My Thunderbird 3 Fix-ups

I’ve been using the Mozilla Thunderbird email client for many years and found a few annoyances upgrading from v2 to v3 – here are my gotchas and fixes for it to fit my email habits.

While I’m sure it’s great for most people and cases, if you have the slightest bit of complexity in how you might connect to your mail server(s), the auto-account-creation wizard blows.. With one personal email account (on my own mail server), the account setup wizard worked out most of the settings pretty closely, however, my work account and a couple others went haywire and set up everything completely wrong. If you let the wizard run for any amount of time, it attempts to find servers by DNS and writes the account profile to disk in the wrong place just because some DNS name exists. The trick is to enter your Name and Email account in the very first window, then get ready to mash Stop immediately after continuing on to the next window. Then you can hit Manual Setup and add all the settings correctly and things are written to disk in the correct locations, etc.. There really needs to be a Manual Setup option on that first account creation window that bypasses the auto-account discovery, or a config setting to disable the discovery altogether. I like automagic things, but there always needs to be a sane manual option. Period.

Next up is the thread pane headers (thread, starred, sender, date, etc.).. In TB2, you set the headers in one view, and all folder views are the same. I can understand people wanting to have different views, but there is no option to set all views the same, so every single folder has to be modified.. This sucks when you have lots of folders and I have tons of them. There is a workaround – do not log into the account on the first prompt – set the thread pane headers you want on the Inbox, and most (not all) will inherit the Inbox view. Then log in later and fix the few incorrect views that remain (Drafts, Trash, etc.).

While you have the account created and have not logged in the first time, yet, you might want to dig through the account settings and decide if you want a few things changed – particularly under Synchronization & Storage.. no, I don’t want to keep all messages locally – I use IMAP – uncheck that box. I really don’t want to store gigs of messages locally by default – the whole point of IMAP is to keep the messages on the server. I also read some notes from people that use POP3 and (used to) “keep messages on server” – the default TB3 POP3 account creation pops all the messages off the server and deletes them from the server – be aware.. (and you should really be using IMAP, if you want this behavior anyway)

As of writing, the GPG/OpenPGP plugin, Enigmail, does not have a functional x86_64 Linux port for TB3 in the Add-Ons widget.. sigh.. There is a contributed port built on Arch Linux on the Enigmail download page that works for me. This should be fixed soon in the official Add-Ons widget, I suppose.

Some of my about:config modifications for sane behavior (Edit – Preferences – Advanced – Config Editor):

  • mail.check_all_imap_folders_for_new; true
  • mail.operate_on_msgs_in_collapsed_threads; false
  • mail.tabs.autoHide; true
  • mailnews.display.prefer_plaintext; true
  • mailnews.nav_crosses_folders; 0

OK, it’s just about time to actually log in and fetch mail! A bit of IMAP header fetching and on to reading some mail, changing the toolbar buttons to small, and then I found the message header collapse is gone.. Ah, there is a nicely working add-on for that: CompactHeader by jmozmoz Thank you, thank you!

And on restart of TB3, I end up in whatever folder I was last viewing on shutdown.. and very odd behavior of password prompting, if it was a nested folder (duplicate login prompts..). And no where is there an option to configure “Start in my f’ing Inbox”. This is retarded, in my opinion – who asked for this “feature” anyway? Once again, there looks to be a sort-of-working plugin for this (and once again, this is a manual download/install, at the moment): Select Inbox by Bogdan Rechi This works ok in starting up in the default account Inbox, but the weird password prompts still remain – looking at the plugin code, this is run at start time – my suggestion for TB3 is for the plugin to switch to the default Inbox at shutdown, and let TB3 just start normally. When I start up TB3 after hitting my Inbox prior to shutdown, I don’t get the strange duplicate login prompts at startup.

The default “New Messages in Folder” text color (they dumped the little star..) and the basic highlighting on folder pane, thread pane, message pane selections and focus are crap – almost unreadable blue text on blue background for “New Messages” on the default Debian Gnome theme – blue selected folders look nearly identical to the blue selected+focus folders. The colors are essentially just pulled from the OS color theme, which is fine, but it is very difficult to differentiate where the focus is – I use this visual queue a lot when scrolling up/down with the keyboard while drilling through folders or message threads. The only way to configure this is by setting up custom CSS rules via userChrome.css. My ideas came from the Mozilla Folder Pane Color for New Mail notes and from this killer resource for TB mods – here is my custom userChrome.css:

/*  Tree Text Highlighting (folders, thread pane, address pane, etc.)
    Highlight focused items, but use black on lightgrey when not in focus */
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(selected) {
        background-color: lightgrey !important;
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(selected, focus) {
        background-color: Highlight !important;
        color: white !important;
    tree[selstyle="primary"] > treechildren::-moz-tree-row {
        border: none !important;
        background-color: transparent !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-row(selected) {
        background-color: lightgrey !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-row(selected, focus) {
        background-color: Highlight !important;
/*  Folder Pane Color for New Mail */
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true) {
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true, selected) {
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true, selected, focus) {
        color: white !important;

That about covers my fixes for my Thunderbird 3 sanity – if I need to set it up again and remember any other changes, I’ll add them in.

Update: I added in the config option to disable the new brain-dead collapsed thread display – nice try, Mozilla, but you can’t actually expand it and navigate with the keyboard, so FAIL.. mail.operate_on_msgs_in_collapsed_threads; false

5 thoughts on “My Thunderbird 3 Fix-ups”

  1. Thanks Michael, that was indeed helpful, the blue color of new mails is also impossible to read in Vista and more importantly it is irritating when you see your settings get lost. I am still trying to figure out the IMAP to Pop thing

  2. Hey Bob,

    I’m not sure what “inbox full” error you are asking about – I haven’t seen that particular error. Sounds like something teh google and mozilla forums, etc. might help with 😉

    Kind regards,

  3. Thanks Michael, for both pointing out the issues and suggesting fixes. I hate this approach in TB3 of dumping well-functioning aspects of TB2 for no reason at all…

    Another issue I have noticed is that keyboard-based navigation has deteriorated: e.g., shifting from folder pane to thread pane to message pane used to work with just tab, now it does not. When I reading a msg in TB3, tab key seems to simply make the msg scroll! Have you noticed this? Any workaround?

    Similarly, I cannot now use the Alt-down key to change the filter in ‘quick filter’ (for which they anyway change the keystroke from Cntrl-K to Cntrl-F). I have to use the mouse to click on the buttons Sender, Recipient, etc.

  4. This post is very helpful! I like Ubuntu humanity theme but it’s annoying that the heighlight color is too similar to the background color in the Thunderbird’s thread pane, so I often can’t find emails that I just browsed after open new tab. Thanks for the userChrome.css guide!

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