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spicebirdSpicebird is an open source ‘collaboration application’ for Windows and Linux. It is based on Mozilla’s Thunderbird, but integrates additional key functions like calendar, tasks, and chat. The Home tab, which shows your agenda, feeds, and unread mail at a glance, currently is the most interesting feature of Spicebird.

Varun recently introduced you to this versatile program Spicebird - An Email Client That Integrates A Calendar, Chat & iGoogle Spicebird - An Email Client That Integrates A Calendar, Chat & iGoogle Read More and provided a rough overview of its main features. I have put Spicebird under further scrutiny to reveal some of its less obvious features, as well as some of its bugs and possible fixes. In my summary I tie it all together and provide an outlook of what to expect from future releases.

Home Tab: Adding Google Gadgets

Home, sweet home. This is where all the threads are pulled together. At first this tab is empty and you are free to customize it, much like your iGoogle page. However, there are some pitfalls.

Click > Add Applets to start filling the Home tab. You can add multiple Mail Folder Views and set them to show unread mails or items of a recent time period. Likewise, you can add all or specific calendars.

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One thing that caused me trouble was adding Google Gadgets (listed as Google Applet). Some gadgets are not compatible; others will install, but are useless because the template doesn’t load; yet others are not usable because they load webpages within the applet window, rather than launching your default browser. It is trial and error to find out which ones will work.

Fortunately, there are some great compatible gadgets, like calculators or converters. Finally, you might have to restart Spicebird to see the gadgets working.

Now let’s look at the tabs that will feed your Home tab.

Mail Tab: Importing Mail Accounts

The Mail tab is a reminder that Spicebird is based on Mozilla Thunderbird. It essentially is the same.

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You can import existing mail accounts, address books, settings, and/or filters from Thunderbird, Outlook, Communicator 4.x, and Eudora. I had some trouble importing mail from Thunderbird. Now, since Spicebird and Thunderbird are so similar, you can manually copy the mail folders from one profile to the other. This simple fix worked very well for me.

However, please don’t try this with extensions. Although Spicebird does support them, sadly many extensions don’t seem to be compatible. It’s another case of trial and error.

Contacts Tab: Setting Up Chat Clients

The Contacts management is solid and works just like the Address Book you know from Thunderbird.

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However, not all features of Spicebird are perfectly intuitive. The chat is one of them. Rather than living in its own tab, it is hidden in the Contacts tab, which is logical – but not obvious.

To set up your chat accounts, switch to the Contacts tab, then click > File > New > Chat Account… In the window that opens, > Select Protocol from the drop-down menu, enter your > Account name, and click > OK.

And this is where it gets really confusing. You only set up the protocol and your account name. Now you have to enable the new chat account and actually log in. In the Contacts sidebar find the menu below your Address Books. Click > Accounts, pick one of your accounts you just added, and click > Enable Account. You might have to restart Spicebird at this point to see your friends list. Your online status can be edited in the status bar in the bottom left.

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With the chat I also encountered a major bug. I had some (spam) friendship requests waiting for me in my Yahoo! chat account. I denied them. And when I rebooted, they were back again. Every time. For some reason Yahoo! and Spicebird do not communicate well.

Calendar & Tasks Tabs: Missing Features

One thing that might be confusing at first is that the menu bar is different in each tab. It carries buttons and options useful only for the respective tab. This is smart behavior, but may leave you irritated for a moment if you are used to Thunderbird.

Per default, the calendar supports iCalendar, CalDAV and WCAP network calendars. I set up Google Calendar using ICS. Viewing the calendar is possible, however, it is ‘read only’. Unfortunately, the extension that enables syncing with Google Calendar in Thunderbird is not compatible with Spicebird.

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The Tasks tab is pretty self-explanatory. Unfortunately, it seems that tasks that you mark as completed disappear instantly. This is rather annoying. In Thunderbird, the respective task remains in the list, but is crossed out.

There are indeed a few bugs to be ironed out. Here is a list of the major complaints I have:

  • Importing multiple inboxes from Thunderbird is unreliable.
  • Often, simple changes only become visible after a restart.
  • Many Google Gadgets are not compatible / working.
  • It’s unclear which Thunderbird extensions are supported.
  • Chat is complicated and not intuitive to set up.
  • Communication between chat clients and Spicebird is faulty.
  • Google Calendar sync is not supported.
  • Tasks disappear instantly when marked as completed.

Overall I fail to see where Spicebird comes in as a true collaboration tool. However, the Roadmap has features covered that will significantly improve this aspect. Future releases are envisioned to provide a more meaningful address book, multiple backends for tasks management, more views for calendar and tasks, integration with a CMS (Drupal), document management, and most importantly a Microsoft Exchange connector. That’s a mouthful and I hope they won’t forget to fix the bugs.

To wrap it up, I find that the current release of Spicebird has introduced some very useful features, most notably the Home tab. It is only a few bug fixes short of drawing level with an extended Thunderbird, although not yet good enough to replace it. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see the promised features, which will really make Spicebird a useful replacement for Outlook and a lot more.

What do you think? Could you imagine switching to Spicebird now or in the new future?

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