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In thunderbird 3, I can open new tabs if I middle-click, but the behaviour I want is for left-click to open a new tab if there is not already a folder open for a given tab; or to switch to the tab displaying that folder if there is.

Is there a configuration setting or addon which will make thunderbird behave like that?

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It's not precisely what you want but have a look at Quickfolders add-on

Quickfolders is a tool which allows you to bookmark folders onto a new toolbar. You can then drag mail to that folder icon on the toolbar, and also click the icon to go directly to that folder - all without scrolling around or searching.

  • Welcome to SuperUser! While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. In this case, perhaps you could add a short description of this addon? – Nathan.Eilisha Shiraini Aug 22 '17 at 14:24
  • > in this case, perhaps you could add a short description of this addon? @Nathan.Eilisha Shiraini I hope I have addressed this concern – wsmwk Aug 28 '18 at 12:41
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From Thunderbird 3 Features :

Right-clicking on messages or folders will open them in a tab in the background.

  • OK... but how do I get them to open with a left-click, and how do I get them to be one per folder? – Simon Dec 10 '09 at 15:02
  • I don't believe you can do that with a left-click. – harrymc Dec 10 '09 at 15:18

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