Looking at User Experience for Thunderbird 3

Over the past year the Thunderbird platform has received a large number of updates, however it is also seeing a number of improvements to it’s over all user experience.   In a recent email I tried to write out some of the major improvements that are in the works for the next bird release, here’s a summary of that mail.

Search

With some needed changes to the Thunderbird platform it has become possible to provide efficient full text search over messages and their headers.  This will enable Thunderbird to offer a much improved search experience over the previous search methods.  Search can start over the full text of a message and then be filtered against specific attributes like sender or subject to narrow down the set of results.  We can also offer auto-complete on subjects and people in the search entry to help prevent spelling mistakes and partial matches from slowing down the search process.

Tabs

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how people use tabs which lead us to a tab mail implementation that should improve searching, reading, and processing; hopefully also saving that state.  Currently a search over mail will destroy the state of your message list by filtering down the messages in the exposed view.  With searches opening in new tabs your current view can remain intact while you explore your mailboxes in new tabs.   Messages can be opened with a middle click, just like in Firefox, to help you process mail quickly by queuing the messages you’d like to read later in tabs; later you can close your opened tabs as you read each message.

Account Auto Configuration

When trying to setup Thunderbird the details of your email accounts host, port, and security settings are so 2008, lets evolve.  Long in the works has been a better, easier way to setup an email account.  Our design goal was to get an email account setup with absolute the minimal number of questions.

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Password

With those 3 items Thunderbird can infer all other details automatically, with exception cases handled gracefully.  It has been difficult work to make this happen, but we are well on our way and we know that when we finish it will have been worth it.

Message Archive

Thanks to the recent improvements to enabling cross-folder search we are able to implement an archive system for IMAP and  POP clients.  With a single button Thunderbird users can automatically file messages from their Inbox and other folders into the archive folder system.  We’ve pushed the Archives folder into the list of special folders such that it will sort with your Inbox, Sent Mail, and Drafts.  If you’re interested, take a look at the archive bug for more of the technical details, otherwise just take a deep breath… its coming.

Activity Manager

Notifications and download progress concerning your mail accounts are important events, however they aren’t events that require your full attention.  Earlier last year we looked at how we could reduce the amount of dialog noise Thunderbird generates in order to handle your account details in a more civilized manner.  We took a good look at the Firefox Download Manager and created, what we called, an Activity Manager.   Recent activity on the activity manager has lead to new patches in the review cycle headed toward a coming release.

Theme Improvements

With recent steps forward Thunderbird has finally made room for the Linux Desktop theme space.  I don’t even need to say much else about this change, this list says it all.

And of course lots more

There are many more changes, from the auto-sync offline work to preference cleanups that have happened and/or are still in the works; this list is just a grouping of major areas.  We’ve come a long way, but have an even longer road ahead.

2 responses to “Looking at User Experience for Thunderbird 3

  1. Pingback: Michael Monreal » Blog Archive » 2009

  2. I recently installed the Compact Headers in 3.1.2 and the buttons in the email message changed from “Reply”, etc. to picture icons. I would prefer the original buttons so I uninstalled Compact Headers. The original buttons did not return. Any ideas?

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This is the blog personality of Bryan Clark. I'm a designer in a world of open source. This blog reflects mostly writing about Design, Open Source, Economics, Beer, Wine, and Dogs. There's more information about me on this site or you can contact me directly at clarkbw@gmail.com.

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