June 7, 2005

Extensions add wings to Thunderbird

Author: Mayank Sharma

One of the reasons for the popularity of Mozilla's Firefox browser is its ability to enhance itself with extensions. Extensions are small programs which when assimilated into an application enhance its features. The email application from the Mozilla stable, Thunderbird, can use extensions as well. Here are some Thunderbird extensions that make emailing a tad easier and more fun.

There are some things we all repeat in every message, like greetings or a signature. Quicktext allows you to define such common text elements and group them under common heads, which then appear below the subject line while you're composing an email. The extension also supports variables to insert the name of the receiver as well as the sender and the current date and time. While using these takes some getting used to, and might prove to be more of a distraction initially, over time you'll see its benefits, especially while sending email to a large group of people.

If you have configured Thunderbird to put a wacky signature in your email, which you have to delete manually from every message you send to your boss, use Signature Switch. It can toggle your signature on or off with the click of a button.

While Thunderbird includes a spelling checker, the Dictionary Search is a nice extension. It adds itself on the right-click context menu, and default searches thefreedictionary.com, but it can be configured to search four dictionaries simultaneously. Since all the extension requires is a URL, it can be configured to search terms on Google or Wikipedia as well.

QuickReply toggles a reply textbox beneath the message which is to be replied to. Gmail uses a similar feature in its Web-based email. The textbox can be resized, and has several quoting options. QuickQuote comes in handy when you have to reply or forward a message quoting only a specific portion of the original email. If you choose to forward as new email, it copies the name of the sender and the date and time of the original message.

Address book extensions

Addresscontext appears in the context menu when you right-click an email message. You can choose to add the sender to your address book as a Card or as a List, and the extension automatically fills in the details.

The Contacts Sidebar makes accessing the address book easier by docking all contacts in the main window. Double-click on a contact to compose a message. You also have the option to forward a contact as an attachment, see its properties, or add a new contact.

Sender Verification is a nice extension that uses the Sender Policy Framework, along with DomainKeys and the MailPolice phishing database, to confirm the authenticity of an email. It sits above the "Subject" line in every message you receive. I have had a lot of success with this extension, but since some legitimate domains don't support verification, the extension warns you that some legitimate messages could have been forged.

Installing Thunderbird extensions
When you're ready to try out one of these extensions, download it to any location. In Thunderbird, go to Tools -> Extensions to open the Extensions window. Click on Install and specify the location where you saved it, then click on the Install Now button. After it installs, close the Extensions window and restart Thunderbird. To configure the extension, select it from the Extensions window and click on the Options button. If you want to uninstall it, click on the Uninstall button.

Mailing lists, attachments, and spam-fighting

Bothered by excessive quotes in emails and mailing list posts? QuoteColors is a great add-on for people who keep shuttling the same message back and forth, quoting the previous content. With this extension you can specify the text as well as background colors and styles for every level of quotes. Still, a lengthy discussion can be confusing. QuoteCollapse makes such quote-loaded emails readable by allowing you to collapse or expand every quoted message. NestedQuoteRemover comes in handy when replying to long discussions. It can remove unwanted nested quotes with a single click. All three extensions work great together.

Another useful extension for mailing list messages is the mailinglistheader. It adds links to the mailing list's archive and to unsubscribe from the list, among others, in the extended header view below the "To:" field.

Buttons! extends Thunderbird's repository of buttons that can be added to the toolbars in the main window, the message window, and the message compose window. The most useful ones it offers are buttons to turn on HTML viewing, display external images, delete mail marked as junk, label selected messages, delete threads, search through messages, and set mail priority.

Attachment Extractor extracts all types of attachments, including inline images, from a message. It sits in the right-click context menu and can extract attachments from an entire folder as well. You can download the attachments to a default folder or specify a folder by selecting the appropriate entry in the context-menu.

If you like to catch up on your news while checking email, try infoRSS. It can get you RSS, Atom, and HTML feeds. InfoRSS tucks in nicely in the status bar and is fully configurable. By default it pulls feeds from BBC World and The Register.

If you are compulsive about not leaving around unsent emails and would like to head straight to the Unsent Messages folder when Thunderbird starts, get the Folderpane Tools. It helps you change the default account, and more importantly allows you to select the folder you wish to be dropped into at startup.

One of the best features of Thunderbird is its junk mail detection capabilities. Once trained, it will automatically keep junk mail in a separate folder. Using the Delete Junk ContextMenu you can delete all messages within a folder marked as junk without opening it. An entry to delete mail marked as junk appears in the right-click context menu. You can configure the extension to remove the messages permanently without sending them to trash.

If you have used sticky notes to remind yourself to send an email, replace them with the QuickNote extension to keep the notes with Thunderbird. It sits in the Tools menu and supports as many as four tabbed notes, which can be customized and automatically save anything written on them.

And more!

These extensions are among the most useful ones available for average Thunderbird users. There is a sea of extensions out there. Some do social good, such Quitomzilla, which helps you quit smoking. Others are quirky, such as World Weather, which lets you view your local weather from within Thunderbird. Poke around and see which Thunderbird extensions might help you most.

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