Sunday, February 26, 2012

Font Sizes

In this post I am going to look at two perennial Thunderbird support questions.  Both related to fonts.

Size of fonts in the program it self.

Due to the extremely high resolution many people are running on their graphics cards Thunderbirds internal fonts often appear tiny and difficult to read.  These internal fonts are sized by default based on certain internal operating system fonts,   The oft asked question is how to modify these fonts and the answer traditionally has been to hand craft a UserChrome.CSS file the specifies the fonts you want for the elements you desire to change.   While it is undoubtedly true that this will work, it is well beyond the technical skills of most people. The element names are not well documented and the intricacies of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is not something many people are familiar with at all.  Thankfully in the recent past someone has written an add-on, the Theme and Font size changer, to manager the process for us.  This add-on is simple to use and makes Thunderbird so much easier to read for those struggling with what was often refered to as microscopic fonts.

If you have never installed an add-on, my earlier post on that topic might be of some assistance.

Size of Fonts in Messages being displayed

If it is only the display font of your incoming emails that is an issue,  the settings in Tools > Options > Display >Formating and then clicking on the advanced button will allow you to specify font sizes for the display of emails.  These are only display fonts, and have no effect on the fonts used to actually send email.  Note that the font sizes are set in Pixels, not the points that most people are used to from programs like Word.  Pixels are smaller than points so if you would normally set text to 12 points, that will translate to around 18 pixels.

Size and Consistency of Fonts when composing a message

This is a multi pronged issue.  So I will look at the issues on at a time.

  1. Thunderbird composes HTML mail by default. This style of mail has variable sized fonts that can be specified at the time the message is written. One of the issues many people complain about is that they can not specify their font in points, it is simply sized in the editor as larger and smaller.  This is based on the HTML standard which uses the <font> tag to specify the size of a font.  The font tag in HTML has only 7 values. (ie in the actual HTML code it looks like this <font size="number">with the default being 3) 
  2. HTML font tags are depreciated in HTML 4 and totally absent from HTML 5.  In HTML 5 fonts must be specified in the CSS for the document. So at some point the Editor for Thunderbird is going to need to move forward, not it will not be now.
  3. Fonts change in the middle of typing your message.  This will only occur if you change the default font in Thunderbirds Composer.  This is because this bug  reverts to the default font at seemingly random intervals.  The workaround is to install the Quote and Compose manager add-on and turn on the option it contains to stabilize fonts. This bug has been around for some 8 years, and I doubt there will be a resolution until the composer is completely rewritten to support HTML 5
  4. Some add-ons, for reasons I don't understand, turn on plain text formatting of email.  This is set from the view menu > messagebody as entry. If your fonts are not working, it is likely that this is not set to 'Original HTML'

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cannot download email or the same email is repeatedly downloaded

This is a real gem of a topic, because it plagues many Thunderbird users, but unfortunately rarely does it actually involve Thunderbird, except as the hapless recipient of the blame.

The first port of call in these circumstances is your anti virus program.  I must sound some what bigoted with my continual rant to people to 'check their anti virus program if things are not working correctly'.  But I have linked to some posts in three anti virus support forums that might just light the way.


Comcast customers prick your ears up now.  Notron 360 and other Norton anti virus programs will demonstrate this problem;
"same email is repeatedly downloaded"  The Symantec site advises users to simply turn off mail scanning   They do latter suggest turning it back on, but just how necessary was it in the first place if you get to do all these virus removal actions with it turned off.

{Edit 4 August 2012:  Symantec appear to have removed the article, perhaps they thought it embarrassing that their premier product just kept downloading mail over and over.  If anyone is interested the article number was/2003013115102706}

While I was there I had a bit of a look around an found this little gem in September 2011 "Are you using Port 25 to send your outgoing messages?  Norton does not support scanning on ports other than this, so if your ISP requires a different port that may cause an issue like this."  Now port 25 has not been the recommended port for a lot of years now, many ISP block port 25 so very few of the free mail providers use it.

One of the really interesting things here is that Comcast actively promote Norton 360 to their customers, even bundling it with internet packages but their outgoing port is 587 so the product they are bundling does not scan outgoing mail to their own servers.

Then there is the issue of IMAP mail accounts. In April of 2011 this post indicates the anti SPAM feature does not work with IMAP accounts at all


The McAfee support forum is remarkably devoid of these problems.  But one issue of particular interest is the fact that McAfee only moves SPAM massages to the SPAM folder for the first account processed in a get all mail

The 2009 version of Virus scan does not scan attachments until you save or open them.  Did it change for latter versions? I will have to wait until someone tells me I suppose

Avast (See I read my comments sometimes)

Issues with Avast are numerous, and come from the fact that the anti virus program simply can't cope with secured connections. Thunderbirds' account setup wizard will set up the most secure connection it can. Thus we have something of a conflict. Thunderbird is secure, avast can't work. This is  a huge weakness in Avast. Other anti virus scanners do not suffer with this significant flaw.  However Avast do offer instructions on how to set up their anti virus program to work with Thunderbird.  They are for an older version, but hey I don't get to update their support articles.

Sudden failure to get mail.: I will not comment, but refer you to the source  but it would appear that when things go bad they go very bad and an uninstall and reinstall is required.

Avast also has an auto block option on it's firewall.  I have never used this product, but it sure would explain why people have problems with it.  It makes it's rules based on trusted sources. Avast don't mention what trusted is, but I have a feeling it is Microsoft.  The net result is you will probably find you need to fine turn this expert systems assumptions.  Luckily they provide instructions, as most questions on their support forum about firewall blocking simply go unanswered.

I think avast suffers from the same problem as Nortons, and once it detects a virus on the server, it just dies, and nothing downloads.  Unlike Nortons, I can't find a reference on their support forum, so here goes with some basic fix it yourself instructions. Turn off scanning of mail in Avast and then log into your web mail and delete the offending message.

You may or may not decide to turn the email scanner back on.  Personally I doubt the need for an email scanner and have posted about that already.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Test Pilot

This little add-on (yes it is an add-on packaged with Thunderbird) is, contrary to some suggestions not a remote control for Thunderbird.  It is at the most basic a feedback mechanism between the user base and Mozilla.  There has been a widening gulf between what the user community want in their mail client and what the developers are delivering.  Much of this gap is because the developers just don't know how users use the software. In steps test Pilot for Firefox.   That is right, Firefox has had test pilot since version 4 and it has proved so valuable there that the Thunderbird people have copied the idea (and most of the code as well I would guess).

For the full story, the MozillaLabs  Welcome to TestPilot is short sweet and to the point.  Sure it is all about Firefox,  but as it is the same thing in Thunderbird go with the flow.

At the time of writing this the test pilot program is just really getting started, even though the Test Pilot has been in Thunderbird since Version 9  Whilst you can opt out of Test Pilot, simply be disabling or removing the add-on, I would encourage everyone to keep it.  The only way the developers are going to get lots of feedback about the way Thunderbird is used, and some of the telemetry on what is going on when things run slowly is if we all do our bit and send data about the program back to Mozilla.  There is no privacy concern here. just an honest attempt to get information that can only improve Thunderbird.

Friday, February 10, 2012


What is SPAM?

Spam is not unwanted mail, it is unsolicited commercial mail. Wikipedia simply calls it unsolicited bulk email but it is important to draw a line. Unwanted email is not SPAM.

It is very important that everyone understand this or they will spend a lot of time complaining about their SPAM filter not working correctly because it does not remove some mail or other that they do not want but which is not SPAM. It is also important that you understand the basics of how SPAM is identified by a computer program.

How do SPAM filters work?

There are two basic types of SPAM filtering, there is what is called Whitelisting / Blacklisting and then there is Bayesian Filtering (named after Thomas Bayes).

Bayesian Filtering  uses the mathematics created by Bayes to apply probability to the content of an email message.  The true strength of this mathematical probability is that it is a learning process.  The success or failure of previous analysis is stored and included in the next round of decision making.  The net result is that over time the filter 'learns' your preferences.  This is the type of filter Thunderbird has.

White Listing is providing a list of known good senders who do not send spam.  Those in your Thunderbird address book are automatically included in a white-list that Thunderbird applies before it gets to it's Bayesian filter. Some providers take this to the extreme, and offer to exclude anyone not in your address book.  This is just lunacy.  It means that you don't get mail from anyone not in your address book which includes things like emails you subscribe to, mailing lists you join etc.  (I am on a number of mailing lists that are not in my address book. I read what they send, but I don't need to reply so they are not in the address book, Ebay mail me saved searches daily.  I don't reply, but I do want to see them)

Black listing is the process used by many SPAM filters,  and it can be and often is the bane of peoples lives.
The idea behind a Black-list is that addresses on the list are known bad senders and should be excluded as a matter of course. One US based ISP takes blacklist entries from their customers, if two customers say a mail is SPAM then it is SPAM as far as they are concerned for everyone of their subscribers.  This has caused all sorts of trouble for others using the ISP who suddenly can't get mail from their  yahoo groups because a couple of clowns flagged mail on the list as SPAM, rather than actually unsubscribing from the mailing list.

Then there is the ever contentious "how do I block this person"    Some months ago I posted on this topic, with the simple instructions on how to do the impossible.   You as a mail user can't block someone from sending you mail.  Sure Outlook Express and other mail programs have a handy little button that says something like 'block user' but it does nothing of the sort.  The mail has already been delivered to your account.  Your mail provider accepted delivery on your behalf. All you can do is filter the mail as I described so you don't see it.  This is basically all your 'block' buttons in other programs do.  They build a list of those you don't want to see mail from and junk it. A filter in Thunderbird works just as well.

Mail Merge

Mail merge is one of those things that we would all like to do from time to time, send a personalized email to a list.  Most people are familiar with mail merge in Microsoft Word, but due to a quirk in the way Word implements Simple MAPI and a deficiency in Thunderbird, it just does not work.

The answer is simply,
either use another word processor like  LibreOffice Libre Office sends it's own mail merges without any reference to a mail program at all.  It also quite happily uses the Thunderbird address book to address the mail and is my prefered method of mail merging..


Install the Mail Merge add-on for Thunderbird and do it all from Thunderbird,

Recovering your lost data

Now it would be easy here to use that old computing chestnut here, use your backups and restore from those.

The reality however is that for whatever reason most people don't have good backups, to make things even more serious many assume that the windows system restore will do it for them. Windows system restore is almost as likely to leave you will a non functional Thunderbird as it is to do anything.

Leaving aside my personal anger at the decision Microsoft made 10 years ago that home users just don't need backups, and subsequently excluded the backup program from the operating system you purchased.  You find yourself in the situation that your hard drive crashed, the nice person at the computer store has put your old hard drive into an external case you install Thunderbird and all your mail is simply not there. To recover from this situation, you need to role your sleaves up and get into the nity gritty of the file system on your old had disk.

I am going to talk here primarily of windows, as Linus and mac actually have build in backup programs and in the case of iCLoud, a nice secure place to store it.

Under Windows Thunderbird profile data is stored in a collection of folders in a Hidden windows folder called Application Data.  You will find all sorts of references on the web telling you to use the %appdata% windows environment variable to locate this folder, but that will only work on the current operating system, not your old hard disk. So to start with there are some changes you need to make to windows.

First you have to tell windows to show hidden files and folders.

Windows XP
Windows 7

I have linked to Microsoft here, as it is their operating system. If their explanation of how is not enough for you, please ask Microsoft.

Now we need to locate the Application Data folder, but first a convention [username] means your login name to the computer.

Windows XP the folder is usually C:\documents and settings/[username]\application data
Windows vista it is usually C:\users\[username]/appdata or C:\users\[username]\appdata\roaming
Windows 7 is is usually C;\users\[username]\appdata\roaming

Hopefully this image I stole from the Microsoft site will explain a little

Once you locate the application data folder, it is simple to then locate the Thunderbird folder it contains.

The Thunderbird folder contains a file called profiles.ini.  This file actually containsa couple of thing that we need to note.  One is the location of the actual profile folder.  So open the file in wordpad.  Wordpad will format it nicely, notepad will make a a long string of gobbldy gook




The two things of interest are the IsRelative and Path.

IsRelative =1 means the profile is located further down the Thunderbird folder tree. if it is not =1 then the folder will be located absolutely at the location pointed to in Path=

Unless you have changed defaults, IsRelative will equal 1 and you need to navigate down the folders until you locate to place pointed to in the path= line.

You have now located your old profile folder.  The question arises,  do you just want some of the information out of it, or do you want it all as a replacement for what you have.  The latter option is by far the easiest.

Simply replace the files in your new profile folder with the ones in your old profile folder and start Thunderbird and all will be back as it was before.

If replacement is not an option, I would suggest you install the Import / Export tools to Thunderbird and export the new mail you have in your new profile as EML files.  Replace the files as above and use the Import Export tools to re-import the new mail..

Hidden / Lost Menu and Toolbar

There has been something of a rash of people loosing either the toolbar or the menu bar in Thunderbird.  This is probably only going to get worse as the intention is to hide the menu bar on windows 7 machines, so here are the simple instructions to fix the hidden things.

Application Menu:  With the release of Thunderbird 17 there is an application menu entry on the Toolbar that is shown below.  Clicking the application menu will provide access to most of Thunderbirds menu options.  Most support articles on the web however do not refer to this application men, but to the Full menu bar

Full Menu bar:  Pressing Alt will show it long enough to enter some key strokes.  Pressing F10 will make it visible for a longer time..

Toolbar:  Once you have the menu bar visible, selecting the view menu item and then toolbars will show the list of toolbars you can have visible.

For the main Thunderbird windows, the options are as shown above

The Mail Toolbar is the main toolbar with Icons on it.
Menu bar is the application menu. This can be made visible either by holding the ALT key or pressing F10
Status bar is at the bottom of the screen
Quick filter bar has the same effect as clicking the magnifying glass icon on the toolbar or Tab bar (Up to V11)

If you are in the compose window the options are shown above.  It is only from the composition window (click write or reply etc). that the toolbars shown in that windows can be set.

Menu bar is the menu for the composition window only. This can be made visible either by holding the ALT key or pressing F10
Composition Toolbar is the main window toolbar with send on it
Formatting bar is the bar that has formatting information on it like font name and size
Status bar is the footer at the bottom of the screen. Used for feedback and by add-ons. In my case I can access a translation add-on there.

Tabs and toolbars:
From Thunderbird version 11 toolbars will be under the tabs, and the toolbar that appears will be dependent on the 'context' of the tab.  What this means is that the mail toolbar will not be visible unless the tab is a mail tab. Lightning will have a Calendar toolbar, and some other tabs will have no toolbar at all.  This change is I am told in preparation for bringing compose in a tab and address book in a tab to fruition.  For those that are interested these Thunderbird bugs refer to the change and the request I made to provide an option to opt out of the change.

In response to customer complaints about the change, the Rise of the Tools add-on was born to reverse the layout changes and put the toolbar and menu back on top.


This is a perennial question, and it does not really have a one size fits all answer.

Thunderbird does not natively have a profile backup option, nor is it likely to have one.  The arguments here can get complex, but the bottom line is that it is not just your email you should be backing up so Mozilla has left backup in the realm of Third party providers.

I am not going to get into the mine field of backup options other than to say that Microsoft has left most people high and dry with their decision to only include backup tools in Business versions of windows.  That is not to say that there are not many excellent backup solutions on the market and a quick search of Google will almost deluge you in offerings.

Having said that there are some specific and free Mozilla backup options around

Perhaps the oldest of these is Mozbackup.this independently developed program is only available for windows, but it does offer some very fine grained options when backing up.  Then there is the backup tool provided in the excellent  Import/Export tools add-on.  The author of this tool has been writing add-ons for Thunderbird for a very long time, and I would recommend a visit to the Kaosmos web site to all. There are some very useful tools there.

The import export tools offers a backup from it's options which appear in the tools menu of Thunderbird.  The only complaint I would have here is that it does not offer a time of day to do the backup, but otherwise a very good start.

The developers of the Mozilla Stand alone profile manager have also included a profile backup option.  This is in Beta and has been for quite some time.  I have used it and found it to be quite stable and user friendly.  but there a three caveats that I must mention. 

  • There is no installer. You must download the zip file and unzip it to a location of your choice. 
  • The program works with Firefox by default and the target for the shortcut you create must be modified to include ‘profilemanager thunderbird’ rather than the ‘profilemanager' that a default short cut will have.
  • It does not include the Visual C++ runtime needed.  This can be downloaded here.