Tag Archives: Thunderbird

Thunderbird, Gmail, and the “less secure apps” thing

For those folks wanting to use Thunderbird as a Gmail client and who are encountering an incorrect password error when attempting to configure the account in Thunderbird (irrespective of two-factor authentication), this is most likely due to Google enforcing OAuth. Google are spinning this as a “secure vs. less secure application” problem, suffice it to say opinions appear to vary on this.

For now, the conditions under which you may or may not see the incorrect password error prompt when hooking Thunderbird up to a Gmail account can be found here.

And on the Thunderbird developer community side, discussion about this can be found here.

EDIT: we’ll also highlight this most excellent point, from Twitter:

Can’t disagree with this.




Endpoint-encrypted email with Thunderbird and Enigmail

Thanks to Thunderbird and Enigmail, anyone wanting to securely contact me over email can now do so.

Regarding Enigmail, setup is reasonably quick and easy (thanks to Enigmail’s wizard), but it’s definitely something most folks would need help with from someone with technical know-how. Anyone local who would like to claw back a little of their privacy in the post-Snowden era is welcome to drop me a line for assistance.

Setting up Gmail Calendar and Tasks sync in Thunderbird

Updated 29th June 2016: For folks landing here via search engines and the like, I recommend ditching Gmail as a mail service altogether – as I now have. The hoops one has to jump through to simply get Gmail to behave normally with an external mail client are no longer worth the effort in light of the better business email hosting services now available. FastMail in particular is a cinch to set up, is stable and affordable, has full calendaring, and just simply works with minimal setup on the Thunderbird side. Google clearly has zero interest or business reason to permit Gmail to work seamlessly with external clients, especially as it removes the vector for targeted advertising.

With the latest versions of Thunderbird, and the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons, Thunderbird now supports full Gmail Calendar and Tasks synchronisation. As the setup has changed somewhat from previous versions of these add-ons we’re going to cover the current procedure in this blog post.

We are using Thunderbird 31.2.0 on Ubuntu 14.04.

If you’ve already installed these two add-ons and you’re synchronising your Gmail calendar, please delete the calendar from Thunderbird (this unsubscribes from the calendar only, and leaves all server-side data intact), and uninstall the add-ons. Restart Thunderbird to get back to a clean-slate state.

Now, using the Thunderbird Add-ons Manager, search for and install both the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons:

Install the Lightining add-on

Install the Provider for Google Calendar add-on

Restart Thunderbird to complete the installation process.

Next, switch to the Calendar tab in Thunderbird. Right-click in the area where the default Thunderbird calendar is visible and create a new calendar:

Create a new calendar

We now work through the “Create New Calendar” wizard. In the first two screens that appear, we want to add a calendar on the network, and this should be a Google Calendar:

Add a calendar on the network

Add a Google Calendar

You’ll now be prompted to enter your email address: this should be the Gmail address of the associated calendar you wish to synchronise:

Enter your Gmail address

Thunderbird will then list the calendars and task lists available to be synced. Tick these as you need:

Adding Calendars and Tasks lists

If all goes well you’ll see a dialogue indicating the wizard has finished, and, after a brief delay (during which the interface might not be responsive) your Gmail Calendar and Tasks will be synchronised:

Dialogue indicating the wizard is finished

Google Calendar and Tasks synced

At the far right-hand-side of the above screengrab you can see our tasks lists (only containing a single task in this example). These are synced with your Gmail account.

RSS feed reader improvements in Thunderbird

Short and sweet: a cute improvement made to the RSS feed reader capability in later Thunderbird releases – feeds now display with the favicon of the source feed:

Favicon in Thunderbird RSS feeds

Configure Apple Mail 4.6 with Gmail

Updated 12th March 2016: For folks landing here via search engines and the like, I recommend ditching Gmail as a mail service altogether – as I now have. The hoops one has to jump through to simply get Gmail to behave normally with an external mail client are no longer worth the effort in light of the better business email hosting services now available. FastMail in particular is a cinch to set up, is stable and affordable, and just simply works with minimal setup on the Thunderbird side. Google clearly has zero interest or business reason to permit Gmail to work seamlessly with external clients, especially as it removes the vector for targeted advertising.

This is a brief guide describing how to quickly configure Apple Mail with Gmail over IMAP. This is pertaining to an old release of Mac OS, specifically OS 10.6.8, which is running Apple Mail 4.6. I am documenting this for the benefit of readers stuck on Mac OS 10.6 and who have been saddled with Apple Mail in lieu of a vastly superior, free, openly-developed mail client such as Thunderbird. Note that the procedure documented here may differ in later releases of Mac OS.

Note that IMAP must be first enabled in the Gmail account in question. Be sure to disable the labels you do not wish to access as folders in Apple Mail (especially the “All Mail” folder) as documented here.

The Gmail account can be created in Apple Mail using the add account wizard (or first-run setup procedure), which will attempt to obtain the correct server settings (incoming and outgoing servers, username) automatically. Note that if using an “@gmail.com” address the correct server settings will be retrieved correctly. However, if using a Google Apps Gmail account with a custom domain name (e.g. “@mycompany.co.nz”), the server and username settings will need to be configured manually (according to the Google documentation for IMAP client connections).

Once the account is added we need to perform some additional steps.

By default, Apple will use separate local folders (called “mailboxes” in Apple Mail-speak for some bizarre reason) for the account Sent and Trash folders. We need to map the Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” IMAP folders to these local folders, so that when email is sent or deleted in Apple Mail it will be updated in the server-side Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” folders, respectively.

To do this, first select the relevant Gmail folder, and then go to “Mailbox -> Use This Mailbox For”. In this example we are mapping the Gmail “Sent Mail” folder to be used for Apple Mail sent items. The “Sent” folder visible at the top-left of the folder listing in Apple Mail will then contain and be sycnchronised with our Gmail “Sent Mail” folder:

Apple Mail IMAP folder mapping

Perform the same for mapping the Apple Mail “Trash” folder to the Gmail “Bin” folder. Once done, test that sent mail and deleted items are synchronised both ways between Apple Mail and Gmail (use the Gmail web interface to verify this). If these steps are missed or misconfigured, you will end up with local mail stores in Apple Mail for sent and deleted items (this is totally undesirable for reasons of backup, amongst other things).

Note that counter to the official Google documentation (and what we would configure in Thunderbird for example), with the above folder mapping configuration in place we have to configure Apple Mail to store sent items on the server. Mail sent out through Google’s SMTP servers is normally copied into the “Sent Items” folder anyway regardless of the client settings, but in Apple Mail this has to be enabled explicitly (as disabling it also disables the folder mapping performed above):

Settings in Apple Mail for sent items.

Finally, in Apple Mail we disable the built-in Junk email filter (as spam filtering is performed automatically in Gmail):

Settings in Apple Mail for junk email.

Apple Mail should now be configured successfully for basic interoperability with Gmail.

pdf.js support in Thunderbird

Recent releases of Firefox have included built-in support for the pdf.js Javascript PDF rendering engine, enabling fast, plug-in-free previewing of PDF content right in the browser. What’s perhaps less-known is that with the help of an add-on Thunderbird can also do the same.

The Thunderbird Conversations add-on by Jonathan Protzenko enables a sophisticated conversation view in Thunderbird plus a whole raft of other goodies. You can read more about the story behind the add-on here and download it from here. It’s a fantastic option for email power users and for those wishing to directly preview PDF content in Thunderbird:

Thunderbird Conversations add-on.

PDF Preview directly in Thunderbird.

When Mozilla make the tagline of Thunderbird “Reclaim your inbox”, they’re not kidding. If you don’t want to have a conversation-based interface like Gmail’s rammed down your throat, then you can use the stock standard interface. But if you want a conversation view par excellence, this is an add-on that will fit the bill, and then some.

Thunderbird Conversations add-on conversation view.

Google Calendar support in Thunderbird (and importing iCal files)

Capping off a nightmare week for standards support and the open web thanks to Google, they have also announced they are dropping support for the CalDAV standard later this year. I’ll have more to write on this topic in the near future (and the general gullability of social networks fanboys who are clueless about why open standards support actually matters), but for now the takeaway for Thunderbird users is that the CalDAV method of connecting to Google Calendar using Thunderbird and Lightning will soon no longer work.

Fortunately and thanks to the outstanding efforts of Philipp Kewisch, Lightning will continue to work with Google Calendar using Google’s non-standard Google Calendar API.

To get this to work, your Thunderbird client will first need the Lightning add-on to be installed and enabled. Next, download and install the Provider for Google Calendar add-on, and restart Thunderbird. Now, when adding a new network calendar you should see an option for Google Calendar:

Create a new network calendar

The address to put in the “Location” field in the above screengrab can be found by using the Google Calendar web interface, at “Settings -> Calendar -> [your calendar name] -> Calendar Address”. Clicking on the “XML” button will display the calendar address to use:

Google Calendar network address

Upon applying the remaining settings your Google Calendar should be up and running in Thunderbird. Due to Google’s assholish disregard for open standards of late, I’d strongly recommend donating to the continued development of the add-on (I have).


A problem I encountered when doing this, and not related to Thunderbird or Lightning, was in trying to import an ICS-format backup of one Google Calendar into another. In short, the following thread describes the problem and the resolution which worked for me:


The curious case of Postbox

Whilst working through some Gmail/IMAP/Thunderbird issues a while back, a reader left a comment with a recommendation to check out Postbox, an email client which amongst other things bills itself as “an awesome alternative to Thunderbird”.

As far as I can tell, Postbox is actually a Thunderbird fork, wrapped up in a non-free license with attendant commercial licensing terms and a fraction of the platform support. You get Mac and Windows, and some vague mutterings about demand potentially influencing a future Linux version. UI prettiness aside, a fair number of the advertised goodies seem to have their origins in recent Thunderbird releases, such as improved Gmail support and cloud storage service provider integration. So that’s some of the uniqueness of Postbox already gone.

Regarding the licensing, one of their blog entries entices users to switch to Postbox, highlighting Google’s purchase and subsequent shutdown of the much loved Sparrow email client. Considering Google could just as well purchase Postbox any day of the week they choose, Postbox users depending on proprietary functionality offered by the application would be just as much up shit creek, with no community support in the case of an acquisition and closure.

Licensing and duplication of features compared to Thunderbird notwithstanding, you’d probably expect to get some premium support for the cash shelled out for Postbox, right? Actually, you don’t get any support. That’s right, none. If you look at the Postbox support FAQ, they’ll tell you to read the manual, read Mozilla’s support forums (what?), Google the issue (what the hell??), and at the end of all that:

“Please note that we do not offer one-on-one support offerings to new users at this time. All support efforts are currently dedicated towards providing better documentation and self-help solutions so that our users can more quickly find the answers they need.”

You’d think personalised support would be close to the top of the list of desirable features for any commercial deployment, but apparently the folks at Postbox see it differently…

To recap: proprietary license and associated risks, not free, limited to two operating systems, most features already present in Thunderbird, and no actual support. What are the advantages of this application again? And is Postbox just hanging around in the hope of cashing in with an acquisition itself?

Disable conversation view in the Gmail Android app

Actually, the title is total linkbait because you can’t. Google would rather inflict the wretched conversation view on you whether you like it or not. This might sound peculiar, but perhaps less so if you read “GMail: designer arrogance and the cult of minimalism“, and also this legendary rant from one of Google’s own prominent software engineers (Steve Yegge), of which a relevant excerpt follows:

“But when we [Google] take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

“And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.”


So – if you’re like me and want to check out a great email app for Android which doesn’t use conversation view and includes all the bonus goodies the Gmail app is missing (think Thunderbird for Android), you should check out K-9 Mail:


The really nice thing is that if you want to support the developers of this fine application, you can pay a tiny sum for the deee-luxe version, which goes by the name of Kaiten:


Kaiten Mail running on Android

Personas for Thunderbird

Just a quick post because clearly I am the last person to know about this – but Thunderbird supports Personas. So, just like Firefox, you can beautify your favourite desktop email client with thousands of lightweight skins:

Personas for Thunderbird

Now, we just need Sync for Thunderbird