Outlook/Exchange Functionality With Thunderbird/Gmail

Posted by Garth on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I've been geeking out a bit lately, trying to make my laptop a little more usable and streamlined. Spent a little time tweaking my music collection which I may detail in another post. But this one's about email, calendaring and contacts.

Since losing my phone I've been jonesing for a bit of fat client email action and some sort of calendaring. Yesterday I set up Thunderbird to give it a shot since I'm on an anti-MS kick right now and for the foreseeable future. Set it up, following Google's very precise and very useful instructions, then once I was all done I realized that it had no calendaring functionality. This was about to be a deal breaker for me, and I started researching how to sync Outlook calendar with Google calendar. I already knew that OggSync existed, but wanted to see if anything new had come about since I last did research. Well, turns out Google has released their own Outlook calendar sync (called Google Calendar Sync), which is nice (I much prefer native Googleware to 3rd party apps). This also brought up the issue of contacts. Doing some research there turned up some interesting information that Google recently released a Contacts Data API. This led me to believe that there might be hope after all. However before I went down the Outlook Contacts <-> Google Contacts road, at the behest of a friend (who talks like that?), I took another look at Thunderbird to see if there were add-ons that could help the cause. So, after a bit of research and downloading, here's how you make Thunderbird purr like Outlook. Well, I guess purr isn't really the right word cuz Outlook tends to clunk... but you get the idea.

  1. Install Thunderbird and configure it according to Google's instructions here.
  2. Download and install Lightning, Thunderbird's calendaring add-on.
  3. Download and install the Provider for Google Calendar.
  4. Create a new calendar in Thunderbird:
    a. Click the Calendar button in the lower left corner of the Thunderbird screen.
    b. Click Calendar > New Calendar.
    c. Click On the Network > Next.
    d. Open your Google Calendar.
    e. Click Settings > Calendar > {Select the calendar you want to add to Thunderbird}.
    f. Scroll down until you see Private Address.
    g. Right-click the iCal button () and select Copy Link Location (Firefox) or Copy Shortcut (Internet Explorer).
    h. Flip back to Thunderbird and the Create New Calendar dialog box. Under Format select Google Calendar, and paste the copied URL into the Location field. Click Next.
    i. Give the calendar a name, select a color for new entries and decide whether or not to enable Alarms (these options can all be changed after the fact). Click Next.
    j. Enter your Gmail email address and password.
Voila. You now have your Thunderbird calendar sync'ing with your Gmail calendar. One more thing I did was to change the calendar refresh period from 30 mins to 10 mins (Tools > Options > Lightning > General > Refresh Settings). Another thing to check is the timezones. Make sure that both Thunderbird and Google Calendar are set to the same timezone, or your meeting times will appear off in one of them (this happened to me since my Google Calendar was still set to Toronto time).

Now to configure your contacts:
  1. Download and install Zindus.
  2. In Thunderbird, click Tools > Zindus.
  3. Under the Server Settings tab, select Google as your server type and enter your Gmail address and password. Click Test Connection to Server and make sure everything's correct.
  4. Under the Preferences tab, make sure that Auto Sync is enabled and select Personal Address Book to sync your Google contacts with, then click Sync Now.
Voila! Your Gmail contacts are now sync'ed with Thunderbird and should remain so in the future.

I suppose if you're a tasks user there may be some way to sync those as well, but I've had enough bad experiences with Outlook tasks over the years that I'm not too keen on them right now.

The other area this may be weak is when it comes to device synchronization. But since I no longer have a useful device to synchronize this isn't a concern for me. Perhaps in the future if I get another WinMo or other smartphone device I'll figure out how to add it to the mix.


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