Extend the wings of Mozilla Thunderbird

Mozilla's open-source e-mail client Thunderbird packs the same extensibility as its more famous cousin Firefox. Learn my favorite Thunderbird add-ons for syncing your calendar, encrypting messages, or rocking out.

Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0

Mozilla Thunderbird is chock full of potential. Though it's as extensible as Mozilla's more famous browser, Firefox, Thunderbird lacks the same fanatical user support. A year from now, Thunderbird could be the emerging standard for e-mail software or just another fringe e-mail client.

Part of Thunderbird's eventual success will depend on the quality of third-party add-ons that enhance features and allow users more functionality and customization options. Though there's not nearly as many add-ons for Thunderbird as there are for Firefox, here's a quick guide to seven of my favorites so far.

Lightning extension for Mozilla Thunderbird

Lightning--Thunderbird without Lightning is like a hawk without tail feathers. Actually, it's more like a wingless hawk. It's that essential. Everything may look OK, but you know there's something important missing.

Lightning integrates the Mozilla stand-alone calendar app, Sunbird, into its mail client. It doesn't provide full calendar functionality like you get with Microsoft Outlook--not yet, at any rate. But with nightly build updates and extensive community support, it's hard to not look at Lightning as a gift from heaven.

One of Lightning's strong suits is that you can import your calendar from Outlook. I've recounted that in an earlier blog post, which I gleaned from the experts at MozillaZine, so today I'll be briefer:

In Outlook, set your calendar to the mm/dd/yy format. Go to File/Import and Export and choose Export to a File. Choose "Comma Separated Values (DOS)" and save, then import that CSV file into Thunderbird under Calendar/Import. You can now make appointments, receive event invites that will contain calendar links, and set alarms. Lightning still can't send out event invites that contain calendar links, but the support forum promises that feature is coming soon.

Provider for Google Calendar

Provider for Google Calendar--A plug-in for a plug-in sounds like the kind of nested application that only a programmer could love, but the inelegantly named Provider for Google Calendar serves a very useful purpose. When installed in conjunction with Lightning, it gives the user bidirectional access to Google Calendar, meaning you can update a shared calendar from either Thunderbird or the Google Calendar site.

By using the RSS feed for your Google calendar, you can make changes to it in Lightning, which allows you to keep your calendars separate and color code them, making managing multiple calendars a breeze. A graphic (and chatty) explanation of how to sync the two can be found here.


ReminderFox--For those who don't need the full power of Lightning, ReminderFox is a simpler plug-in that sets off an alarm for a specific event or date that you've entered. You can't schedule complex meetings with your boss, his cat, and a fourth party via speakerphone; it's only for you and the things you need to remember. Nine customizable tabs provide a wealth of options, from color codes and categories to alarms and date formats.

ReminderFox also has a built-in To Do list, as well as the ability to create more lists for things you want to track, such as "Movies You Want to Rent (But Always Forget to Write Down)". Both the Reminder list and the To Do list can be imported or exported, and a quick search feature makes finding items easy.

MR Tech Local Install

MR Local Tech Install--This powerful tweaking add-on also comes in a Firefox flavor. Most important, it adds a Restart button to Thunderbird, circumventing the need to close down and then restart manually. However, there's also a strong element of back-end customization: MR Local Tech Install allows you to easily configure in which directory extensions live and which options appear in your context menu, making it an essential add for gearheads.

Contacts Sidebar

FoxyTunes--Another crossover from Firefox, this add-on provides controls for your favorite music player that are embedded in the Thunderbird interface. It's very flexible, supporting more than two dozen different players. FoxyTunes has a range of skins that can be repositioned anywhere in the Thunderbird frame, and it now also includes a Web-based music-discovery feature.

Contacts Sidebar

Contacts Sidebar--The Contacts Sidebar makes your address book accessible from the left-hand side of the Thunderbird interface, and can be accessed with a simple hot key. It supports all the standard Thunderbird address book features, and gets my strong endorsement simply for making it much easier to access my contacts list.

Contacts Sidebar

Enigmail- -If you're the kind of person who is worried about the government hacking your e-mail while you sleep, or if you know the inherent value of having your e-mail encoded, Enigmail wraps your private messages in the protective blanket of OpenPGP. Combined with Thunderbird's built-in S/MIME protection, your security concerns should fade away. You should note that the cryptographic functions require GnuPG, which is not included in the install file.

Do you use any add-ons for Mozilla Thunderbird? What are your favorites? Tell me in the comments.