5 Extensions to Make Thunderbird Gmail-Friendly

David Pierce
Jun 4, 2009
Updated • Jul 25, 2014
Email, Thunderbird

I've spent the last several months trying to figure out, once and for all, my perfect email system. All my email is in Gmail, but there were certain things I didn't love about using Gmail – the offline features are hit-or-miss, there's no reading pane, and a few notably missing keyboard shortcuts caused me some problems.

Other than that, though, Gmail had a ton to offer – integration with my Google Calendar, the ability to send and receive emails from a number of different accounts, and ubiquitous access to my updated email inbox from any computer.

My ultimate solution has been not one or the other, desktop or web-based, but both. Gmail is still my hub for email, but when I'm at my own computer, I'm in Thunderbird, Mozilla's fantastic and free desktop email client. Thanks to five great add-ons, Thunderbird is able to capture almost all of the features of of Web-based Gmail, and add a couple of capabilities of its own.

Lightning/Provider for Google Calendar

One of the great things about Gmail is that, through Gmail Labs, you can put your calendar right in the sidebar next to your email. Adding and viewing calendar events is easy, and Gmail even tries to guess when someone suggests an event for you by email, and lets you put it automatically in your calendar.

All this can be replicated, and in my opinion improved, by using a couple great Thunderbird add-ons. The first is Lightning, which adds a calendar into Thunderbird, making it more of a personal information manager than just an email client. Then, by installing Provider for Google Calendar, you'll be able to sync your Lightning calendar back and forth with Google Calendar. That way, it's always available online, but looks and feels just like a desktop calendar within Thunderbird.


Zindus is basically just like Lightning, but for your Google contacts. Zindus automatically syncs your Google contacts with your Thunderbird contacts, and any added or edited contacts are automatically synced to both.

Zindus is great, because it both keeps a backup of your contacts online and off, and because it means you've always got your contacts available to you in your application of choice.


One of the fantastic things about Gmail is how easy it is to plow through your inbox – tons of great keyboard shortcuts and useful buttons let you deal with every email quickly and easily. Nostalgy, a favorite Thunderbird add-on of mine, adds much of the same to Gmail.

Using a few choice keyboard shortcuts, Nostalgy lets you move items between folders, go to folders, show and hide messages and folders, and even search through your email. You can create your own rules and scripts, to be executed by triggers in the email itself, or by a given keystroke. With Nostalgy, you can go through your Thunderbird inbox every bit as fast as in Gmail.


GmailUI is much like Nostalgy, in that it adds some of what makes Gmail so great into Thunderbird – the navigation shortcuts. For instance, GmailUI makes it easy to archive email in a single keystroke – which is notably missing in the normal Thunderbird interface.

GmailUI also creates shortcuts to move between messages, search in one click, and even improve Thunderbird's ability to search using things like "to:David Pierce" to find what you're looking for even faster.

Signature Switch

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of my favorite things about Gmail is that it handles multiple identities well – I can use personal, work, and blogging email seamlessly all within Gmail. Using a Thunderbird extension called Signature Switch, and a little known feature within Thunderbird itself, Thunderbird does the multiple identity thing even better.

First, go to "Tools","Account Settings" within Thunderbird. On the right side of that window, click "Manage Identities." There you can add as many other emails as you want – Thunderbird lets you send emails from a number of different addresses, all within the same account.

The Signature Switch extension lets you create a number of different signatures for your emails, and then insert whichever one you want into your emails. It's a simple extension, but actually handles multiple signatures for multiple addresses better than Gmail itself.

There's something special about a desktop email application for me – I like the reading pane, I like the look and feel of the apps. The ubiquity of Web email, though, can't be ignored. Using these extensions, I get the best of both worlds – all the goodness of Gmail in Thunderbird, and all my email and data is up-to-date in Gmail when I'm away from my computer.

What do you use for email? Thunderbird, Gmail, something else?


Tutorials & Tips

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  1. JMGG said on January 19, 2012 at 8:25 am

    You said that Outlook isn’t your main email client, so which is your main one?

    1. BalaC said on January 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

      I think its thunderbird

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

      It is Mozilla Thunderbird.

  2. Salaam said on September 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Awesome! This actually solved my problem… what a stupid bug.

  3. Claud said on December 19, 2012 at 2:08 am

    If this is the same bug that I’ve encountered, there may be another fix: (1) hover over open Outlook item in Taskbar, cursor up to hover over Outlook window item, and right-click; (2) this should give you Restore / Move / Size / Minimize / Maximize — choose Move or Size; (3) use your cursor keys, going arbitrarily N/S/E/W, to try to move or size the Outlook window back into view. Basically, the app behaves as though it were open in a 0x0 window, or at a location that’s offscreen, and this will frequently work to resize and/or move the window. Don’t forget to close while resized/moved, so that Outlook remembers the size/position for next time.

    1. Lynda said on February 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      THANK YOU Claude!!! I could get the main window to launch but could not get any other message window to show on the desktop. You are my hero!!!!

    2. Chad said on November 20, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Solved my issue! 6 years later and this is still problem…

    3. Ivan X said on January 21, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Fantastic. Thank you. Size did the trick.

  4. Andrew said on October 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

    This solved my Outlook problem, too. Thank you. :)

  5. Charles said on December 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you so much, this started happening to me today and was causing big problems. You are a life saver, I hope I can help you in some way some day.

  6. garth said on November 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    You are a god – thank you!

  7. Faisal said on February 9, 2015 at 10:09 am

    thanks a lot…. work like charm.. :-)

  8. Simon said on March 24, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Yah…thanks Claude. I’ve been having the same problem and tried all the suggestions…your solution was the answer. It had resized itself to a 0/0 box. Cheers

  9. Olu said on April 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent post. This had me baffled even trying to accurately describe the problem. This fixed it for me.
    Thank you

  10. Coenig said on July 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thanks a lot for the article. Don’t know why it happenend, don’t know how it got fixed, but it was really annoying and now it works :-)

  11. Fali said on January 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks a lot. I was facing this issue from past 3 week. I tried everything but no resolution. The issue was happening intermittently and mainly when I was changing the display of screen ( as i use 2 monitors). The only option i had was to do system restore. But thanks to you.

    1. MIki said on January 10, 2019 at 11:54 am

      I’ve been tried to sole this problem for 12hours. Your comment about changing the display of screen helped me a lot!! Thanks!!

  12. Christina said on January 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you…don’t know why this happened but your instructions helped me fix it. Running Windows 10 and office pro 2007

  13. Oz said on July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Great tip! Thanks!

  14. Tracy said on September 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Worked for me, too – thank you!!!

  15. shawn said on September 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    It’s Worked for me, too
    thank you very much!

  16. Jari said on October 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I had a similar issue with Outlook 2013 on Windows 10 and this helped me to fix it. Thank you very much!

  17. Michel H said on November 30, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you so much. Solved!
    Considering you published this in 2012, incredible not been debugged by Microsoft.
    Thank you again. M

  18. Ziad Bitar said on January 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    This problem was faced by only one user logging to TS 2008 r2 using outlook 2010.The issue was resolved.


  19. Anonymous said on February 15, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Great tip. Thank you!!!! If it helps, I had to use the Control Key and the arrow keys at the same time to bring my window back into view. Worked like a charm.

  20. Rochelle said on March 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, this worked !!!!

  21. anom1234 said on May 20, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Man, you are a fucking god. Thanks a lot, what an annoying bug!!

  22. JC said on October 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Awesome, this post solved the issue. Many thanks!

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