Departing Eudora, Thunderbird Ahoy!

January 6, 2009 at 1:11 am | Posted in Internet, Online services, Software | 17 Comments

The exercise of setting up the Netbook I described here, with the desire to sync some data like schedules and contacts. This lead me to review some of the key software I’ve been using.

While it’s possible to go all Web with webmail, Google Calendar, Notes, and Docs for example, I’m not a road warrior quite to that degree, preferring local files. That solution does get increasingly intriguing though. Especially with offline web apps developing. (sounds almost an oxymoron)

Eudora has been my email client for a very long time. It’s a great program but Qualcomm has stopped developing it. They now have a team developing a Thunderbird (TB) plug-in called Penelope that aims to bring Eudora to open source. The feedback I’ve seen so far is that it simply makes TB look more like Eudora and adds a few things but it remains TB. It also breaks some TB Add-ons. So it’s not ready for prime time yet. As one commenter suggested, it’s better to simply get to know Thunderbird.

I tried Thunderbird awhile back but it wasn’t up to snuff yet. Now, it’s another story. It’s certainly not perfect but it looks like the best solution now. Thunderbird has several advantages over Eudora. It uses open standards so the data is easily migrated. This is critical if you want any sort of longevity for your data. It is highly customizable like Eudora. It has a large library of extras to enhance and shift TB’s features, not unlike Firefox. However, unlike Firefox, it is possible to download Add-ons that are out of date and won’t install – you’re not using a browser for it’s own updates.  I’ve spent a whole bunch of time tweaking. Lotsa fun.

The Thunderbird Manual (basics)
Thunderbird Help system

The default TB install is functional but, as with all programs, a little different than what you may be used to. And it has a few oddities. For example, Get Mail checks only the default account. Thus, it’s worth browsing Tools > Account Settings and > Options to adjust to your style.

Just a note – before you import, dump the trash and tidy up a bit. Just like you’re moving house. Otherwise you move all the junk too. When ready, head to Tools > Import and start – there’s 3 sets to bring in.

When I imported Eudora’s “Settings”, it happily brought in the email accounts but I had to adjust the server settings slightly for it to work. It didn’t quite match what gmail suggests, probably because of my Internet provider.

TB by default downloads email into separate inboxes for each account. This may be good for you if you separate work and personal for example, but I prefer a flatter folder structure. I found several very complex instructions on-line but later discovered on Tools > Account Settings > Server, under the Advanced button, you can set each account to Global Inbox and ‘include on getting mail’. This gives you one Inbox and checks all accounts on Get – fixing the issue I mentioned above. However, make sure to clear all the folders under the accounts you change before you do this. Especially the Inbox. It goes bye-bye. You can keep some accounts separate and merge others if you prefer that. Adjust Junk mail and related account settings to match.

You can turn on the Recipient column in your email list to differentiate the stuff in one Inbox. (little box in the upper right of the pane) I like the Size column on too. You can turn off Read as you can tell that by bolding. And Junk if you move Junk.

An alternative is to set a Tools > Message Filter to copy all incoming Inbox mail to one Inbox and use the MagicSLR Add-on with a new Get button that would check all. Or create whatever fancy blend you like – have your bosses email all go to a special box, for example  😉

Address Import:
Eudora’s Address book imported nicely, retaining the various folders. It did copy some group email addresses into the parent folder, but thats minor.

Email Import:
Importing the email was a much bigger issue. There’s quite a bit of mail and it kept hanging early in, stuck in loops with a misleading “Send Message” error. Eudora stores attachments separately. I would review them and save ones I want in my file system and purge the rest. TB stores the attachments with the message, so tries to reconnect them during the import. It’s quite possible this was the issue. In any case, little of the mail would import.

I dug out Outlook Express, imported the mail there very successfully, then imported it from Outlook Express into Thunderbird. Checking random folder counts, everything came across fine. Later I discovered some messages were dated in ‘2101’ and displayed with html exposed. 2101-02-06 6:28 AM to be exact.

Some research indicates its a series of issues related to lousy error handling: (Bug 216613)

1 – The mailer doesn’t set a Date: header in the email as its supposed to.
2 – The mail server doesn’t fix the missing Date:
3 – Outlook family programs set the mail date to 1965 if there is no Date:
4 – Thunderbird starts it’s clock at 1970, so ends up with a negative time and makes 1965 into 2101
Thus, the dates in the data are set to 1965 but are displayed as 2101. But if you check the headers, the date received remains correct. The fix is thus to use the Date Received rather than Date.

Fixing the 2101 year:

One of the big disadvantages to Outlook is that it saves all its email in one big file. If the file is corrupted, we’ll hope you have the Archive feature turned on. And a backup for when the archive is updated with the corrupt file on exit. Don’t you often restart a program if it’s acting up?  It only takes one messed up email or virus. Thunderbird on the other hand stores its mail indexes (.msf files) in many much smaller files. But as we need to update all the indexes for this fix, it has to be done a folder at a time.

1 – Switch to Received Date: Go to Tools > Options > Advanced > General tab and press the Config Editor. Filter for ‘received’. Double click ‘mailnews.use_received_date’ to set it to true. Close all and restart.

2 – Rebuild: Right click a folder, select Properties and click Rebuild Index. Now do the next one, etc. (I would not recommend purging all the index files.) Correct dates now show although you may need to click to another folder and back to get the new sort.

Voila! The Date column is now showing Received Date rather than the bogus Date.

I did not find this solution fully documented anywhere but lots of people looking for fix.  Anyone coming from Outlook or OE, basically.

Some other settings for default sort instead of date, or putting newest to top (note: suggested settings for type = order and order = type):
(ID sort was another suggestion but was imperfect)

It also should be noted – TB Import doesn’t import the flags – replied, forwarded, etc. Obviously, there’s a little work to be done on the import yet. But it’s certainly better than some prior experiences I’ve had, like an OE migration where it copied all the folders empty and deleting the prior contents. Or doubled all email. (ever notice all the Outlook delete duplicate tools?)

I used a lot of message Filters in Eudora to file Sent messages by person or subject, with the incoming. These were not imported and no way is offered but they can be built with Tools > Message Filter. However, there is an Add-in that gives you a little more customization depending on your needs. ‘Copy Sent to Current’  adds a pick list on the Compose form for filing your message on Send. Recent ones show, speeding up those regular ones. And no more Eudora opening every folder you filtered to.

If you migrate or want the same filters later on your laptop etc., there’s a Filter Import/Export Add-on. (for existing Mozilla filters – export from Message Filters, Import from Tools menu)

More handy Add-ons*:
As I like to see email headers, View Headers and Header Scroll were handy Add-ons. The first can add a toolbar button.

Contacts Sidebar gives you a little lower left Addresses window. I didn’t find it much use there but in the Compose window, its useful.

Signature Switch allows you to have a set of signatures and choose which to use for a given email – or the default. For example, I like to use a large signature with all contact info with new contacts. For routine stuff, I minimize it.

Dictionaries if you happen to speak British or Canadian, etc. – enhances the built in spell checker.
While you write, you can use Ctrl-K to call up a more robust spell check tool.

Border Colors changes the colour of the inner border of the Compose window, depending on which email account you’re using. This helps avoid mixing your personal and business contacts.

Show (email) Address is something I MUCH prefer. Nothing makes you look sloppier than sending an email to the wrong email address – especially when programs save all the old stuff for you. Even more with group lists you want to edit. Sadly this ones not current. The Contacts sidebar does let you turn on the email address column though, so you can see which actual address you’re picking.

MagicSLR is one for enhanced Getting and Sending if TB isn’t doing what you like. A choice of buttons too.

Nostalgy adds a feature to the bottom toolbar. If you have lots of folders like I do, it allows you to jump to specific ones with a few letters. Or Save and Copy.

I’m sure you’ll find others you like. You may find browsing most popular or highest rated useful. On the extensions site, click the title at the top to come back to the Home Page. You’ll find links on the right.

Newsreaders are a whole ‘nother layer. You can add ones like Forumzilla and use the usual filters, searches and such to browse. I’d keep these in their own folder structure though.

In Eudora I used to Queue messages, then Send and Receive/Get at the same time. Also handy if you write off-line. There isn’t yet a default way of doing this. In a Composed message, you can select File > Send Later. Then to Send, File > Send Unsent Messages.
You can also take TB Offline by going File > Offline > Work Offline. Messages “Sent” will sit in the Unsent folder. Deselect Work Offline to return.

If you do the usual Ctrl-S to Save while you’re writing, a copy will go in the Drafts folder. You can Save and close it for finishing and sending later.

In the Config Editor, mapi.blind-send.enabled set to false will show the Send progress window if you prefer that.

Palm to PIM
The other part of my project is migrating from the Palm Desktop. While some recommended it as the best of the Personal Info Manager (PIM) freebies (it’s a free download that assumes you have a Palm but doesn’t need one), it uses a proprietary system so is not easily migrated. That’s an issue if you want to keep this data long term. Ever try to open an old document made in retired software? I could simply put Palm Desktop on my Netbook and sync the data but this seems a good time to make the migration. I’ll cover this in more detail in another post, but there’s a few other things I added to TB for the journey.

Mozilla has been developing a basic open source PIM known as Sunbird. It’s a little earlier on the road than its mates. As I have been using a separate PIM, I assumed this was the direction I’d take. However, the Lightning Add-on for TB is basically the same thing but works as a window in TB – much like Calendar in Outlook. Indeed, you can have both Sunbird and Lightning installed on the same computer and share the same data set as long as you’re careful not to be cross editing. Don’t use one for editing – just viewing, for example. As I plan to use Webmail on the netbook I expect to use just Sunbird there. Ah, but what about Contacts? May need TB after all…

Sunbird/Lightning basically gives you simple Calendar and Task tools. You can click on an email in TB and “Convert to Event” or Task. It just uses the email’s Subject to start it – handy but not as cool as if selected text became the Description. It also adds the sender as a recipient for an invitation – a little odd as I’m adding the event from an invitation.

Contacts will obviously migrate to the Address Book – unlike the first 2, Palm Desktop even has a CSV export option for Contacts. Obviously some merging will be needed but it will sure be nice to have one address book. We’ll see how that goes.

But what of Memo’s, a Palm feature I use heavily. No Notes?

Add-ons to the rescue. There are a couple of Sticky-note style options, even one that attaches to an email. But that wasn’t quite it. Quicknote is a good option if you like a notepad on hand. But Thundernote – there’s the solution. Tabbed Notes lists. All the data on hand. More cool, you can add a button with Calendar and Tasks in the lower left.

In a future post, I’ll review the Palm migration and implementing the solutions. Converting that Calendar with lots of recurring events – that will be the challenge.

An added bonus to this approach – Much of this runs on Linux too. Thus you could leave the Netbook on Linux and stick TB and Lightning on it. (without some of the Add-ons) Or make it dual boot as others covered. Linux will run on an SD card too and comes with a partition and boot manager, like Parted Magic. Use the recovery disc to restore Linspire (assuming it lets you choose where) or use a popular build like Ubuntu or the lighter Xubuntu.

Happy computing

*Using Add-ons:
It’s a little different than Firefox as you’re not directly connected.
Click Download. Then use Tools > Add-ons, Install to load your download. You can do a few by clicking back to Extensions, Install, then restart when you’ve loaded them. It won’t let you install out of date ones.

To configure, click the Options button in Add-ons, if available, and explore. A few plug-ins have their own link under the Tools menu – to launch or configure.

To use some, you (also) need to right click on the toolbar and select Customize. Find it’s button and drag where you’d like the icon on the toolbar. Change your toolbar as you like too.

Here’s a few other Thunderbird tips and suggestions.

[Update: see Comments for some other tips – address book, startup folder, etc…]


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  1. On the TB address book – when you make a group list, TB adds the addresses to the parent folder for use with auto-completion. If you delete them from the parent folder, you are in essence deleting a linked entry and the email address is ALSO deleted from the group.

    If the description in the group doesn’t match the one in the parent, there will be 2 entries. If you get zealous clearing out duplicates, careful its not the one from the group. Of that you replace the group one.

    AddToExpandedList is an Add-in that lets you right click on the group email list and Add it to the email as an expanded list, listing all email addresses. This lets you edit the list as required.


  2. Here’s a weird one for you – and the fix.
    One persons email address was looking like this when I used it:
    “”name”/@domain.”com or “name/@domain.”com

    TB refused to send this. I could edit out the extraneous stuff but it remained each time I used the address. The address looked fine in the address book. Ah – but there was one little thing. There’s an unobvious space between the . and com. Without that, it’s fine. Seems Eudora must have error handled this but TB is a little fussier…


  3. Palm Contacts, Memos and Tasks are all migrated. Have a trick for Calendar too – its underway. Will post when I’m finished.


  4. […] Web Apps | As I’ve outlined recently, I have migrated a Linux Netbook to Windows XP and migrated Eudora mail to Thunderbird.  The next step for me is migrating my Palm data to standard formats for use in Sunbird/Lightning. […]


  5. […] gone into the project further, the advantages of Lightning integration became clear. And though I commented earlier that I didn’t think I wanted to go all web, some of the web tools may hold advantages as a […]


  6. it’s worth mentioning that you can migrate Contacts, Tasks and Calendar all to Google with the above tool. These are then accessible online. Just set your task dates.

    However, the results didn’t suit my needs, except for Calendar. I’ll be exploring other sync techniques in a future post.


  7. When I switched to TB and used the Gmail instructions for secure server, Gmail started saving all Sent messages online.

    The fix is to use a filter or a different outgoing mail provider like your ISP. But you then loose secure email sending. Regular email can be read by anyone as it passes across the net.


  8. […] services, Software, Web Apps | So far on this project, I’ve moved the Netbook to XP, moved from Eudora to Thunderbird, and moved from Palm to Lightning (with […]


  9. […] Departing Eudora, Thunderbird Ahoy! Importing Eudora into Thunderbird, fixing a 2101 date bug, suggested Add-on’s, and adding the PIM for the coming Palm migration: Lightning and Thundernotes. […]


  10. The added bonus of Thunderbird I discuss in later articles is its migrateability – share the profile with 2 people, have multiple profiles for one installation, share with a network version, and so forth. Unlike many programs, TB keeps its settings files together. Not in some Windows folder. Not everything is easily configurable but much more than some programs.

    The worst example I can think of is Symantec. They put junk all over the place, with at least 3 separate program folders. When you uninstall, it leaves tons behind, requiring a special uninstall tool. Without that, replacement tools can be hampered. I consider this disrespectful of the clients computer.


  11. Just found a minor glitch with Lightning event repeats. If you end the repeat on the last day, it doesn’t show that day. If you end it the day after, it shows up.

    Using Start and End dates, it shows up for all dates. This only with repeats. That’s a little inconsistent.


  12. hmm -this is not always the case but was with one instance…


  13. If you take an existing event and repeat it, the hour shifts ahead in displays after daylight savings. The time of the actual event stays the same but it displays in the calendar an hour ahead.

    Evidently, this is a Google Calendar bug with repeats. But if you take the Category off Google, it doesn’t change. But if you delete the event and recreate it locally, it works properly.

    Existing repeaters that were imported don’t do this. Just an old one turned into a repeater


  14. A few little things with the address book, Eudora vs TB. Eudora would remember previously used email addresses not in the address book. I had noticed I was falling out of the habit of adding casual friends to my address book, annoying when I needed them later. Eudora also had a bad habit of highlighting an address I’d only ever used once, occasionally causing the wrong address to be selected.

    Thunderbird on the other hand, automatically suggests emails from the address books. If they’re not present, no suggestion. It’s a simple matter of opening a prior email, right clicking their email address (handily shown) and selecting Add to address book. Just be sure to select the address book you want them in.

    TB also has a default behaviour to save outgoing email addresses to the “Collected” address book, so once you use an address, its in there. This is a little like Eudora’s “Not Junk” folder. That’s where I moved my Eudora collected addresses. If you get an email and TB asks if it’s OK to show images from this sender, it also updates their address book settings.

    I’ve ended up leaving the “Personal Address Book” empty for now as its the default save place for some things. Easier to check it once in awhile and file it better than have it mixed with bits.

    As i get to know the program better, I keep finding more to like. Just the occasional hmmm, sometimes fixed with an extension.


  15. In my Thunderbird, I’ve merged accounts into one Inbox, as noted above. I wanted TB to open to this Inbox on startup, but this feature is only possible if I choose to check for new messages on startup.
    Didn’t want that. I like to do some offline work.

    But they did suggest the FolderPane extension. It allows you to rearrange the display sequence of your accounts in the folder tree and change the Startup folder, which can be anything. That did the trick.
    It also allows you to change the default email account. I would review account settings if you did that to ensure they’re still set appropriately.


  16. […] outline more Addons in a prior article on migrating to Thunderbird – including Lightning and […]


  17. […] mail did not migrate smoothly to Thunderbird, so ironically I used Outlook Express as an intermediary. Aside from some bugs mentioned, that […]


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