Mozilla Thunderbird Customization

I've been playing with Mozilla Thunderbird. It's pretty nice in a number of respects, but I discovered that in order to get it to work more like what I'm used to, I had to scrounge around the Net to find some of the magic preferences to go into prefs.js.

So I'm documenting some of these in case I forget or need to recreate this stuff on another system. Also, someone Out There (TM) might find it useful.

(I suspect that most GUI MUA users are not as picky as me about some of these things, but I'm a convert from exmh, which has about the most flexible, but complex, preferences system I've ever used.)

I've been using the same reply attribution in my email for years, since at least the mid-1990s. Some MUAs make it easy to easy to customize this; when I tried this on Evolution, I ended up needing to patch the source. Anyways, here it is for Thunderbird.

user_pref("mailnews.reply_header_authorwrote", "If memory serves me right, %s wrote");
user_pref("mailnews.reply_header_ondate", "");
user_pref("mailnews.reply_header_separator", "");
user_pref("mailnews.reply_header_type", 3);

Some people like ``flowed'' plaintext, which allows MUAs to adopt their line-wrapping strategies to wide windows and/or long lines. I'm not one of them, so I wanted Thunderbird not to compose messages using it and to ignore it when displaying messages.

user_pref("mailnews.send_plaintext_flowed", false);
user_pref("mailnews.display.disable_format_flowed_support", true);

I'm not a big fan of the sending status dialog:

user_pref("mailnews.show_send_progress", false);

But I'm geeky enough to want to see what User-Agent people use:

user_pref("mailnews.headers.showUserAgent", true);

There's something wrong with the way my GNOME 2 desktop environment is set up (probably pilot error of some sort) and I wasn't able to get Thunderbird to use Firefox as its default browser for opening Web links. This worked, however:

user_pref("", "/usr/X11R6/bin/firefox");

Thunderbird and Mozilla have an annoying (to me) behavior with respect to their ``reply all'' features. Basically, they don't. Specifically, if I am an explicit recipient of an email message, and I ``reply all'' to that message, I am not added to either the To: or Cc: headers. There appear to be two workarounds:

  1. Save a ``file copy'' of each outgoing email to a folder. By default, this copy seems to land in a Sent folder, but Thunderbird allows me to specify what folder to use. If I put a copy of every outgoing mail into my Inbox folder, that's pretty close. The disadvantage is that these copies don't get processed by the procmail scripts I use on my server. But it's close.
  2. Another alternative is to send a blind carbon copy to myself, which Thunderbird (and Mozilla) do support. I haven't played with this much, but in theory this might work.

(Why do I care? I'm not sure where this habit originated, but having copies of all my outbound emails land in my Inbox helps me to follow email threads that I'm actively participating in. When I'm done, I can either delete the thread (if it was for a mailing list) or file it (if it was some personal correspondence that I want to keep). Don't try to dissuade me from working this way...I've been doing this since 1987 and old habits are really hard to break.)

Thunderbird has support for multiple ``identities'' for a given email account. Thunderbird 1.5 and later have real support in the UI for this feature (from the ``Account Settings'' pane, select an appropriate email account and click the ``Manage Identities...'' button). Older versions of Thunderbird require some hackery in prefs.js, which is documented in an official guide to setting this up on the Mozilla Web site.

Bruce A. Mah