Recently, one of my friends who runs an education-related blog asked whether it’s possible to use his email client to auto-respond and schedule emails. He uses Mozilla Thunderbird – one of the most well known desktop email clients available today. It’s cross-platform, full featured, and free; and it would make a good candidate to show us how far a desktop client can go.
Note: The following examples were done using the Mac version of Thunderbird, but they are also applicable to the Windows version, albeit with a slightly different interface.
Setting Up An Auto-Response Filter
Why would anyone want to set up an auto response filter? With a little creativity, you could think of many uses for an auto-responder. Here are a few examples that crossed my mind:
- To answer repeated questions from your customers, you could set several specific auto-responders for several different FAQ points
- To notify your friends that you will be unreachable during your holiday break
- To confirm that you’ve received your visitors’ messages and will reply to them as soon as possible.
The first step how to set up Mozilla Thunderbird with an auto-response filter is to create a message template.
- To do so, go to the “File – New – Message” menu or use the shortcut key combination Ctrl + N (Windows) / Command + N (Mac).
- Compose the message as if you are writing another ordinary email, set the topic and content according to what kind of response you want to send.
- Then save the message as a template by going to the “File – Save As – Template” menu.
- Repeat the process for other templates. Create as many templates as you need.
The second step is to set up the filtering system.
- Go to the “Tools – Message Filters” menu.
- A “Message Filters” window will open. Click the “New” button to create a new filter.
- Then set some rules that will trigger the auto-responder. The first pane is the place to add some rules. You can add and delete as many rules as needed using the “+” and “–” (plus and minus) button respectively. Set it to filter specific strings in the Subject and To fields.
- The lower pane is the place to set what action(s) should be performed if the above rules are met. For an auto-response filter, the most obvious action would be to reply to the filtered message using the pre-configured template. Choose “Reply With Template” and pick the template that you want to use.
- Don’t forget to set the “Apply filter when:” drop down list to tell Thunderbird when it should run the auto-responder.
- Click the “OK” button after you finish setting up the filter.
If you want to create other kinds of filters, here is the list of all the available filter rules that you can use. For example, use the “Date – After” and “Date – before” to set up a vacation mail. Set the start date to be the first day of your vacation and the end date to be the day you are coming back to the office.
And also the available actions.
Creating A Scheduled Email
Another unique feature that you can enable in Thunderbird is creating scheduled emails. It means that you can create emails that will be sent on a specific time in the future. This feature would be really useful to send reminders, either to yourself, your friends, or to groups of people.
To enable this feature, we will need help from an add-on called Send Later.
- Download the “.xpi” file to your hard drive and use the add-ons manager to install it.
- To open the add-ons manager, go to the “Tools – Add-ons” menu.
- In the add-ons window, choose “Extensions” and click “Install“.
- Locate the add-on, select it and finally click “Open” to install it.
- You need to go back to the add-ons window which will ask you to restart Thunderbird to complete the installation.
- After restarting Thunderbird, create a new message. This one will be the one that you will send using the scheduled email feature. Then go to the “File ” menu and you will see a new sub-menu there: “Send Later“.
- Click the “Send Later” menu and a small option window will slide out from the message. This window is the place where you can specify the exact time to send the message. Click the “Send Later at specified time” button to schedule the message to be sent at the time that you’ve set before. You can also use the quick buttons to send the message “15 mins later“, “30 mins later“, or “2 hours later“.
The two examples above show us that you can use a desktop email client beyond the realm of reading and replying to emails. If you know of other creative uses of Thunderbird, please share them using the comments section below.