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.