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Replace Evolution with Thunderbird completely in Ubuntu

Replace Evolution with Thunderbird completely in Ubuntu

Granted, Ubuntu have done a great job of integrating the Evolution Mail Client into Ubuntu. But, as a power user of Thunderbird, and a lover of many of its extensions, I just could not bring myself to use the less user-friendly and feature-packed Evolution Mail client.

In this post, I’ll outline how you can totally replace Evolution with Thunderbird, complete with integration to the Ubuntu messages applet and notification bubbles.

NOTE: We are not going to remove Evolution. We need it in the system, but you wont need to open it.

For starters, here’s the list of things I wish to accomplish:

  • Set Thunderbird as the default mail client.
  • Integrate Thunderbird’s mail accounts into the Ubuntu Messages Applet.
  • Integrate Thunderbird’s Lightning extensions into the Evolution mail into the Date/Time Applet to show appointments, and use Ubuntu’s events prompt to Snooze/Dismiss events.
  • Have the look and feel of Thunderbird follow your current GNOME theme.
  • Remove Evolution from the Message Indicator applet

Install Thunderbird & Lightning from Synaptic Package Manager or the Ubuntu Software Center. Setup your mail accounts.

Head to the System>Preferences>Preferred Applications option from your Ubuntu Main Menu. Set the default Mail Reader to Thunderbird.

Replace Evolution with Thunderbird in Ubuntu

Setting the default Mail Reader

Although Lightning is listed as a download in the Software Center, I had trouble installing it from there. If you do too, get the Lightning extension here.

Now we want to have our new mail notifications to be shown in the Ubuntu Messages Applet like so:

Thunderbird integrated into Ubuntu's Message Notification applet

To achieve this, install this Thunderbird extension.

Thunderbird Indicator (direct link here – this might be old, but the extension should update itself).

Download the .xpi file. Save it somewhere, and add it via Tools>Addons menu in Thunderbird. Not only does this take care of the Messages Indicator applet as show in the picture above, but you also get standard Ubuntu notifications for new mail.

Now, I wanted to go one step further. The date/time applet (on the top right corner next to the status switcher and logout buttons on a fresh Ubuntu install) has a great integration with Evolution. It shows the upcoming appointments like so. Very handy.

Thunderbird's Lightning appointments in Ubuntu's Date/Time applet

There’s two ways of achieving this.

If you are using Google Calendar (or Google Apps Calendar), you’ve already solved a big problem. Add your Google Calendar to your Evolution. Evolution is now two-way sync ready with Google Calendar out of the box, so you shouldn’t have any trouble adding a new calendar there. Once you’ve done that, if your Lightning is also linked to the same calendar, whatever changes you make in Thunderbird/Lightning will be reflected in your date/time applet.

If you are using a personal calendar or another hosted calender, I’ve read that the Evolution Mirror plug-in is what you need.

Once we’ve setup Thunderbird as your primary email client, there’s one more thing you might want to tweak about its look and feel. Thunderbird will use its default icons, and if you’ve installed a new theme for your GNOME environment, you might want to download the Gnome theme extension. Once you’ve done that, Thunderbird will use the icons provided by your theme.

Thunderbird before using the GNOME theme addon

Thunderbird before using the GNOME theme addon

Thunderbird before after the GNOME theme addon

Thunderbird after using the GNOME theme addon

To remove Evolution from the Ubuntu Message Indicator applet (why do we need it anyway?), you’re going to have to edit the “evolution” file under the “/usr/share/indicators/messages/applications”

gksu gedit /usr/share/indicators/messages/applications/evolution

Make the file blank. Delete all contents. Save.

Thats it! You’ve now replaced Evolution with Thunderbird. Please let me know if you have any issues in the comments. I’ll be glad to help. Once you’re done replacing Evolution, you might be interested in my post about Replacing Empathy With Pidgin In Ubuntu.

NOTE: The above steps work like a charm in 10.04 (at least, for me). However, the indicator appet extension doesn’t seem to be working withe 10.10. Here’s a workaround.

written by

Vik is a tech geek, Android buff, avid photographer and lives in sunny Malaysia.
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  • Abz

    Could you tell us what the theme is?

  • Abz

    Thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    Testing comments

  • Shimmy89

    Niceeee, I’ve been seeking for this for a long time, ty very much, theme is also very cool!!!

  • Shimmy

    I must say that this is the best article on the web so far about integrating Thunderbird in to gnome!!!
    But I see one solid drawback, maybe i just didn’t read the whole article good, but, when i turn off Thunderbird, my Thunderbird menu from indicator applet disappears!!!! So this pretty much makes that integration almost pointless because the whole point of thunder being there is to check for mail, while Thunderbird is turned off. As I am writing this, i think a solution to that problem, could it be done by minimizing Thunderbird to tray, and hiding tray icon, but cant this be done in more “proper” way??

    sry for not so good spelling, English isn’t my native language

    • piggyslasher

      @Shimmy: Great to hear that. Your English is fine mate. What version of Ubuntu are you using? If you close Thunderbird, you wont get new message notification as you would with Evolution. Evolution has a ‘server’ thread running that checks your mail accounts for you.

      Secondly, for 10.10, the Thunder Indicator applet isn’t working as it should. I will post about this on the plugin’s dev page and see what replies I get.

      Now. I got the perfect solution for you. Try the “Cloud Service Notifications” plugin. Will do a post on that in the next few days. You can download the plugin from here:

      Add the repo, or download the .deb file if you want to test it out. It checks GMail, Google Reader and a horde of other online services for new messages and integrates into the existing messaging applet beautifully.

      What you probably want to do, is add you mail accounts to the Cloud Service Notifications settings, and in the ‘advanced’ tab when adding a service, you’ll see the field “Execute command when account is opened’. Type in “thunderbird” in here.

      Now, regardless of whether Thunderbird is open, you’ll get your notifications in the Messaging applet like so:

      GMail Personal (1)
      Techgarten Mail (0)
      Work Email (0)

      Clicking on an account opens up Thunderbird. Screenshot at Image Hosted by
      Uploaded with Shutter

      Hope that helps. And expect a more detailed article on this soon.

      • andrgrau

        Vik, just came to your blog when searching for exactly this solution here and I must say: Great blog! Immediately added to my fav rss’ :-)

        > Secondly, for 10.10, the Thunder Indicator applet isn’t working as it should. I will post about this on the plugin’s dev page and see what replies I get.
        Have you already received any updtes on this?

        • piggyslasher

          Thanks mate. Still waiting for the update. It isn’t working. The last update was
          before Maverick was officially released. Am keeping an eye on the
          Launchpad page here:

          Will let you know about this when I have some info. Check back soon!

          p.s. It was working for you in 10.04 yes? I only had these issues after
          I upgraded. I’ve outlined an alternative solution here
          in this comment to Shimmy. I’m quite happy with cloudsn.

          • piggyslasher

            Outlined it here:

            Please let me know in the comments if you’re cool this this method.

          • andrgrau

            To be honest: I like the idea that thunderbird can handle the notification by its own so that I do not need to use another tool for that. However, since cloudsn seem to be quite powerful (e.g. google reader) I think I will give it a shot – I’ll keep you posted in your other post :)

          • andrgrau

            Sorry, I made a mistake: I did not use the aqddon you posted but instead this one: This did not work our for me but now I installed libnotify-mozilla and it seems to work ;-) I get my green icon fopr new e-mails but I need to test it in more detail over the next hours.

            What extactly is not working for you?

            PS: I have a fresh install of 10.10 and havent’t used none of the thunderbird addons before.

          • piggyslasher

            Are you using google calendar? And what versions of ubuntu are you on?

          • Joyx61

            Yes. I am using google calender synching with thunderbird. I am using Ubuntu 10.04

          • Joyx61

            Do I need to add anything to import the google calendar to the Evolution calendar? Isn’t the whole point of this article to replace Evolution calendar with Thunderbird? I hold we won’t have to import google calendar to the Evolution. I also did import google calendar to thunderbird so I assume the “Tasks” list should should up in the date/time/calendar section at the top right of the Ubuntu desktop. No?

  • Joyx61

    Seems I followed all the steps but I don’t seem to be able to see any of my todo list in the time/calendar section. Is there anything I am doing wrong.

  • Ashley

    Agreed, fantastic tutorial on the topic! I installed the MinimizetoTray add-on to keep Thunderbird open without it cluttering my task bar — and still get message updates.

    Agreed with above, I have had no luck with the tasks, though; that said, I don’t use the tasks feature so often that it’s a big deal for me.

    Thanks so much for sharing; I just installed 10.10, and am digging these little menu options, especially learning that I can customize them. :D

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

  • vadimo

    Install minimize-on-close addon. That is great!

  • Sir Pecan Gum

    Thank you! Very handy…

    • piggyslasher

      Welcome. Tutorials a bit old though. Will update soon.

  • sineau

    how about contacts? is there a way to sync mozilla contacts with evolution data server? I mean aside from doing it in the cloud.

    • piggyslasher

      Why do you ask? Is it for Pidgin/Gnome-Do integration? If you’re
      planning on not using evolution, why would you need this functionality?

      I do it in the cloud, using Google Contacts. Don’t there’s a better way.
      That way, my Blackberry and possibly any other modern phone will be in
      sync with my mail application. I use this method as a “leave-and-run” way:

  • Paklahsyok

    nice..tQ for tutorial :) Terima Kasih ya

  • PawnStar

    I love the way this works, but when I click the calendar items it opens Evolution.  Is there a way to fix that?

  • Guest

    Note that you need  libnotify-bin (available via Synaptic Package Manager) if you don’t already have it for the Thunderbird indicator to work.

    Also note that if you’re using Thunderbird 3.x, you need to install the second-to-latest versions of Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar (1.0b2 and 0.7.1 respectively)

    • piggyslasher

      Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone

      • piggyslasher

        Still waiting for the update. It isn’t working. The last update was
        before Maverick was officially released. Am keeping an eye on the
        Launchpad page here:
        Will let you know about this when I have some info. Check back soon!

        p.s. It was working for you in 10.04 yes? I only had these issues after
        I upgraded. I’ve outlined an alternative solution here in this comment
        < #dsq-comment-header-91050052> to Shimmy. I’m quite happy with cloudsn.

  • piggyslasher

    Afraid not, if you are relying on Evolution’s integration with the Date/Time
    applet. However, here’s the real news. Thunderbird will be default for
    I’m sure you are going to be very happy now.

  • stealz

    Theres one thing you might add. With the above configuration, Thunderbird only shows up in the Ubuntu Message Indicator applet while Thunderbird is actually running.

    To add a launcher-like item when it is not running, you have to create a file called “thunderbird” (no quotes) in usr/share/indicators/messages/applications and inside of it you have to put one line:


    and save. And you’re done.
    Since you need to be root to edit that folder, I did it in the window that opens when you type “sudo nautilus” in terminal. There might be better/different command line solutions, but thats the way it worked for me.

    • piggyslasher

      Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone

    • Emilian

      Even though your comment is old.. how do you actually create a file named thunderbird..? Do you drag and drop Thunderbird or you create a text document, sorry.. very noobish in Linux.. can you explain me in depth or step by step?

      • piggyslasher

        well… U gotta open credit as root.

        sudo gedit usr/share/indicators/messages/applications/thunderbird

        And then add the text and save

  • Rosen

    I’m sick of evolution..dunno why ubuntu prefer it over thunderbird

    • piggyslasher

      Don’t worry. The next version of ubuntu is going with thunderbird. Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone

  • Ale

    Nice! I think the right way to remove Evolution from the Message Indication Applet is to do:
    sudo apt-get remove evolution-indicator

    • piggyslasher

      Ok. Am going to remove the addon and try again. Will let you know. However, a lot of other users seem to be having the same issue. The addon installs, but there is no change to the messaging applet.

    • piggyslasher

      Don’t think 64bit makes a difference in this case.
      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

    • piggyslasher

      yes thats the correct way.

      • andrgrau

        Thunderbird 3.1.6 … btw: running 64bit ubuntu who knew if that makes any differences.

  • Honk

    nice tutorial! Thanks a lot!

    • piggyslasher

      Wierd. I seem to be on 10.10. And using the Thunderbird addon… Would you mind telling me what version of thunderbird you’re on?

      And cloudsn checks the services even when tbird isn’t running. I.e. When you’ve just booted up and haven’t opened up tbird yet.

      Seems to be very memory efficient too. Check it out.

    • piggyslasher

      You’re welcome

  • Lepelerin2002

    not working with TB 8

    • piggyslasher

      But tb is default in the latest Ubuntu no? Which version of Ubuntu are you using?

  • piggyslasher

    Hi there,

    I did mention that we will be leaving Evolution in the system. Your never going to have to run it. However, there’s an Evolution server thread that runs that’s checking your Google calendar and adding the events to the time/calendar applet. Plus my tutorial did not focus on the todo list at all.

    My todo list is linked to Remember the Milk. I Use Tasque to manage it. You can add the iCal link from RTM to your Evolution as a new calendar, and these appear as tasks in the Time/Calendar applet.

    This is a one way sync from RTM to Evolution, and therefore the todo tasks in your Calendar applet are just displayed. They cannot be manipulated.

  • piggyslasher

    Also, there isnt an addon thats going to help you put the calendar/tasks from thunderbird into the Date/Time applet. You’re going to have to add the Google Calendar to Evolution. Once that’s done you wont have to open evolution again. It’s server thread runs in the background to update the date/time applet.

  • piggyslasher

    Nifty. But don’t you think the Cloudsn method is more memory/cpu friendly? Just a thought. But I’ll look into this. For me, sometimes, when I wanna stay minimal, and make the most of the computer’s power, I close Thunderbird and Firefox. As much as we love them, and as much as Gecko has improved recently, its still a memory and cpu hog (comparitively).