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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.

spicebird

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?

  1. jhpot
    September 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Good points, Tina. I live in a digital bubble of a city so I sometimes
    forget there isn't free wifi everywhere.

  2. Tina
    September 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Difference is that Chrome is a browser and to access your mail you need internet.

    Some people (like me) don't want webmail and there are many different reasons. First of all you can access all your mail even if you are not online. For example when I'm traveling, which I do a lot recently, I can download new mail and read it later when I no longer have internet, like in the car or on the train. Likewise, I can quickly look up booking confirmations without internet. Then some people just don't want to trust Google with their life, i.e. have everything with Google.

    However, it's a good alternative if neither of the above is a concern.

  3. jhpot
    September 29, 2010 at 12:59 am

    I have this, but mine is called "Google Chrome" and I use iGoogle, Gmail, Remember The Milk and Google Calendar in my tabs.

    • Tina
      September 29, 2010 at 7:56 am

      Difference is that Chrome is a browser and to access your mail you need internet.

      Some people (like me) don't want webmail and there are many different reasons. First of all you can access all your mail even if you are not online. For example when I'm traveling, which I do a lot recently, I can download new mail and read it later when I no longer have internet, like in the car or on the train. Likewise, I can quickly look up booking confirmations without internet. Then some people just don't want to trust Google with their life, i.e. have everything with Google.

      However, it's a good alternative if neither of the above is a concern.

      • jhpot
        September 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

        Good points, Tina. I live in a digital bubble of a city so I sometimes
        forget there isn't free wifi everywhere.

  4. Lisa
    September 29, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I played around with Spicebird, but don't see how it improves on Thunderbird 3.1 with the Lightning extension installed. The Smart Folder view of the inbox failed to merge my two email accounts. Although the Home tab is interesting, I don't really see how it adds much functionality. (If I need to know if I had unread mail, why would I not just look at my inbox?) The fact that contacts and calendar appear in tabs is already present in TB 3.1 and the Google Provider for TB makes syncing possible in TB, but this extension isn't compatible with Spicebird. Also, the number of chat clients seems pretty limited. Facebook and Google are my big chat accounts and neither seems supported on Spicebird.

    Overall, nothing seemed so dramatically improved as to make me want to switch from TB. Uninstalled.

  5. Lisa
    September 28, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I played around with Spicebird, but don't see how it improves on Thunderbird 3.1 with the Lightning extension installed. The Smart Folder view of the inbox failed to merge my two email accounts. Although the Home tab is interesting, I don't really see how it adds much functionality. (If I need to know if I had unread mail, why would I not just look at my inbox?) The fact that contacts and calendar appear in tabs is already present in TB 3.1 and the Google Provider for TB makes syncing possible in TB, but this extension isn't compatible with Spicebird. Also, the number of chat clients seems pretty limited. Facebook and Google are my big chat accounts and neither seems supported on Spicebird.

    Overall, nothing seemed so dramatically improved as to make me want to switch from TB. Uninstalled.

  6. Strodtbeck
    September 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    I've been watching Spicebird for a while. . . testing it here and there. It's got some great ideas but the development always seemed slow. I'm sure some of that is due to relying on Thunderbird. . . but in the end I just uploaded everything to the cloud. . .

    Nice thorough article!

  7. Strodtbeck
    September 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I've been watching Spicebird for a while. . . testing it here and there. It's got some great ideas but the development always seemed slow. I'm sure some of that is due to relying on Thunderbird. . . but in the end I just uploaded everything to the cloud. . .

    Nice thorough article!

    • Tina
      September 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

      Thanks a lot for the feedback!

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