These extensions put some meat on Thunderbird's wings

This collection of new and up-and-coming extensions will help you make Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail client soar.

Patiently waiting for somebody to write that killer Thunderbird extension that does everything from sending spammers a DOS attack to washing your dishes won't get you much beyond a head of gray hair and a trip to Cuba for cheap meds to treat your high blood pressure.

No, there are no panaceas here, but we do have a platter of some newish extensions that not only make you slimmer and sexier, they also make Thunderbird better and easier to use with preview pane browsing, e-mail stickies, toolbar tweaks, and more.

ThunderBrowse

ThunderBrowse adds a sorely missed functionality to Thunderbird by integrating Web surfing directly into the e-mail client. The plug-in adds a simple URL bar to the e-mail preview pane, with Forward, Back, Refresh, and Go buttons. Clicking on a link embedded in an e-mail now opens it up in the preview pane.

ThunderBrowse lets you Web surf from the preview pane.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

It's got a reasonable number of customizable features, too. The option to open in your preferred browser is accessible either from the context menu or the middle mouse button. It automatically detects whether your default is Firefox or IE, and you can set it to ask before opening the browser. You can also point it directly to an alternate browser, if you want, and a History-clearing button in the options menu. You can also ThunderBrowse in a separate window using a hot key command--the default is CTRL-W.

TB Properties gives ThunderBrowse a useful Firefox feature.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

ThunderBrowse's biggest drawback used to be that it didn't work with forms, but through the CS Lite plug-in, that functionality now works flawlessly. Or, at least, it worked flawlessly for me. Another plug-in that gives some Firefox functionality to ThunderBrowse is TB Properties. TB Properties gives the preview pane the same Context menu "Properties" function that Firefox has. It's most useful for discovering the server location of an embedded photo you've been sent.

When combined with these two add-ons for an add-on, ThunderBrowse jumps from being a shortcut tool with potential to an absolute must-have for quickly checking out embedded URLs.

XNote

XNote adds "sticky note" functionality to Thunderbird. It's an elegant piece of code managed through the context menu, with a bit of help from Thunderbird's Tagging system.

XNote creates stickies for your e-mails.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

After installation, right-click on a message and the new first item will be XNote, from which you can Create, Modify, or Delete a note. Select Create and a small yellow box pops up. The message automatically gets tagged with a yellow marker, too, for easy identification and sorting. Click in the yellow note and start typing. The boxed X in the upper right of the note hides it from view, while clicking on the stylized red X in the bottom left deletes the note.

It was most useful for quick reminders that couldn't be easily marked down, such as writing a reminder to call the e-mail's sender or noting the phone number instead of jostling with paper scraps. XNote places an icon in the toolbar's customization field, so you can get to it through the toolbar, but only if you set it that way. That's not such a big issue once you know how to get going.

MinimizeToTray and Minimize to Tray Enhancer

Minimizing Thunderbird to the quick-launch tray wasn't a function I thought was necessary until I started using it. It's simple, old-school program functionality that now helps make a big difference in managing my screen real estate, because it's one less program overloading the Windows taskbar.

MinimizeToTray and Minimize To Tray Enhancer help keep your Windows taskbar clear.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

These two extensions work best in tandem, although Enhancer isn't strictly necessary. They add different minimize-to-tray functions, so whether you'll need both depends on what your needs are, and since both are beta there's room for some series growth--although, admittedly, there's only so much minimizing the program to the tray that you can do.

MinimizeToTray lets you always minimize to the tray or minimize to the tray when you hit Close; it also allows you to choose one or two clicks to maximize from the tray. The Enhancer lets you minimize upon opening the program and start Thunderbird when you boot up Windows; it can also get rid of the minimize icon in the status bar.

Both apps are completely lightweight and never caused a single interference, either when using Thunderbird or jumping around between programs.

MR Tech Local Install

Last up for today, the popular MR Tech has added a new feature so obvious and useful that it's worth singling out. Originally, MR Tech was useful because it added a Restart button to the toolbar. Now, it's gone way beyond that.

A new feature in MR Tech gives you quick access to your extensions' Options menus.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

This particular new feature is even tinier than the Restart button, but if you like to muck around with extensions and themes, it makes MR Tech a must-have. Unless you disable it, MR Tech now adds a down arrow to the Extension button. Click on the arrow and instead of seeing a full list of your extensions, you simply get a list of extensions that have Options menus. It works the same way for the Themes button. Again, it's an obvious feature, but it makes using Thunderbird that much more convenient, and if a plug-in doesn't at least enhance the convenience of the app, then what's the point, right?

Lightning averted?

The Lightning extension, which brings Sunbird's calendar functionality to Thunderbird, didn't make the list this time for several reasons. We've covered Lightning before, for one, and although the recent 0.5 upgrade makes some strong improvements, it still has significant problems managing event scheduling and time zones. It's still a great extension that gets closer to perfection with every update, so if you find yourself becoming obsessed with Lightning you should check out the Lightning user forum and the nightly builds, which I use.

Do you have a favorite Thunderbird extension? Talk about it below in the TalkBack comments.

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