Tricks to Try Out on Thun­der­bird and SeaMon­key

Learn to use and store email mes­sages off­line with Thun­der­bird and SeaMon­key.

OpenSource For You - - Contents - By: V. Sub­hash The au­thor is a writer, il­lus­tra­tor, pro­gram­mer and FOSS fan. His web­site is at www.vsub­hash.com. You can con­tact him at tech.writer@out­look.com.

In 2004, Google in­tro­duced its Gmail ser­vice with a 1GB mail­box and free POP ac­cess. This was at a time when most peo­ple had email ac­counts with their ISP or had free Web mail ac­counts with Hot­mail or Ya­hoo. Mail­box stor­age was lim­ited to measly amounts such as 5MB or 10MB. If you did not reg­u­larly purge old mes­sages, then your incoming mail would bounce with the dreaded ‘In­box full’ er­ror. Hence, it was a stan­dard prac­tice to store email ‘off­line’ us­ing an email client. Each year now, a new gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple (mostly stu­dents) dis­cover the In­ter­net and they start with Web mail straight away. As pop­u­lar Web mail ser­vices in­te­grate on­line chat­ting as well, they pre­fer to use a Web browser rather than a desk­top mail client to ac­cess email. This is sad be­cause desk­top email clients rep­re­sent one of those rare In­ter­net tech­nolo­gies that can claim to have achieved per­fec­tion. This ar­ti­cle will bring read­ers up to speed on Thun­der­bird, the most pop­u­lar FOSS email client.

Why use a desk­top email client?

With an email client, you store emails off­line. Af­ter the email ap­pli­ca­tion con­nects to your mail server and down­loads new mail, it in­structs the server to delete those mes­sages from your mail­box (un­less con­fig­ured oth­er­wise). This has sev­eral ad­van­tages.

If your ac­count gets hacked, the hacker will not get your archived mes­sages. This also lim­its the fall­out on your other ac­counts such as those of on­line bank­ing.

Web mail providers such as Gmail read your mes­sages to dis­play ‘rel­e­vant’ ad­ver­tise­ments. This is creepy, even if it is soft­ware-driven.

Email clients let you read and com­pose mes­sages off­line. A work­ing Net con­nec­tion is not re­quired. Web mail re­quires you to log in first.

Web mail providers such as Gmail au­to­mat­i­cally tell your con­tacts whether you are on­line or if your cam­era is on. Email clients do not do this.

Mod­ern Web browsers take many lib­er­ties with­out ask­ing. Chrome, by de­fault, lis­tens to your mi­cro­phone and up­loads con­ver­sa­tions to Google servers (for your con­ve­nience of course). Email clients are not like that. Search­ing archived mes­sages is ex­tremely pow­er­ful on desk­top mail clients. There is no pag­ing of the re­sults. When pop­u­lar Web mail providers of­fer free POP ac­cess, why suf­fer the slow­ness of the Web?

POP or IMAP ac­cess to email

Email clients use two pro­to­cols, POP and IMAP, to re­ceive mail. POP is ideal if you want to down­load and delete mail. IMAP is best if you need ac­cess on mul­ti­ple de­vices or at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. POP is more preva­lent than IMAP.

For off­line stor­age, POP is the best. Pop­u­lar Web mail providers pro­vide both POP and IMAP ac­cess. Be­fore you can use an email client, you will have to log in to your Web mail provider in a browser, check the set­tings and ac­ti­vate POP/IMAP ac­cess for incoming mail. Email clients use the SMTP pro­to­col for out­go­ing mail. In Thun­der­bird/ SeaMon­key, you may have to add SMTP server set­tings separately for each email ac­count.

If you have lots of email al­ready on­line, then it may not be pos­si­ble to make your email client create an off­line copy in one go. Each time you choose to re­ceive mes­sages, the mail client will down­load a few hun­dred of your old mes­sages. Af­ter it has down­loaded all your old archived mes­sages, the mail client will then set­tle down to down­load­ing only your new­est mes­sages.

The set­tings for some pop­u­lar Web mail ser­vices are as fol­lows:

Hot­mail/Live/Out­look

• POP: pop-mail.out­look.com

• SMTP: smtp-mail.out­look.com

Gmail

• POP: pop.gmail.com

• SMTP: smtp.gmail.com

Ya­hoo

• POP: pop.mail.ya­hoo.com

• SMTP: smtp.mail.ya­hoo.com

The fol­low­ing set­tings are common for them:

POP

• Con­nec­tion se­cu­rity/En­cryp­tion method: SSL

• Port: 995

SMTP

• Con­nec­tion se­cu­rity/En­cryp­tion method: SSL/TLS/ STARTTLS

• Port: 465/587

Some ISPs and host­ing providers pro­vide un­en­crypted mail ac­cess. Here, the con­nec­tion se­cu­rity method will be ‘None’, and the ports are set to 110 for POP and 25 for SMTP. How­ever, please be aware that most ISPs block Port 25, and many mail servers block mail orig­i­nat­ing from that port.

Thun­der­bird and SeaMon­key

Pop­u­lar email clients to­day are Mi­crosoft Out­look and Mozilla Thun­der­bird, the lat­ter be­ing the ob­vi­ous FOSS op­tion. Like the browser Fire­fox, Thun­der­bird is mod­ern soft­ware and sup­ports many ex­ten­sions or add-ons. Un­like Out­look (which uses Mi­crosoft Word as the HTML for­mat­ting en­gine), Thun­der­bird has bet­ter CSS sup­port as it ren­ders HTML mes­sages us­ing the Gecko en­gine (like the Fire­fox browser).

The SeaMon­key In­ter­net suite bun­dles both the Fire­fox browser and Thun­der­bird mail clients, in addition to an IRC client and a Web page de­signer. SeaMon­key is based on the phi­los­o­phy of the old NetS­cape In­ter­net Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Suite, in which the browser was known as Nets­cape Nav­i­ga­tor and the mail client was known as Nets­cape Com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Be­cause of cer­tain trade­mark ob­jec­tions with Mozilla, some GNU/Linux dis­tri­bu­tions were bundling Fire­fox and Thun­der­bird as IceWeasel and IceDove. SeaMon­key be­came IceApe. This was re­solved in 2016.

If you have al­ready opened the SeaMon­key browser, then the SeaMon­key mail client can be opened in a flash, and the re­verse is also true. This is very use­ful be­cause web­site links in the SeaMon­key mails are opened in the SeaMon­key browser. Fire­fox is a sep­a­rate ap­pli­ca­tion from Thun­der­bird and does not have the same ad­van­tage. For this rea­son, I use SeaMon­key in­stead of Thun­der­bird. SeaMon­key is avail­able at https://www.seamon­key-pro­ject.org/.

By de­fault, SeaMon­key looks like Fire­fox or Thun­der­bird. I pre­fer to change its ap­pear­ance us­ing the Mod­ern theme, as it makes it look like the old Nets­cape 6, and also be­cause I need the browser to look dif­fer­ent from reg­u­lar Fire­fox. To en­able this theme, go to Tools » Add-Ons » Ap­pear­ance » Seamon­key Mod­ern.

Even on a desk­top screen, space may be at a pre­mium. Cur­rently, Thun­der­bird and SeaMon­key do not pro­vide an easy way to cus­tomise the date col­umns. I use this trick in the launcher com­mand to fix it.

ex­port LC_TIME=en_DK.UTF-8 && seamon­key -mail

Email providers to­day do a good job of fil­ter­ing junk mail. You can do a bet­ter job with your own mail fil­ters (Tools » Mes­sage Fil­ters). You can choose to move/delete mes­sages based on the oc­cur­rences of cer­tain words in the From, To or Sub­ject head­ers of the email.

Apart from email, Thun­der­bird can also dis­play con­tent from RSS feeds (as shown in Fig­ure 4) and Usenet fo­rums (as shown in Fig­ure 5).

Usenet news­groups pre­date the World Wide Web. They are like an on­line dis­cus­sion fo­rum or­gan­ised into sev­eral hi­er­ar­chi­cal groups. Fo­rum par­tic­i­pants post mes­sages in the form of an email addressed to a news­group (say comp. lang.javascript), and the NNTP client threads the dis­cus­sions based on the sub­ject line (Google Groups is a Web based in­ter­face into the world of Usenet).

SeaMon­key ChatZilla

Apart from the Fire­fox-based browser and the Thun­der­bird­based email client, SeaMon­key also bun­dles an IRC chat client. IRC is yet an­other In­ter­net-based com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­col that does not use the World Wide Web. It is the pre­ferred medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for hack­ers. Here is a link for starters: irc://chat.freen­ode.net/.

Email backup

When you store email off­line, the bur­den of do­ing reg­u­lar back­ups falls on you. You also need to en­sure that your com­puter is not vul­ner­a­ble to mal­ware such as email viruses. Web mail providers do a good job of elim­i­nat­ing email-borne mal­ware, but mal­ware can still ar­rive from other sources. Win­dows com­put­ers are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to mal­ware spread by USB drives and browser tool­bars and ex­ten­sions. In Win­dows, sim­ply cre­at­ing a di­rec­tory named ‘au­torun.inf’ at the root level stops most USB drive in­fec­tions.

SeaMon­key stores all its data (email mes­sages and ac­counts, RSS feeds, web­site user names/ pass­words/ pref­er­ences, etc,) in the ~/.mozilla/Seamon­key di­rec­tory. For backup, just zip this di­rec­tory reg­u­larly. If you move to a new GNU/Linux sys­tem, re­store the backed-up di­rec­tory to your new ~/.mozilla di­rec­tory.

Fig­ure 3: Con­fig­ure your own mail fil­ters

Fig­ure 2: Chang­ing the for­mat of the date col­umns re­quires a hack

Fig­ure 1: Live off the grid with no mail on­line. To get this Gmail note, you will have to empty the In­box and Trash, and also delete all archived mes­sages.

Fig­ure 4: Thun­der­bird is also an RSS feed reader

Fig­ure 5: A news­group user sends an email mes­sage

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