Activity is the new download

So hip, just like silver is the new gold

Last week I began some work on some ideas for a richer, interactive user notification system for Thunderbird.

Status Bar

Currently the status bar acts as one of the only notification systems to the user.  However the status bar is a steady stream of temporal plain text messages.  The messages are helpful if you understand what they are indicating, otherwise to most people they only convey general activity happening.  In general the messages end up lacking meaning because there is too much information running by.

A First Approach

Initially I took an approach of an interactive status bar that looked a little bit like the awesome bar replacing the status bar.  Instead of just giving plain text messages we could make richer messages with visualizations.

  • Linked Messages
  • Progress Meters

The linked message could open thunderbird up to the account or message they were referring to.  Next is to add some access to status history where people can see a list of what Thunderbird had done and perform actions (like restart) on those past activities.

  • History of Activity
  • Interactive History Items

The New Download

After seeing the amazing work that has been done on the download manager in firefox it seemed like a good second approach to the problem could be to reuse much of what they’ve done.

The download manager in firefox is solving a similar set of problems.  We want to allow people to watch the progress of a specific set of (likely asynchronous) activities. We also want to ensure that people can view the list of past activities in case they want to manage them.

Should we continue using a simple text status message?  The progress bar included in the status bar gives a visualization for time to complete an action.  But do we need to help people visualize what is happening in the background?

And then instead of an inline popup for the history list we open up the download manager window which allows for searching and management of items inside the list.

Nothing is set yet, most likely a final version will be taking bits of both approaches.  Still lots of work to go, more comments and ideas are always appreciated!