this work that lays the trap for the unsuspecting customer to stop everything in it's tracks.

You are typing away and your firewall helpfully pops up a message telling you that some program is trying to access the internet. Would you like to allow or disallow this. While really good in theory many bad firewall decisions are made based on the default button on that dialog.

Many people when typing look at the keyboard when they type, not at the screen. So they have no idea that they just clicked yes to the dialog that they did not see. Suddenly their shiny new email program does not work right. It can't send mail or some other feature does not look right. The first obvious point of call is the email program. You have changed nothing have you, so it must be the email program.

I lost my mail (IMAP)

It is a constant complaint, that mail just disappears from the thunderbird folders.  I have used the program for years without any issue but one.  So why has my experience been so different! the answer to that is I understand the email process and go looking for the obvious traps that other don't know to look for.

Todays I am going to look at the things that make mail disappear in IMAP accounts.

The first of these is inherently linked to the fundamental difference between IMAP and POP mail and for those that are used to POP, it is a real trap.  Most Mail providers, (excluding the free ones, ironic huh), only offer limited mail storage on the server and instead institute an aging process which will automatically delete mails when they reach a certain time from the date delivered.  If your mail is consistently disappearing if it is 30 days old, this is most likely the cause. The time frame may vary, but it will be consistent accross all of your folders.

It has become common for people to access their mail on more than one device often a mobile phone and a computer.  Mobile phones almost ALL use the IMAP protocol to get mail.  This is partially as people rarely want to do more email on their phone than they have to, and using IMAP leaves a copy on the server to be downloaded onto the computer, but mainly because it provides synchronization of mail between devices.  This synchronization is all good, until you throw a mail client into the mix that is configured as POP.   What happens is that POP deletes the mail off the server as soon as it downloads it,  or in the case of Thunderbird 7 days latter.  The net result is that the mail inexplicably disappears from the other devices as soon as it is deleted by the POP client.  Welcome to the wonderful world of synchronized mail on devices.

The third of the I lost my mail is simply not understanding the synchronized nature of IMAP.  The phone memory is getting full so delete some mail to free space. I have a copy on the desktop anyway.  Not any more you don't.  Deleting it on the phone with automatically lead to it being deleted on the server and the other connected devices as soon as they connect to the server.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Windows Hibernation :- Should be Windows accessory to lose your data and crash your applications.

Poking around support forums has made one thing abundantly clear.
Windows hibernation is really a disaster! It is the cause of most problems people have with their software being erratic and performing strangely. Device drivers don't 'wake up' they 'wake up dead' programs that access the internet are particularly vulnerable to this craziness and it is time for the user to stop using hibernation.

If you want a trouble free time with windows (any version) don't use hibernation or sleep modes.

Turn it on and off often. Windows need to be booted from a turned off state on a regular basis. Don't let the marketing people ruin your day. Ignore them and turn your computer OFF when not in use.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thunderbird is bogged down

Thunderbird is spending more and more efforts into social media, such as the F1 extension. Unfortunately I think the Thunderbird drivers are falling in the smart phone trap.

These days you read a review on a new phone and the one extremely important things about the phone does not get a mention.

'Is it a good telephone'. Is the reception clear, in the aerial sufficient to allow it work at a reasonable distance from the tower, is making a call intuitive. These things just don't rate at all.

Volumes are spent on app stores and available apps, much verbiage is wasted on touch screens and gesture driven commands. At the end of the review you are none the wiser if the product is actually good at doing it's job, that is what is is like as a phone?

Recently the Thunderbird project also appear to be off on this glitz and glamor model. Thunderbird does not have anything more than 'adequate' message compose functions. The calendar features appear to be languishing in a black hole from which I am uncertain if it will ever arise.

What is Thunderbird?

Seriously for those that don't know you probably need to read this. But for this discussion is is a mail and news client. The basic underpinning of Thunderbird is EMail and to a lesser extent News (NNTP).

In the headlong rush to get into the 'new media' and make themselves relevant, I believe than the Mozilla team risks forgetting their roots. They are also forgetting that their real strength lies with email. Small business is crying out for an Outlook replacement and very many are opting for Thunderbird as it is in many ways similar. Mozilla is seriously letting this group down wish their policy of targeting home users. Come on guys, these home users are often quite happy with the web interface offered by their provider. Given that Yahoo and Hotmail alone account for 30% of 'email clients' this is a segment that is notoriously hard to win people over from. The 30% who are using Outlook 2003 and earlier are clearly the group where the converts will come from. When they buy their new PC with Windows 7 and find Outlook does not work with it they will be out there looking for a replacement. These are the people who expect their email client to have a good editor. They expect it to just work, and most of all they are not interested in the process or the security.

Long have users been requesting that Thunderbirds editor be improved. This is little wonder, it really was quite good when Mozilla inherited it from Netscape 13 years ago, but it has had very little real work done to improve it in the years since. It is dated, clunky and creaking at the seams trying to write to a 21st century standard. I applaud the work being done by Jonathan Protzenko in trying the shoe horn CKEditor into Thunderbird as a replacement editor, but there does not appear to be any impetus to move that sort of project forward any faster than when Jonathan as a PhD student finds spare time. Given that he is also behind the conversations add on he is indeed a busy fellow.

When you look at the 'new' features currently in Miramar (3.3) there is really little more than inherited changes from the change of Geko versions and bug fixes.

The new account wizard was launched in version 3 and was a debacle reminiscent of the worst in software development. It simply did not work. The new and improved version in Miramar works, but still leaves a lot to be desired. It locates settings for the account, and creates the account. If the setting in the database don't work it blithely continues as if they did, because at no point are they tested. The options to change accounts to and from POP are almost random, given that the database rarely contains all the working settings for a provider, only those favoured by the developers. If the user want to create a POP account they are in a real catch 22.

Thunderbird needs integration to other 'office' products. The world as a whole has come to expect mail merge to be a feature of email. They also expect the editor to belong to the same family of product as their office suite. As it stands in Thunderbird using anything other than the aging edit of really a role of the dice. Sometimes it will work and sometime it will not.

While supporting Thunderbird it has become obvious that the following other enhancements are important to users.

  • Simple passwords on their account/ profile to block casual snooping. This is available here.
  • Vacation responses which is available here
  • The ability to change profiles without closing and re opening the program.
  • Synchronisation of profile data between devices
  • An archive that actually archives (That is to an archive device)
  • An account and data transfer wizard that lets people press a button and have their account/profile bundled up ready for their new computer. Microsoft solved most of this years ago with PST files. Why can't Thunderbird do something?
As I sit here writing this I receive an email from the Thunderbird planning mailing list from someone complaining about the impenetrable mess that has become the lot of the contributor. It also suggests that the future includes chat and an integrated calendar.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Earth link / Mindspring

Well the Mozilla ISPDB strikes again it lists IMAP settings for email accounts with Mindspring when the ISP only advertise POP

If you are needing the correct server settings for these accounts, you will find them here.

or you can just read this. The link is for when these change.

POP Server
SMTP Server
SMTP requires authentication
YES: EarthLink email address and password
YES: MindSpring email address and password
YES: Netcom email address and password
YES: OneMain email address and password