Monday, February 19, 2007

Make a Custom Thunderbird Start Page

I've finally upgraded our main pc system's email client from Thunderbird to version 2 (beta 2).

I like the message tagging (great for e-bill management), and the default theme is nice. I'm not sold on the usefulness of the forward/backward buttons but there they are (once you add them with by customizing the toolbar). Folder views are customizable as well. The email alert popup contains much more useful information, I'm happy to see that change. There are a number of other features as well. I am really looking forward for the final release.

When you install the Thunderbird beta 2 version, it installs in its own folder, to avoid overwriting your original build. That hasn't been a problem as they both seem to use the same profile folder/settings so reconfiguration is kept to a minimum.

I ran into only two minor drawbacks--not Thunderbird's fault. First, when I would launch one version after the other they would keep offering to make itself the default email tool. I finally told one of them "No" and set it to not check for the being the default. Harmony reigned.

The other issue was with incompatible themes and extensions. I just use one or two "custom" themes and really don't use any Add-ons for Thunderbird at all. I just uninstalled the one v 2.0 incompatible theme and was fine. Mozilla's Lightning (integrated calendar program) seemed to not even blink an eye between each version. Nice.

It seems quick and nice.

To the Customization!

I'm sure there are a lot of customizations one can do in Thunderbird, besides the use of Themes and Add-ons.

I'm focusing on the Thunderbird start page (pane).

The start page (if enabled) is the window pane that usually appears beneath your inbox message pane.

Normally it has a nice, plain, welcome to Thunderbird logo and message.

However, if you go to the Tools, Options, General tab, you will find you can set this to any other location that uses a supported file format.

By default it uses: chrome://messenger/content/start.xhtml

You can use others like a HTML or JPG file.

If you get something messed up, just press the "Restore Default" button and all will be back to normal--this is pretty safe stuff, even for noobies.

Me, I wanted to see a pretty face waiting for me when I opened up my email.

Picking a graphic

I decided to use this pretty picture of Love Hina's star, Naru Narusegawa. The colors seemed to compliment the pastel-washed ones of the default Thunderbird theme. And there was lots of room for cropping (that is important).

Once downloaded I wanted to crop and resize it to fit the start page window of Thunderbird without generating those scroll bars.

I almost never bother resizing my email client. So since I leave it at the same size, the first thing I needed to do is to see the pixel dimensions my final image file needed to take.

Screen Measuring

There are all kinds of ways to measure elements on your windows.

For this, I chose to use the freeware screen ruler application from PegTop called "PMeter". It installs quickly and is very powerful yet very intuitive. JR Screen Ruler is another freeware utility very similar. I consider either tool a "must have" for web page work, bloggers, or graphic designers. Firefox has a great Add-on as well called MeasureIt. Also nice.

Launching Thunderbird and making sure that it was sized correctly, I then ran PMeter and took a pixel measurement of the width and height of the start page pane area. Mine worked out to 850x350 rounding downward to leave a bit of whitespace around my final image. I wrote that down.

That will be how big my final image dimensions will need to be.

Image Manipulation

For quick image cropping and resizing I don't think that there is a better utility than FastStone's Image Viewer. This free-for-personal-use application is tops in my book for quick image editing and I would highly recommend it to any blogger who works with images.

Here is an Image Viewer PDF Tutorial that covers version 2.7. It pretty helpful.

I opened up the downloaded file of Naru in Image Viewer and then began by resizing it. to match the width I needed. This meant locking the aspect ratio and bringing the width down from 1024 to 850. Done.

Now I needed to get the height worked out. This was a bit harder. I had to do some careful cropping on the image to make sure I included enough of the character's image and features to make the image pleasing. Once I got it fined tuned (the cropping tool allows a lot of adjustments on the fly) I was almost done.

(Note you may decide that cropping first, then resizing works, or maybe just cropping. The best technique depends as much on the image you have chosen as well as your skill working with these programs.)

Last thing I did was just slightly increase the brightness level to give it a bit more of a washed-out effect to better match the muted colors of the Thunderbird theme.

I saved the file as a JPEG format with 100% (highest) compression in my My Documents\Pictures folder for safe keeping.

Calling the Custom Image

Now, we are almost done.

Going back to Thunderbird, I went to the Tools, Options, General tab and entered the following path in the Start Page location line:

file:///C:/Documents and Settings/Claus/My Documents/My Pictures/Hina_TB.jpg

Note carefully the proper syntax to use when calling to a local file: file:///(location)

Also notice the "slashes" lean to the right instead of the left, as they appear in the Windows address bar.

ClipPath is a great Windows Shell utility that can help speed that process of copying a file name in the correct format.

Save your change, make sure the option to show the start page is checked, then restart Thunderbird.

Your custom start page changes should be pleasantly in view!

Additional information

Start Page for mail - MozillaZine Knowledge Base


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