Sharing the Digital Life

January 11, 2009 at 4:39 am | Posted in Backup, Computers, Internet, Online services, Software, Web Apps | 8 Comments

So far on this project, I’ve moved the Netbook to XP, moved from Eudora to Thunderbird, and moved from Palm to Lightning (with extras).

The last step is working out the best way to share the data with the netbook so it’s available when I’m not on-line, updates easily and reliably, and is flexible in use.

First step is to get clear on how you want to use Thunderbird and what you need access to on the Netbook.

There’s 5 areas of “sharing”:
1) Email: I just need access to new mail on the road
2) Contacts: I need full offline access to my contacts
3) Memos: I need full offline access to my Memos/Notes
4) Tasks: These I don’t need on the road as I just use them as future reminders
5) Calendar: I need access to the current and recent schedule offline

Other people may need RSS feeds, browser history, bookmarks, and so forth. They can adapt this for their needs. Just add other files or directories as required.

The original idea to use just Sunbird on the netbook and share only part of the data didn’t work well. If parts of the configuration are missing or don’t match, it doesn’t work. For example, custom Address books would not appear unless they had been imported. Import tools changed the name of the file, breaking the ability to sync them in future. There is a distribution of small settings files that all need to be present and match.

The key once again is KISS. Copy pretty much all of it.

One can create a single set of files and share the data between 2 computers easily by moving the profile location to a shared folder and pointing both computers to that. They would then have the same look, data, add-ons, etc. Just be careful about editing the same file at the same time.

But the object here is to be able to take the data and disconnect. Be able to work on-line or offline elsewhere.

(I assume here that by now you have networked the netbook with your local network and joined the workgroup, not just the Internet. On the same workgroup with a shared folder allows computers to see each other.)

Sharing the data:

1) Install Thunderbird on the netbook – same version as desktop.
2) Install Add-ons: key are Lightning and Thundernote. I also added the Nostalgy tool for searches.
(if you want the same extensions as on the desktop, skip this step and instead copy the extensions folder over below)
3) I suggest using a large SD card for your data in the front left slot. It sits flush but defaults to being the E: drive, after the non-flush right rear slot. To match my usual workflow, I want it to be D: drive. If you have a disk in the other drive, take it out for the moment. Right click My Computer, select Manage, then Disk Management. Right click the large SD drive and select Drive Letter. Select D:. It will change in a moment. *DON’T change this after you move the profile or it will break TB.
4) Create a new folder on D: for your TB data and share it. This will be your new profile name, so make it something like: D:\TB\[YOURNAME] (no spaces) and share the YOURNAME folder. Use a sharename like the netbooks COMPUTERNAME_EMail and “allow other users to change my files”. OK. The folder will now have a new symbol.
5) Close TB. Navigate to the TB profile:
C:\Documents and Settings\[USER]\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\[PROFILENAME].default\
Open it and select everything. (Ctrl-A) Copy it. (Ctrl-C)
6) Navigate to the YOURNAME folder above and paste it all there.
7) Start > Run, type thunderbird -profilemanager
This starts a small profile manager program.
8 Click “Create Profile”, use your name, and select the YOURNAME folder above.
Press OK and Save.
9) Select the default profile and click Delete. It will ask you if you want to delete the files or not. What this means is you are removing the profile – do you want it to leave it’s old files behind? In our case, we have little data from a new install, so you can delete. If you were migrating an existing profile, I’d recommend you back it up before you start this process, and again delete now. If you feel uncertain, don’t delete. But remember to delete it manually later after testing.
Mozilla on the subject
Terence Chang with graphics

Sharing setup:
Now you have TB’s data sitting in a shared folder, ready for the real data.
1) In TB on the Desktop, open Tools > Account Settings. For each account, select ‘server settings’, then in the Server Settings box, note how you have it set, then deselect the first 2 “check for new messages…” checkboxes. Click OK. This will ensure the netbook doesn’t start grabbing your email until you’re ready.
2) Close TB on both computers.
3) On the desktop, navigate in Network to Entire Network > MS Windows Network > [WORKGROUP] > [NETBOOKNAME] You should see the shared folder there. Delete the files and Mail folder but leave the other folders.
4) Navigate to your TB profile on the desktop. Select all of the contents of the PROFILENAME folder, then deselect extensions, chrome, and any folders related to extensions. (assuming you want to keep the smaller profile TB setup above. If want it the same, copy the works.) What you want is the Mail folder (with the accounts) and all the files in the root.
5) Copy this to the share in step 3. (If you don’t want all the email on the netbook, you can go into Mail, Local Folders and clear it out after. But you need the accounts.)
6) Open Thunderbird on the netbook. You should now see Mail accounts, Calendar, Tasks, Thundernotes, and find the Address book fully furnished.
7) Open Tools > Account Settings. For each account, select ‘server settings’, then in the Server Settings box, select “Leave Messages on Server”. This leaves new email on the server to be downloaded later to the desktop. The netbook is taking a copy. The desktop gets all of it.
This means you will re-see mail on the desktop after and the netbook just gets mail the desktop doesn’t download. You can arrange it it whatever other way you prefer. See the email section below for other ideas.
8 On the desktop, open Tools > Account Settings and change the checkboxes back the way you had them before step 1. Click OK.

Now you have 2 computers, briefly with the same data. To keep them current, you’ll want a file sync tool. Backup tools are not usually suitable for this. Microsoft has the free SyncToy. Its designed to copy, sync or otherwise maintain 2 sets of the same data. It’s pretty easy to use but does need .Net2. If you don’t have it it, it will prompt you during install.

Synctoy 2 is available from the XP Powertoys page, but its bigger than listed. (assuming you have XP on the desktop)
1) Download and install it on the desktop.
2) In Synctoy, create a new folder pair between TB profiles: the desktop on the left
c:\Documents and Settings\[name]\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\[profilename]\
and the share on the netbook above on the right. D:\TB\[YOURNAME]
Assuming you don’t want them exactly the same:
– Files to include: *mab;*.xml;*.sdb
– Click Select Subfolder and deselect all subfolders. This leaves mail and other extensions behind. If you do want mail, include its folder but not extensions, etc.
– Select ‘Check File Contents’.
– Set it to Echo just to update the netbook. Careful about 2-way sync. If you update both copies of a file between syncs, one will be overwritten. Also, if you don’t have duplicate setups, it can mess it up.
3) On the desktop, make a small change like adding a new address.
4) Close both Thunderbirds
5) In Synctoy, click Preview to see what it will do. If it’s updating just what you wanted, it will show a small batch of files, with only one address book file to update. (for me 16 files of the 3 file types) Click Run to update.
6) Open TB on the netbook – any updates should be there.

Voila! You now have TB on the netbook, synced as desired with your desktop.

More Details and Options:

1) Email:
I just need access to new email on the road. Thus, I can simply use webmail to view.
However, if I send an important message on-line, I’ll want a copy on the desktop afterwards.
This means sent messages have to loop back into the inbox.

While you could try to remember to BCC yourself or move Sent messages to Gmails Inbox (which don’t always download), the simplest is a Filter. Settings > Filters, make a filter From your email address, Forwarded to another email address of yours. Then, whenever you send something on-line, you get a copy in your other email account. Gmail won’t let you forward to yourself nor automatically place a copy in your Inbox.

If you want to access your email from several devices, IMAP is the designed solution. Unlike POP, it’s a 2 way communication for email sync. Only some providers have it but Gmail does.
A great overview and some tips.

Pros and Cons, depending on what you like: IMAP maintains a constant server connection to update real-time. All of your email is stored on-line. With POP that’s optional.

It’s also worth noting that services like Gmail allow viewing (only) email in an RSS Feed aggregator. That’s a quick way to browse if you get a lot.  What’s RSS? Real Simple Syndication. Email clients like Thunderbird and browsers like Firefox also have built in RSS Readers now.

In Thunderbird, click New > Account and select RSS and give it a name. Then right click on the Account name and choose ‘Manage Subscriptions’. Add and enter the feed URL. And this site, for example, I use a service called Feedburner. The RSS URL is .  WordPress also offers a feed,  More

In Firefox, they’re called “Live Bookmarks” and the RSS ‘bookmarks’ list the recent links in a drop-down menu. If a site has a feed, a little orange square shows up beside it’s address. You just click it to subscribe. For serious RSS you’d want a separate Reader.

2) Contacts:
I need full offline access to my Address Books. Address books are stored as MAB files here:
c:\Documents and Settings\[name]\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\[profilename]\

You cannot simply copy additional address books into a new profile. The configuration won’t see them and import tools may give them other file names. However, once the address books are ‘known’, they can be updated via file sync. The settings are stored in the prefs.js file but it’s several lines of computerese. Mozilla simply says you can’t do it manually.

[Update: thus, if you add a new Address book on the desktop, it will be copied over by the sync but will not appear in TB on the netbook. Best to organize this first, then migrate the profile. If you make a major update, try and copy the pref.js file over too. (have not tried this yet.) Otherwise, repeat the “Sharing” section above to reestablish the file set.

From playing with this, I note new address books have the format abook-#.mab, imported address books have the format impab-#.mab]

If most of your contacts are already in Gmail, you may want to use the Google Contacts Add-on. It creates a “Google-emailaddress” address book that you can rename, then downloads all your Gmail addresses. However, it does not upload Thunderbird addresses, just downloads and syncs Gmail ones. I didn’t find Groups worked properly in Gmail. It rearranged some of the data too – an issue when you can’t map it. The Palm to Google tool I used for Calendar in the Palm article could be used to upload them, but only Palm’s.

Gmail does not have a full-featured Address book so if you have more sophisticated contacts, it doesn’t work well and won’t be of value in syncing to another computer. But there’s long term potential.

3) Memos:
Syncing Memos is simply a matter of copying the 3 Thundernote*.xml files to the [profilename] on the netbook. They just work.

For an on-line solution, Google now has Notebook. It sounds something like Evernote on the web but I’ve not used it nor seen a review.

4) Tasks:
As these are included in the Calendar data, they simply come along for the ride.

If included in the Palm to Google Calendar sync, they come in as events with a ‘Task:’ prefix but as mentioned prior, all undated ones land on today’s date. They are best viewed in Agenda view. Evidently, tasks are an unimplemented feature of Google Calendar that’s being beta tested. For 2 years. That’s how the Palm sync does it. Google either has an issue or is building something bigger.

In Gmail, Settings > Labs has a Tasks option. You can turn an email into a task. Note that its an experimental feature though. It may disappear or morph.

5) Calendar:
It’s worth mentioning here that Sunbird/Lightning supports multiple calendars. Thus you can have one for personal, another for work, and share your wife’s or share a project calendar with a group.
Just select Calendar view, then Calendar > New Calendar. It’s also in the TB’s File > New menu.
If you want to experiment with this stuff, you might want to use an alternate calendar to test.

If the shared calendar is on the local network, you can create file sync routines for that. Add in the similar functionality of an on-line Calendar and there are quite a range of options. I’ve not tried all of these. Google Calendar is surprisingly sophisticated, although there’s no obvious way to move around a lot of data fast, like a Go To.

Networked calendars:
– a local calendar uploaded on-line via FTP or to a webDAV server
Right click the Calendar on the left, select Publish, and enter the server URL. Click Publish. You can then link to that file from multiple computers with File > New > Calendar > on the Network > ICS, enter the same URL. Configuration and more details.

– a Google Calendar viewable in Lightning/Sunbird (if on-line)
File > New > Calendar > on the Network > CalDAV and link to your Google Calendar.

There is also the ‘Provider for Google Calendar‘ Add-on. Background and use. (which is a little out of date – For XML files into Google Calendar, see Settings, Calendars, click on the calendar, scroll to the bottom and you’ll find the XML links there.)

– A complete Google-Lightning sync, with offline viewing. Terence Chang covers it well.
Set up a Google Calendar, install GCALDaemon, configure it for offline, and link it to Google. In comments, they observe that alerts nag. Looks like the best option for offline viewing.

If you don’t wish to use the Google Calendar you created for the Palm import, you can delete it now that you’ve seen the options.

As you can see, moving to a standards format adds new options and makes it all much easier.
And now, the series is done. Hope you enjoyed the journey.
If you have any questions, just shout below.


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  1. […] Sharing the Digital Life Synchronizing your desktop Thunderbird email, calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes data with the netbook. On-line options. […]


  2. Just ran into this extension:
    Foxmarks Bookmarks Syncronizer – Syncs and backs up your bookmarks across multiple computers.
    An intro:
    Note that it stores your bookmarks online to do this. This also allows you to use and update bookmarks from an internet cafe or mobile.


  3. An aside for the Firefox user – Feed Sidebar extension.

    If you use Live Bookmarks for RSS feeds, this is great. Useful Options, even to close the sidebar when you’ve reviewed it all. Right click a feed if you’re not interested in more to Mark em all as read.


  4. FEBE is a Firefox extension that will back up extensions, bookmarks, even your entire profile. Recommended.

    – share with another computer
    – restore after a hiccup (I lost half mine once for no obvious reason)

    FEBE does store in the usual bookmarks backup format though.


  5. NOTE – in Firefox 3, Bookmarks are no longer stored in Bookmarks.HTML file in your default profile. You’ll find that one was last updated when you had FF2.
    “bookmarks are stored in the places.sqlite file and bookmarks*.html files are only used for importing and exporting.”
    The backup files are stored in the bookmarkbackups folder as bookmarks-date.json

    If you open Bookmarks > Organize Bookmarks, you’ll find an Import Export button up top. It will Export as a traditional HTML file.

    (docs and settings, username, App data, Mozilla etc)


  6. […] the Google Calendar and using a local sync as I did. You may want to review options on “Sharing” before deciding. If you don’t want the on-line calendar to remain, in Google calendar, […]


  7. […] up Windows Explorer Sharing your records with a laptop or other mobile […]


  8. […] few programs don’t work doing this. Thunderbird, for example, stores email in one place but the accounts in another. Other email programs are […]


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