Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Thunderbird reminders keep popping up, or can’t dismiss?

UPDATE: if unticking read-only and the cache as described for you doesn't work, try this alternative method if you can't dismiss Google Calendar reminders in Thunderbird and Lightning.

Here’s how to resolve two issues with the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail / PIM software to do with Google Calendar reminders – at least, if you have the same problems I encountered and you use Thunderbird with the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add ons. (For those unfamiliar with Thunderbird or these extensions, they allow you to view, update and sync to your Google Calendar from within Thunderbird as well as access yourGmail.)

1. Thunderbird / Lightning calendar reminders keep popping up constantly?

The same couple of Google Calendar reminders suddenly start popping up all the time, constantly, continuously, and completely refusing to go away no many how much I clicked to try make them disappear. Drove me mad. Lots of other people have had similar problems too.

The fix? Well, I’d previously enabled the calendar’s experimental cache to try it out.

When I disabled the experimental cache, that solved the problem! It is, after all, only experimental, and in this case it shows. So sorting out this issue is quite simple. You probably know how to disable the Lightning cache if you knew how to enable it in the first place, but for those who forgot how...:

How to disable the experimental cache

  1. Go to the calendar view in Thunderbird (click the calendar icon at the bottom left, or menu Go, Calendar, or hold down Ctrl key and press/release 3).

  2. Rightclick on the name of your Google Calendar on the left and choose Properties:

  3. Untick Cache (box outlined in red below), OK, and restart, and that’s it! (personal details in the pic blanked out, obviously)

2. Thunderbird reminders won’t dismiss?

Egg on face for this one, in my case anyway.

After I fixed the continuous pop-ups issue, I found that I wasn’t able to dismiss any reminders at all, and furthermore editing calendar entries in Thunderbird just wouldn’t take. I couldn't change any calendar entries. "An error occurred when writing to calendar..", "Modification failed" and all that.

Some people seem to have resolved this issue by updating to the latest version of Provider, but it didn’t work for me.

Then I realised something – my Google Calendar had somehow been set to read-only! (I think that when I disabled the experimental cache this bit reset itself, or maybe I had accidentally ticked the “Read Only” box when I was disabling the cache).

Unchecking the “Read only” box (you get to it in the same way as you get to the cache option, see the pic in 1.3 above where I've outlined the box in blue) enabled me to dismiss reminders and edit Google calendar items again.

Background – and why use Thunderbird instead of Outlook?

I recently started using the email client Thunderbird, now at version (by Mozilla, the organisation behind the even fabber free browser Firefox), on a Windows Vista computer.

It’s free open source software. Which is a good thing in my view.

I can access all my email accounts in one (which, yes, I know you can also do with Outlook).

The really major benefits are:

  • the IMAP support (syncing of Thunderbird “live” with my Google Mail / Gmail / Google Apps etc email, so changes I make to my email or diary schedule in Thunderbird happen near instantly in Gmail or Google Calendar), and

  • the ability to install third party extensions or add-ons, almost all free, to enhance the functionality /features – e.g. as mentioned I can view and update my Google Calendar in Thunderbird using Lightning and Provider, and it synchronizes automatically.

    (Why do I use Google Calendar? Because I can check and edit it online from anywhere that I can get to a computer with Web browser and internet connection, or indeed from mobile phone / cellphone. My Outlook diary is only available if I’m on my home desktop PC. And I can’t be bothered to carry round a hard copy paper diary with me – extra weight & all, and I’ll probably lose it somewhere!)

In the righthand sidebar of my email view, I can see my emails and a list of soon to be forthcoming calendar events from my Google Calendar, all at the same time in one window (today, tomorrow and "soon"), without having to change views – see below, again I’ve blanked out some info for privacy:

I can get proper alarms / reminders for events with Thunderbird. Alarm reminders from my Google Calendar pop up in Thunderbird in the bottom right hand corner of my screen with a nice little sound, so I can’t possibly miss them.

(Google Calendar reminders are no good to me if I use the calendar through a web browser alone, as the reminder alarm popups don’t pop up till I actually switch over to the browser, so if I’m working in another program and the browser is just in the background, I’ll miss the reminder - which kinda defeats the object! There may be a way to make reminders more prominent even when the browser isn’t the foreground application, but I’ve not had time to figure it out yet.)

Thunderbird wishlist

So to me Thunderbird is approaching the near ideal PIM – just as soon as I can get:

  1. full notes functionality, i.e:
    • the ability to attach notes to individual emails which are fully searchable
    • the ability to add stand alone notes which are searchable (tip: I use draft emails and my Drafts folder for that),and

  2. keyboard shortcuts / hotkeys for all calendar and notes functions.

(Although the ability to tag is helpful, I want full notes / comments: at the moment I use a combo of XNote for popup yellow notes attached to email, and Notary for searchable notes to emails. XNote notes aren’t searchable, Notary isn’t fully compatible with the latest version of Thunderbird, I’ve made it made compatible(ish) using the excellent MR Tech Toolkit but that causes other issues which I have to work around. I’d rather not have to, and have a comprehensive notes add on! I don’t need a tasks function, personally, as I put my todos in my calendar.)

Getting started with Thunderbird

If you've not tried Thunderbird, do consider it. Here are links on:

  1. how to get Thunderbird IMAP to work with your Google Mail / Gmail, and

  2. Google's recommended settings for Thunderbird when using it with Gmail.


Jon said...

thanks for the fix for the endless undismissable reminders issue
very helpful!

Mark Cordingley said...

I made sure the cache and read-only options were off but I was still getting a particular reminder popping up. I could test by initiating a "Reload Remote Calendar". Turns out it was an event (with reminder) created on my Treo 755p and uploaded via the GooSync client. Deleting and reentering event via the Thunderbird/Lightning would solve the problem. Just FYI , either singular or repeating events via the Palm/GooSync upload recreated the issue.

Venkat Mantirraju said...

This disabling hte read-only issue solved my pain of turning off the endless pop-ups.
Thanks at ton for this help.

SentientParadox said...

I'm now doing this using Sunbird in conjunction with GcalDaemon.

It works perfectly except for the 80 (and probably more) repeating reminders that I cannot get rid of.

Turning off read only did nothing to change it, and the Sunbird Cal never had it's cache turned on to begin with.

Mark Cordingley's comment reminded me of a common problem with syncing anything, be it calendar files or any sort of file.

My reminders were originally set via iCal on my Mac, and auto synced to Google.

Now the Google Cal is syncing with Sunbird.

The problem I have is very common. It's caused by an "ownership" problem. In my case, iCal still "owns" the reminders, because it created them. It was however set up to sync with Google Calendar, so Google calendar had permission to edit and change them. Sunbird does not, and Google Calendar can't give it permission because it doesn't "own" the files either.

Therefore, Sunbird cannot properly dismiss the reminders. Most of the events were also created in iCal. I strongly suspect Sunbird will also not be able to edit or delete them either. The only consistently reliable solution to this sort of problem that I have ever found is to recreate all the events using either Google Cal, or Sunbird.

Pain in the butt, yes, but in my case, fortunately most of my events are recurring, and not that many that aren't. I can do it in a matter of fifteen minutes.

If your situation is like mine and Mark's, I suggest the best solution is to redo the calendar from scratch. Ten to one that will take less time than trying to find a "quicker" solution.

I've been looking for a quicker and at least AS reliable one for a long time now, and have never found one. If someone out there knows of one, please, prove me wrong!


SentientParadox said...

Quick update:

As it turns out, I am able to at least delete and edit the events in Sunbird.

I suspect part of the problem with the reminders is the fact that (from what I have read) Google handles reminders a bit differently from iCal and Sunbird. Something is obviously getting lost in the translation by the time it get's to Sunbird.

I should also mention that this calendar is going from Mac iCal, to Google, and then to Sunbird on a Windows XP system.

I knew from the get go I was asking for trouble.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately all the hints didn't work for me. I keep getting empty (!) reminders all the time :(

Gus said...

Hi all, tks for your support.
Nevertheless, I'm using only local calendars without any sync and the error still appearing on dismiss.
I've the last available versions, Thunderbird 3.0.1 and Lightning 1.0b1

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU this solved my issue with pop ups which was becoming a nightmare. Brilliant explanation I found out what to do just by scanning as written in clear, easy to follow steps. Bless you!

Anonymous said...

For me, with the popping up windows and "modification_failed" in the sync between lightening and google cal helped, when I named the google cal exactly how my google account is named (; before, when I gave a short name, as "my calendar" or something, lightening was not able to stop the popping even after I have followed your advice at


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are a godsend to me. That error was making me crazy (ier, hahahha).
Thanks I fixed it without bugging my husband!

Sheila said...

Thank you so much! It worked perfectly.

Rendy Bambang Junior said...

you save my day! I didn't realize that read only features made the reminder can't be dismissed. It was so annoying

Mihamina Rakotomandimby said...

2013, on Fedora 18 and thunderbird-17.0.5 + lightning-1.9.1, I still have the intempestive reminder. "Provider" is disabled but no way....

Anonymous said...

I fixed the problem by creating a new calenadar, using the xml link in google calendar, and deleting the old calendar link.