New feature: Ability to switch between mail and calendar functionality in Thunderbird

Hi guys,
first of all thanks for the massive feedback on our 0.5 release here on the blog, in the forums, newsgroups and on various websites like mozillazine or slashdot. We really appreciate every feedback that we get.

But today I don’t want to talk about the past, but about what’s coming next. A lot of thought has gone into improving the ease-of-use of our application. In the past people have voiced various issues that should be addressed:

  • If you had a long folder-list, the Lightning agenda would cut off some of the folders and you had to do a lot of scrolling
  • There were issues, were you could delete a mail, if you had both a mail and a task selected and wanted to delete only the task
  • Lightning was only really compatible with the “Classic View” layout of Thunderbird. We did not really support the “Wide View” and the “Vertical View” layout
  • Using other popular extensions like the Contacts Sidebar together with Lightning was a real pain

All of these issues have now been fixed with the patch for bug 371916 going in yesterday. With this patch we separate the mail- and calendar-related functionalities. You can now switch between mail-mode and calendar-mode with an easily accessible toolbar below or on top of your Thunderbird folder list.

Here are two screenshots of the new mail-mode and calendar-mode in action:


Here are some of the major features of this new functionality:

  • The mode swithcing toolbar can be configured to appear at the bottom (default) or at the top of the Thunderbird folder list
  • The different modes are offering different toolbars. You can now configure your toolbar in calendar-mode separately from the toolbar in mail-mode
  • The different toolbars are context-sensitive. So the calendar-mode toolbar only offers calendar-related icons, while the toolbar in mail-mode only offers mail-related icons

As you would expect there are also some areas needing improvements, which we will add in due time:

  • The state of the calendar view is currently not remembered once you close Thunderbird. It will always startup in week view. This is currently being worked on.
  • We currently lack the ability to drang and drop mails on the calendar icons or to drag and drop an event on the mail icon. This is currently being worked on.
  • The mode switching toolbar offers a task icon, which you can add to the toolbar, but clicking on it has no effect. We’re currently working on a separate task view, which you can switch to once it has been finished.

A big thanks goes out to Mickey, who implemented this. I’ve been running a private build with his patch for over a month now and can tell you, that this feature seriously rocks! Stay with us! More good things are yet to come…


  1. Wow, this feature sounds (and looks) great! I can’t wait to start using it…

  2. It is possible to download the 0.7 beta version?

  3. Icaro,
    just download a Mozilla 1.8 branch nightly build for your platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) from the Lightning download page.

  4. Thanks Simon!

  5. For 0.7pre, no localization it is scheduled for the time being?

  6. We’re working on localized Lightning builds. But right now, this is not possible. For testing purposes only English builds are available.

  7. I have a question, I just downloaded 0.7pre (and I love it!), since it’s not an actual release, will it update normally once there is a new official release or will it update to the pre releases?

  8. Sunbird nightly builds will update on daily basis. Lightning nightly builds will not update automatically, because the update infrastructure for extensions is different than for applications. You will have to update manually if you choose to do so.

  9. Very nice option with the icons on the bottom. I think a nice feature would be, if the calendar is a icon like “Mailaccount” or “Local Folders”? This would save more space. Or would it be possible to add the calendar-icon to the toolbar? Keep on with this good work.

  10. Very nice option with the icons on the bottom. I think a nice feature would be, if the calendar is a icon like “Mailaccount” or “Local Folders”? This would save more space. Or would it be possible to add the calendar-icon to the toolbar? Keep on with this good work.

  11. Thanks Simon, just to clarify: since I’m using 0.7pre, when there is an actual official release, the Lightning Add-on will not update automatically?

  12. Fantastic, it looks great. And if these UI changes mean that the ability to drag and drop emails to calendar, and calendar events to email are added at 0.7 rather than 1.0 then that’s fantastic. This functionality will add a lot of usability to TB+Lightning for me.

  13. Saman,
    you’re right. Lightning will not automatically update from a nightly build to a release build.

  14. Folks this is a great advance! Many thanks to all. It’s of particular benefit to me with my thinkpad x31’s 12 inch screen.
    However for my use it could do with a bit of tweaking – the left panel is much wider than it is on sunbird, which with a small screen does not leave much space for the actual calendar. dragging it smaller reduces it to nothing. Hope this could be made adjustable
    Great work, as ever

  15. Sounds like more of what I wanted. The clean UI of separate applications, but the integration and possibilities of the integrated app.
    Great work. Hope it can do all the things that Lightning used to be able to. Might consider switching from Sunbird now :)

  16. One further comment, maybe I’m missing something. But do you even need the separate bar for the Mail/Calendar buttons. Can you not just make them able to be placed in to the normal toolbar at the top of the Thunderbird application? That would save wasted space. As long as you’d still be able to keep the functionality there.
    Thanks again.

  17. Very nice enhanchement!
    I guess many people are waiting for something like this.
    But I also guess not very many are willing to use nightly builds, so I hope it’s not a -very- long time until the 0.7 release (I’m aware of that the 0.5 release is brand new :)
    Just a note: Seemes like the is a little out of date..

  18. In the second screen shot, with the calendar view on the right, is there a need for a mini calendar on the left?
    If we have a third button for tasks, we’re nearly set then.
    Mail | Calendar | Tasks

  19. Fritz Heinrichmeyer

    There seems to be a bug with recurring events in this version. All this events are shown under “today”.

  20. I have Thunderbird installed and I also installed the new Lightning .5 but I can’t find the mode switching toolbar anywhere or how to configure it to show.
    That is supposed to be in .5 right or am I mistaken?

  21. Here is a Flickr screenshot showing that I do not have it, and that Lightning .5 is installed.

  22. Looking forward to some universal nightly build for Mac OS because it seems still PPC only….

  23. Nevermind my two posts above. I guess that is in the Nightly builds not in the .5 release.

  24. Thias patch looks very good to me, unfortunately I don�t know, how I can use/install such a patch. Can anybody help me, or give me just a link with a help?

  25. excellent, I have been looking forward to this!

  26. Trevor Morgan

    In reply to Roger Dean’s comment.To allow the sidebar to be resized smaller you can hide the buttons on the calendar tab by adding the following to your UserChrome.css file in the chrome folder of your profile (you may need to create the file):
    #ltnCalendarButtonsBox { display: none; }

  27. Roger, Trevor,
    this issue will be fixed once the patch in bug 355731 gets reviewed and checked in.

  28. Calendar as a folder in folder view, that’s easier!
    Easy dragging and dropping mails to cal and events to inbox too.
    Bit of a Outlook feeling though…
    Great work anyway, bravo.

  29. About new features: (OT?)
    What about lightning/sunbird as the default calendaring app for windows? (just like thunderbird is the default for mail) That will solve the “opening .ics files” issue, providing interoperability between standalone TB and standalone SB also.
    But maybe it’s more than a little regedit work.

  30. Excellent work, thanks a lot !
    2 remarks though:
    – in order to save space, I have moved all buttons in the menu toolbar, emptied the mail toolbar and hidden it; the trouble is that the new patch will not keep the empty mail toolbar hidden, and always shows it… Should I file a bug ?
    – It’s really useful to have a plain screen for calendar, but having both the mail folder pane ABOVE the calendar left pane as it used to be in 0.5 (but without the minimonth) was also very very helpful, to always show the coming events, even when handling emails. Will that view be back as an option, or not ?
    Thanks again

  31. Yes, we’re currently working on a so-called “today-pane”, which should offer this.

  32. Thanks, Simon, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

  33. To aid usability for users migrating from other products it would be advantageous to add a ‘Tasks’ icon (suggested by Kelv above) and also to add an ‘Address Book’ icon too? The width looks perfect for four icons. The risk is becoming too like the competition but as this is going in that direction anyway I’m sure a lot of people really would appreciate the usability gain.

  34. Eh, what about 0.6?

  35. Urbano Freitas

    I must reinforce that the idea of Task area it would be great. In my perspective the improve of the tasks area, by improving is function and ability of management (organize by categories, % of complete, …)it will be a killer function that will boost the adoption of Lightning and Sunbird. For me personally, this is the only feature that I still use in Microsoft Outlook. The rest I do with Lightning.
    Yes, it will make Lightning more similar to their competitors, but these are, in my opinion must have features. It must be in way that the team implement that functions that must came the differences and innovation.
    I can only imagine the amount of work this will take to do, but it will bring, probably, a lot more users to Calendar, and more developers, because the program starts to became more interesting to develop.
    Keep the good work. Thanks for this great app.

  36. This is a nice new future. Why are there no buttons for “News”, “Tasks” and “Contacts” though?
    I wonder what you guys planned for the future. Is there such a thing as a roadmap for this project? I really would like to know if Lightning is going to be an Outlook alternative any time soon. There are a couple of things that prevent me from switching yet:
    – poor address book (no birthdays, no contact photos, not enough email fields, …)
    – no support for notes
    – no easy syncing of calendar, tasks, contacts (+ notes) with current cell phones
    I hope you guys are adressing those things, so I can get rid of Outlook soon. :)

  37. I love this program, I just downloaded the .5 version. I see that there was a patch to “You can now switch between mail-mode and calendar-mode with an easily accessible toolbar below or on top of your Thunderbird folder list.” How do I download the patch?

  38. @Jason
    This feature os only available in untested nightly builds for testing purpose. It will be officially available with the next release (0.7). If you want to test it download a nightly build from the Lightning homepage.

  39. I tried out this new feature and I really love it. I can’t wait for the “Task” button to also work with a separate task view.

  40. Although the new view display may be useful to some, I really liked the old way, so much that I reverted back to .5…mostly because of the ability to see upcoming events in the left pane. Now, this information isn’t automatically displayed and you have to click to see it. To me that’s a slight step backwords. It would be great if you could add an option to display this as in .5!

  41. @Dan : see Simon’s answer above. Quoting him : “Yes, we’re currently working on a so-called “today-pane”, which should offer this.”

  42. @Olivier, for some reason I missed that comment from simon. I think the “today-pane” will be just what I’m looking for.

  43. Hello
    As already said, this is a big step. The next one will be the integration of the new Event Dialog, currently shipped in the WCAP-enabled nightlies only.
    Do you know when this is planned ? My goal is to have this new Dialog together with the ability to send an invitation email (which is not feasible at the moment in the WCAP nightlies).

  44. I like the new feature, but I actually think it is NOT an improvement, if it’ll do away with the task pane in the mail view!!!
    For me, having the mail folders and task list in view together as they are now in 0.5 is paramount, and if that’s taken away, Lightning will lose all its appeal and be no different than using Sunbird instead!
    So please keep the option of having the task list in view all the time!

  45. Somewhere along the way, my “Accept” button for calendar invites started working again (hooray), and events get added to my calendar. Is there any way, though, to configure for “accepted” emails to be returned to sender?
    Thanks… keep up the great work.

  46. I really like the new button at the bottom of the email screen, allowing you to switch between Mail and Calendar.
    However I have been getting the same events on my agenda list if I have a reoccurring appointment. For example I have a meeting every Tuesday at 10 am, On my agenda list it shows up everyday in the Today section of the list not in the Tomorrow or Soon Appointment lists.
    Is there a bug in this update I remember in the previous version it would disappear from today after Tuesday and appear in the Soon list.
    Thanks for allowing me not to use outlook and stay with Thunderbird

  47. I just installed the nightly build of .7 and I love the new UI changes, in particular the button to switch from Calendar mode and email mode.
    Great decision because I was starting to dislike how the Calendar was forcing me to keep an extra wide left side area.

  48. I like new layout VERY MUCH! Switching Email-Calendar is ideal! Today Panel – is what I need most! I have Wide screen display and lot of folders, so now on left I still have my folders, and on the right are Events and Tasks which is very very convenient!
    Now what I still miss here:
    1. No shortcut keys yet, especially _F_ile,_E_dit,_O_ptions on New Task and New Event window.
    Also no shortcuts in Save Event/Task window when I press Esc:
    _Y_es, _N_o, _C_ancel
    2. Privacy button in New Task/Event window does nothing. I could be pressed – Private, and depressed Public.
    If options are chosen, then same behavior except for “Show time and date only” also depressed, but it still shown in status bar.
    Or at least when pressed it shows options.
    3. There is no separate Tasks view, There could be button in one line, and it fits very well: Mail Calendar Tasks.
    4. Also tasks are not displayed in Day, Week, Multiweek view of calendar, only in Month view if selected “Show tasks in Calendar”
    5. Tasks view could be with this very convenient to use layout:
    Not Completed Tasks on very top sorted by deadline.
    Overdue on very top. Nearest deadline top most. Deadline limited to one month or week.
    Then Tasks without deadline.
    Then Tasks with deadline later than week or month.
    Then Completed tasks separated last month, and earlier.
    6. In Multiweek view there is no date reference. Never know which date week starts.
    7. There would be very convenient to have scrollbar in Multiweek and especially Month view. Also mouse scroll does not work in these views because there is no scrollbar.
    8. Calendar view could have 3 month mini version on the left sidebar instead of only 1 current. There is plenty of space, and all is taken by almost empty and not everyday use list of Calendars.

  49. Is there anyway to print the list of to do’s excluding the ones that are completed

  50. I really miss the calendar being on the left as I look at my mail. Have you ever wanted to read mail AND look at the calendar? And not just today’s stuff, but maybe if that meeting that is being suggested is on thursday? Hmm, is that the 1st or the 2nd?
    I like the added functionality. I do NOT like losing functionality. Which is what happened here.
    Unless of course I am just a dufus that can’t figure out how to make the calendar show up anymore.