Making the switch to Mozilla Thunderbird

At the beginning of each year I take time to organize and simplify my digital life and in 2012 I tackled a whale… email. My problem is not managing my inbox but rather I had too many email accounts. So I simplified and in the process decided to give Mozilla’s email client Thunderbird another look.

That was a great decision.


Why I switched

  • I was tired of switching accounts in Gmail.
  • I needed more email signature customization than what webmail provided.
  • I can set a reply to address to help people find and use my new single email.
  • I wanted to revive my PGP email encryption functionality.

…need more reasons to consider switching to Thunderbird?

If you have no need for managing multiple accounts, advanced security features, or a smart cloud based productivity system then I’ll save you the time – just stick with what you are using.

However, if you need to combine communications, encrypt emails, or you are ready for a powerful GTD alternative to Microsoft Outlook I hope you find my experience useful.

Getting started

mozilla_thunderbird_logoDownload Mozilla Thunderbird and configure your accounts. If your mail provider supports IMAP that is what you will want to use. If they only offer POP Thunderbird that will work but you might consider a new email provider *cough Gmail cough*.

Account setup is a breeze and Thunderbird will likely auto-detect the correct settings for your mail provider. For step by step instructions refer to the Account setup portion of the Thunderbird FLOSS manual. Bookmark that link for future use, it’s an excellent resource.

Next you’ll probably want to tweak a few settings:

  • Enable HTML email – Lots of email includes web formatting so to change from the default plain text view go to View->Message Body As-> Original HTML
  • Add a signature to your email by going to Tools->Account Settings then Click on your email address. On the right side add your signature text. You can also specify an image, html file, or directly paste html into this field.
  • The settings to compose email in HTML, include the signature, and quoting replies are all found in Tools->Account Settings-> Composition & Addressing

Thunderbird Add-ons

Just like Firefox you can improve Thunderbird with Add-ons. Here’s a few I highly recommend.

  • Google Contacts will sync your Gmail address book with Thunderbird
  • Provider for Google Calendar will sync your Gmail calendar
  • Web App Tab (WAT) a must have extension that gives Firefox like tabs inside Thunderbird.
  • Enigmail – Hassle free OpenPGP email encryption and SMIME support. This is the number one reason I went back to Thunderbird.

A view into my usage

A quick short hand into my current system


I still use Toodledo and I found no good alternatives for syncing tasks from Thunderbird to it or Google Tasks. So I use the Web App tab and keep my tasks open in the tab. It’s always open and signed in.


I’m still a Google Calendar junky and while I’ve played with Thunderbird’s Lightning calendar and I have synced to Google Cal I still use the web interface of gCal. It’s familiar and fast for me. Again I use the WAT extension and just keep gCal open in a tab.


The biggest change is I have 4 email accounts all in one panel and roll through them in no time. It’s saving me an enormous amount of time and easing my transition to a single account.

Encryption and Security

While almost no one ever emails with PGP anymore I want the ability. With Enigmail its simple to setup and I also got a personal S/MIME cert from Comodo and I’m digitally signing my email as well.

I’m a geek what do you expect? If you are just learning of PGP it’s data encryption often used to encrypt email. Enigmail has an excellent getting started guide to setup your first keys and use it with Thunderbird.

Want to make my day? Be the first person to send me a PGP encrypted email. My address is and here is my public key

Your Turn

  • Email application or web based email, What is your preference?
  • How many email addresses do you actively use?
  • Questions about Thunderbird? Leave me a comment and I’ll try to help.

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