Migrating Apps — KMail — 2

Part 1: Migrating Apps — KMail — 1

Thunderbird showed some frustrating design holes.

Already mentioned is there is no minimization to tray without an add-on.

My next bump in my migration journey was receiving no notifications of system mails. Thunderbird fetched the mails fine. I configured Thunderbird with a notification sound and tested the sound file from within Thunderbird. Yet there is no sound or popup for system mails. Later testing showed the bug is not with Thunderbird but with system mails only. Later after I created an external mail account Thunderbird showed a popup notification and used the sound file. Thunderbird seems to treat system mails differently than external mails.

Hardly the end of the world but notifications seem poorly designed in Thunderbird. Browsing the web and forums indicates other people noticing the same shortcomings. I much like the quiet method I use in KMail by showing a counter in the system tray icon. A problem with Thunderbird is without an add-on there is no system tray support. Unless the add-on supports some kind of indicator there is no way to notify a user of new mails after a user has walked away from the computer for a while other than directly checking Thunderbird.

I thought I could use filter actions to run a script to provide a notify-send popup for system mails. Yet later I discovered that without an add-on there is no way to run a script when mails satisfy certain criteria.

One annoyance was opening the next or previous message when I deleted a message. I resolved that behavior by setting mail.close_message_window.on_delete to true.

Another annoyance is using “Me” in the email headers. Somebody probably thinks this feature is cute or useful. Oh well. Disabling requires changing mail.showCondensedAddresses to false or disabling Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> Reading and Display -> Display -> Show only display name for people in my address book.

Bigger bumps came when adding new mail accounts. The account creation dialog does not allow users much leeway and is wrapped in presumptions. Thunderbird is designed to create mail folders using the mail server as part of the folder name. Changing that requires several steps in the account dialog.

To use different folders, the pecking order seems to be to first change the account name to something human readable other than using the mail address as the account name. Then restart Thunderbird. Then change the location of the folders. Then restart Thunderbird.

If a user has more than one account through the same mail server, the folders are named with the same server name but augmented with a counter. This seems clunky. A properly designed dialog to configure a new account would eliminate this nonsense.

Eventually though I created all of my accounts.

On a positive note, importing my maildir mails was easier than I anticipated. I copied the respective KMail cur folders to the new Thunderbird folders. Then I “repaired” the Thunderbird folder to create new index files.

Importing maildir files to the Local Folders folders proved more tricky. Similar to KMail folders, Local Folders are a way to organize mails by conversation types or users. Sadly maildir is not supported in Local Folders. Thunderbird only supports mbox in Local Folders. I had mails in various KMail folders. My solution was to repeat the maildir import exercise with an empty Thunderbird maildir account. Once Thunderbird rebuilt the index I used Thunderbird to move the files to the desired mbox folder. Thunderbird automatically merged the maildir files to mbox.

I stubbed my toe during this effort. Unknown to me, I had duplicate mails in KMail. The duplicates did not appear in KMail because of the indexing but the duplicate files confused Thunderbird’s programming. Weird things happened such as compacting actually deleted all mails. I had to create a scrubbing script to find the duplicates and clean KMail. The cause of the duplicates was me. I keep the user home directories synced to the server and I had not built a robust enough sync system. I knew about the potential problem long ago when I built my dedicated server but never resolved the problem.

I got confused with configuring alias mail accounts. I have one account that supports email aliases. In KMail I created separate accounts for the aliases. Thunderbird is designed differently. The solution is to create new identities within the primary account. This is confusing because of the different ways KMail and Thunderbird use the term Identities.

After the identities are created, filters are needed to move the mails to appropriate folders. Without filters Thunderbird is designed such that replying to an aliased account results in the correct From address appearing in the headers. Nonetheless I wanted mails segregated by alias address. Initially I could not get this to work, but eventually I got the filters to work the way I wanted.

Filters are mildly frustrating in Thunderbird because they all are account-specific. Global filters are not supported. This means waddling through each account settings to edit filters. A tad clunky. There also is no context menu support in the message pane for adding or running a filter. Creating or editing a filter requires using the menu bar. The design of filters is not insurmountable but does require a shift in thinking compared to other email clients.

Frustrating is that Thunderbird filters do not support running scripts without an add-on.

Because part of my migration plan is centralization, I wanted to move the Thunderbird profile to my server. Thunderbird is not well designed to support centralization. I was able to move most of the mail folders to my server, which required many restarts as I changed each account location. Changing the folder locations and names is pretty much a sledge hammer affair but does work.

Sadly, specific details of the profile are strictly user-centric. Thunderbird does not support concurrent access of profile files or mails. I have not yet discovered any clever tricks to avoid this localization of the preferences.

Much like Firefox, a default Thunderbird leaves much to be desired. I installed several add-ons:

  • Allow HTML Temp
  • Clean Links
  • HTTPS-Everywhere
  • Identity Chooser
  • Mailbox Alert
  • MinimizeToTray revived
  • No Resource URI Leak
  • ReminderFox
  • Send Later
  • Text Link

Much like Firefox, without add-ons I would find Thunderbird a challenge to use.

I tried to no avail to get FiltaQuilla to display an alert with system mails. Installing Mailbox Alert resolved the problem nicely. I also am able to run a script to provide remote notifications.

Much like Firefox I find the Thunderbird interface is not snappy. This is probably due to the XUL design. Too bad Mozilla apps suffer this laggy effect.

Thunderbird is going to work for me. Like KAlarm and ReminderFox, for a while I will run Thunderbird and KMail concurrently. To avoid conflicts I have all accounts in Thunderbird configured to not remove mails from the POP3 servers. I am sure I will bump into a few more usability issues during my trial period. Configuring filters is an example. There is only so much a person can envision or test in the early stages. Those bumps are always unforeseen.

I hope the Mozilla folks find a good home for Thunderbird — there is a lot Thunderbird does not do, such as poor notification support. Thunderbird does not support roaming profiles, concurrent access of files, or shared address books. Thunderbird needs better support for centralization, which probably is another way of saying better enterprise support.

I am surprised how Thunderbird is rough around the edges and missing key features despite years of development. Yet overall I think now all of my app migrations are behind me.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Migrate

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