I’ve been experimenting with how we can use tabs inside Thunderbird.

Thunderbird Tabbing

The previous tabbing post already discussed how tabs help people to keep their current context and multi-task more flexibly.  I’ve created a number of designs that look into using tabs in Thunderbird so email users can have the same kind of power over their context.

In Tabs By Default

To keep your current context of email reading, searches will open up in a new tab by default.  Such that anytime you’re in the All Mail tab and start a search the results will open in a new tab.  Opening up the Calendar, Tasks, and Contacts will also open up by default in a new tab as well.  Tabs will need to be fast to open.

Tab Shortcuts

Much like you could want quick bookmarks to open up the web pages that you access frequently Thunderbird needs a way for users to open up different types of tabs that are unique and used frequently.


Tab shortcuts allow us to offer a default set of tab locations that users may want to open.  We can also offer this location up to extensions to enable them to add in their own shortcuts for items like CRMs, Thunderbrowse, and other elements that would want to be opened up in tabs.

With shortcuts we should also focus on some ideas for preventing people from opening up too many tabs of the same interface.  Perhaps something that (on mouse over) shows you the other tabs of that type already opened.

New Tabs / Summary Views

Sometimes you just want a new tab to start fresh, there are lots of reasons to start a new tab. For this we have a new tab button that allows Thunderbird users to open a new, empty tab.

New Tab Button

Upon opening a new tab Thunderbird could just show a blank page and focus the search bar.  However it would probably make more sense to use the opportunity to open up a summary view page while the search bar is focused.

This summary page could use the widget system that Spicebird uses or just give a static summary of your mail, events, and tasks.  Adding in items for recent searches could be good as well.  Pulling information from places like whoisi about my contacts could be another interesting element to this summary page.


There’s still lots of work to be done and issues to understand; this design work isn’t finalized.  For tracking the Thunderbird tab work that’s planned for Thunderbird 3, see bug 21899 where I’ll be posting more comments and designs.  Comments on this blog are always appreciated as well.


15 thoughts on “Thunder-tab

  1. Hi, I happened across this post through Planet Mozilla and I’d like to say that this seems like an excellent idea. Is it available in nightlies yet? That might tempt me to jump on the nightly train, although last time I tried the nightlies they weren’t very interesting/different from TB2 so I just went back to release versions.

  2. Awesome stuff. Look forward to playing with the evolving behaviour in the nightlies.

    And this is going to lead to some cool interactions between Ubiquity and Thunderbird, once some concrete work gets started on that.

  3. Here’s my take on tabs, and how they could be more useful to me.
    I use tabs now for the same reasons I use messages opened in a new window.
    That is, I want to preserve a view of a composition for comparison, or reference purposes.
    That view IMO should be pretty much chromeless, and similar to the f11 fullscreen option in FF.
    I don’t want to see buttons, visual options, or anything else other than content.
    For multipart messages some things I would like to see:
    Open attachment in new tab
    Open all attachments in tabs (with automatic pref)
    Open all mime parts in tabs (fix for mime part over-run)
    Open selection in tab (ability to select a piece of the message)

    I know I’m asking for the world here, but you never get what you don’t ask for.

  4. The new tab work is slated to be in the Thunderbird beta 2 release. I’ll post up another entry when we get it in the nightly build so you know when it’s available.

    JoeS: I’d never thought of using tabs for that, once we get them hooked up we should try it out.

  5. Hi,

    Thank you for all those post about usability. I really appreciate this. I’m interested in improving OS usability, I also want to improve my skills in this area (couse I’m just hobbyist) and your blog is really nice resource for learning from real use cases. So thank you ;]


  6. I use tabs for web browsing in many of the different ways you listed on the linked blog post. But I think of the usefulness of tabs in an email client in a different way. Being able to create, essentially, a filter that the tab can display would be a great way to help a users workflow. For instance you could create a tab that would display customer emails, or internal company emails, or, working with tagging, items that need immediate attention. The workflow to do this with tabs would seem much more natural and easier to go through than the simple sorting on the columns in inbox and searchbox. Exciting stuff.

  7. I like how much thought is being put in how Thunderbird tabs should work. Although we have seen some interesting previews for PostBox, it seems like there is a lot of potential still for e-mail reader UI.

    Keep up the awesome work, and the carefully crafted blog posts!

  8. ThunderBrowse has it’s own tabbing system right now.

    The problem with currently implemented tabs is that:
    Tabs in TB3 use the same browser element (messagepane) to work (this is because of gDBView). So when tabs switch, it reloads the messagepane browser element, and in effect reloads the current page or message displayed.

    So ThunderBrowse will probably not use TB3 tabs in this case.

  9. When someone decided to ruin Nautilus and add tabs to it, I left for Mac OS X. I had been using Linux daily since ’95, and those tabs where the last straw. Seeing that some morons have the will to destroy even the rest of the applications entirely (in usability terms), I am really terrible glad that I jumped the ship. For good, perhaps.

  10. I like the idea of a “summary tab” when opening a new tab. with an overview of your new mails, tasks, etc. like in Spicebird. A blank page makes no sense when calendar, tasks, address book, etc. opens in a new tab automatically.
    Will the open tabs be re-opend after restart?

  11. Rawsausage is an idiot.The tabs in nautilus don’t get your way if you don’t want to use them. There is no tab bar if only 1 tab is open (like firefox), and other than a “tabs” in the menubar and 1 option in the context menus, you won’t notice the difference.
    He also completely ignores the fact that other users (like uhm, me?) like this feature. I often had several filebrowser windows open cause it’s faster when moving or copying files around, or comparing stuff in directories, and it’s nice to be able to group them in a tabbed filebrowser now.
    If you don’t like change, stick to the old version. Go back in time and install Redhat 9 or even the crappy windows XP and cry about the outdated UI’s. Mac OS X is good, but lacking tabs is not a plus, but a missing feature.
    Tabs in TB are a great idea, if they can be done in a useful way. Anything’s better than opening emails in a seperate window imho, and its nice to see TB changing the old outlook express-like behavior into something more userfriendly. I don’t want a seperate windows when composing new messages, i’d much rather have this in a tab, so it doesn’t clog up my desktop with useless windows.

  12. Is thundertab still being used prevelantly? Its been quite a bit of time since I’ve even heard of it.

    My own personal preference is for Chrome, it’s super fast.

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