Thursday, November 17, 2011


Upgrading to Thunderbird 3.1.15 and Kubuntu 10.10

I recently upgraded Kubuntu on my computer, from 9.10 to 10.04, then to 10.10. One consequence of those changes was that the version of Thunderbird (with Lightning) evolved from 2.x to 3.1.15.

The first issue was encountered in the "Migration Assistant" of all places. The Migration Assistant is a wizard that highlights a couple of former features that are now delegated to extensions (plugins, add-ons) and provides links to install them. However, the links only start a download of the xpi, they do not --nor does some other feature of the wizard -- allow one to complete the installation immediately. Meanwhile, the little "installing" icon continues to rotate as if something were still being done; one can should proceed to "Next" once the download has completed. To complete the installation, one simply follows Tools>Add Ons from the menubar, indicates the downloaded xpi, and confirms. This is where the second glitch showed up: the version download following the link in the wizard does not work with this version of Thunderbird! Not entirely surprising, since I've only updated to a version of Thunderbird that is over a year old, but the link was to the current version of the extension, no longer compatible with my older application. But I was not able to find a compatible version of the extension, so presumably I've lost a feature. I restarted Thunderbird and checked my inbox.

I was immediately annoyed by one evolution: the opening of messages in tabs instead of new windows and, with that, no longer being able to close a message by hitting Escape. Evidently, the user interface is evolving to suit tablet and phone users who do everything with just one finger rather than eight fingers roaming over a full keyboard. The way to change that to suit my preferences was:
  • Navigate to : Edit > Preferences>Advanced> Reading & Display
  • Choose the option: "Open messages in: a new message window" and, while I was at it, tick "Close message window on delete." Unlike some mail clients, deleting a message does not automatically open the next unread message but goes back to the list of messages, and I'm grateful for that.
The next annoyance was trickier to resolve; I won't say how long it took me, since I'm supposed to be a software engineer, but the advice I tried, found all over the Internet, did not work for me. The situation is probably aggravated by the particular context of my computer, arrived at by successive upgrades rather than a clean install. Also, advice accumulates and rarely disappears when it is obsolete; it isn't always easy to guess whether it still is useful or not. The problem was this: clicking on links in messages launched another browser even though Firefox was already running. There doesn't seem to be a setting for this in Thunderbird, so I guessed it was a "preferred browser" setting I'd lost in the Kubuntu upgrade process. What I did:
  1. Change default browser in KDE system settings. Configuration > Configuration of the system >Workspace Appearance and Configuration: Default applications. Change web browser to firefox. Just in case, close everything and reboot. Test: fail, the other browser launched.
  2. Edit user.js file, as seen a couple of places on the web, adding user_pref("", "/usr/bin/firefox"); equivalent for https and ftp. I'll skip the details on this, because directly editing the files is not the best way to do it. It is especially not the best way on a system with an evolved (updated through version changes) machine like mine. There have been changes to directory names and organization so it is tricky to even find the right user.js to edit. By the way, on one forum I noticed a comment and query about Thunderbird installing two hidden directories, one called "~/.thunderbird" and one called "~/.mozilla-thunderbird". These are the directories where all the personal settings, connection settings, and mail archives are kept. The redundancy is only apparent, not quite true, and is done to ensure compatibility if one switches from a Debian-Ubuntu Thunderbird package to a (newer) Mozilla Messenger installation; one is just a symbolic link to the other (an alias path, if you see what I mean). The user.js (and prefs.js) have been moved from a sub-directory of .thunderbird (called something.default) to a sub-directory of .thunderbird/Profiles (called somethingelse.default), but the older files are not automatically deleted so one can -- following outdated advice -- edit the wrong user.js (as I first did). An example of this : a recommendation from 2007 which doesn't cite versions at all and adds a shell script to the chain.
  3. Do (2.) the right way (described in French following a link from a French Ubuntu forum). For this, one launches Edit > Preferences>Advanced>General (like for the preference change described above, except the General tab rather than Reading & Display). A click on the "Config editor..." button, and on the warning panel, brings up the list of all the settings ("about:config"). It is here, in this list, that one adds the key-value pairs "":"/usr/bin/firefox", "":"/usr/bin/firefox", "":"/usr/bin/firefox". Before doing so, one might check that that is the correct path to Firefox. One can either navigate there with Dolphin or open a terminal (Ctrl-alt-t) and command "which firefox". However, this was not sufficient either, and I found out why by playing around. Incidentally, insertions, resets, and so on are initiated via right-click to open a context menu. Conclusion: fail. Skip this, too.
  4. As in (3.), navigate to and launch the Config editor. Find the lines with "network.protocol-handler.warn-external.http" and toggle it to "true". (This is following advice [fr] for Windows, not Linux, just in case it should have been repeated but wasn't). What this does is set a trigger for a pop-up when one clicks on a link, the pop-up 'warns' what action is about to be executed and give one a choice of accepting, stopping, or choosing an alternative action. It was here that I discovered that the default action was "sensible-browser" even though I had set "firefox" as my preference. Well, the good news is that I (one) could at this point choose firefox as the alternative action and tick the box "always use this option" (or words to that effect) and that was that. I'll do the same for ftp and https when I come across links of those sorts. It does remember and doesn't pop up the warning again, but I don't know where it writes the 'firefox' preference, I don't find it in the user.js or prefs.js files.
I wasn't familiar with 'sensible-browser' and investigated what that does and how it works. I found out why it wasn't working correctly, too, but that will be another note.

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