Fixing a Thunderbolt dock/display issue on Dell XPS 1300 in Ubuntu by unlocking Thunderbird

I came into work this morning after taking a week off.

I plugged my notebook into my docking station as usual, but couldn’t get the screens or wired internet to work. When I went to Settings > Display only the built in display was showing rather than the three I have attached to my docking station. I could turn the computer on and off using the button on my docking station.

I did the usual things when the docking station doesn’t work exactly as it should:

  1. Restart the computer
  2. Cold boot the computer (i.e. power down, wait thirty seconds, then power back up)
  3. turn off and on each of the screens
  4. Reset the docking station:
    1. turn off the computer (don’t know if this is necessary)
    2. unplug the station at both ends (i.e. from the mains and from the computer),
    3. hold the power button on the docking station for about 45 seconds, then release
    4. plug the docking station back into the wall and the computer
    5. restart the computer
  5. Unplug and replug the internet cable
  6. Unplug and replug the screens
  7. Try putting the Thunderbolt cable in a different USB-C slot

Nothing worked.

Then I accidentally clicked on “Thunderbolt” on my “Settings” dialogue. The dialogue looked like the image below, except that everything was greyed out.

Not quite sure what to do about this, I tried a couple of things:

  1. I clicked on the “Devices”: this then provided another dialogue that asked me if I wanted to forget this device; that seemed a little extreme at the moment so I cancelled the action;
  2. I clicked on the “Unlock” button (it’s a bit hard to see, but it’s up in the menu bar right beside the buttons to collapse, shrink, and minimize the dialogue in the top right): I was asked for my password and then after I did that, things seemed to work. I can’t remember if I had to reboot, plug and unplug, or anything like that.

I wonder if perhaps there’s a time out that requires reauthorisation if you haven’t used a Thunderbird device for a certain amount of time. I have been as long as this away from my docking station in the past (about 10 days), but this was the first time this ever happened.

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