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Spicebird: A Modern Thunderbird Remix

Spicebird Installation and Setup

  • August 5, 2010
  • By Joe Brockmeier

Take Thunderbird, mix liberally with calendaring, instant messaging, and release it on Linux and Windows. What do you get? Spicebird, a collaboration client that remixes Thunderbird to bring the creaking mail client up to date for today's users.

Spicebird has been in the works for some time, but the 0.8 release is finally ready for a wider audience. To see if it's ready for everyday use, I downloaded Spicebird 0.8 a week ago and started testing.

Spicebird Setup and Use

Spicebird requires very little setup on Linux. Just grab the tarball, uncompress it, and run spicebird. That's really all there is to it. Since Spicebird is based on Thunderbird 3.x, you'll see no difference in setting up mail here. Like Thunderbird, Spicebird is great at setting up "standard" email accounts like Gmail — plug in your email address and password and it'll likely figure out your account details (POP3 vs. IMAP, SSL or not, etc.) on its own.

But it doesn't handle non-standard accounts terribly well — but providing the details manually still works fine. After a little bit-twiddling I had the zonker.net mail ready to go.

If you've used Thunderbird mail, you know what to expect. If not, Spicebird (and Thunderbird) are solid mailers that are easy to use. I called Thunderbird "creaky" and I stick by that. These days I do most of my mail in Gmail's Webmail interface. Aside from some annoyances at the limitations of Webmail (specifically around windowing and multiple messages) I prefer the Gmail interface to any desktop mail client I've used. If you prefer a desktop client to Webmail, though, the bird is your friend for email.

Spicebird differs from Thunderbird in that it has calendaring integrated, and offers instant messaging/IRC and a home tab with widgets.

The home tab offers a few nifty widgets like a two timezone Date & Time widget and a quick view for the inbox that can be configured to display new messages or messages older than X days, etc. Nothing super-compelling, but good demos of what can be done with the Home tab.

An interesting feature of the Home tab is that you can also embed Google widgets that you'd usually use with the iGoogle home page. So, for instance, I can embed the Google Reader gadget to see what the top new items are on my feeds.

Integrating calendaring is something that Thunderbird should have done long, long ago. The Lightning and Sunbird projects, which is what Spicebird is basing its calendaring on, should be integrated into the Thunderbird mailer by default rather than leaving it to users to grab the extension. What's truly frustrating is that the Lightning extension development sometimes moves at a different pace than the Thunderbird development, meaning that you can't run the most recent releases of Thunderbird with the most recent Lightning extension.

Like the Lightning extension, Spicebird lets you use remote calendars with CalDAV, and import/export calendaring. It's a pretty good calendar, but falls down a bit when it comes to synchronizing appointments with corporate groupware. Spicebird is a decent solution for anybody who's not working in a corporate environment, but if calendaring with something like Exchange or Groupwise is a factor, you'll be working around Spicebird's limitations a bit.

Chat

As a Linux guy, I have a love-hate relationship with programs that try to unify two or more functions. In the *nix world, the most elegant applications and utilities are those that do one thing and do them well. Thus, it must be that GNU Emacs is the least Unixy program in existence. But I digress. It's convenient to have an application or suite that combines tasks that are similar in nature. Communications, for example. But combo-clients usually fall down when you stack up features.

Spicebird integrates instant messaging and IRC with email, but right now fails mightily when it comes down to making it intuitive or matching up with other instant messaging applications for Linux like Pidgin.

How do you set up a new chat account? This should be immediately obvious in any application that actually professes to be for instant messaging, but it is not.

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