Try other web apps in Thunderbird tabs

Colin Dean converted the code from my post on Google Calendar in Thunderbird tabs and created a GMail tab for Thunderbird.

If you’re interested in trying what a web application would look like running inside a Thunderbird tab without modifying an extension use the following code snippet.

Open the Error Console from the Tools Menu

tools-error-console

Copy & Paste this code into the input entry at the top:

Components.classes['@mozilla.org/appshell/window-mediator;1']
          .getService(Components.interfaces.nsIWindowMediator)
          .getMostRecentWindow("mail:3pane")
          .document.getElementById("tabmail")
          .openTab("contentTab",{contentPage:"http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z"})

update: here’s a text input which you can easily copy and paste the above code from.

Change the provided link ( http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z ) at the end to the web application you’d like to try, like http://twitter.com for example.  Click the ( Evaluate ) button.

error-console

It’s Party Time! ( if you didn’t change the link,  http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z )

its-party-time-in-a-thunderbird-tab

You can continue to iterate the tab application by creating a new click handler, however at that point it might be worthwhile to start with the extension code instead of working in the error console.

Jetpack for Thunderbird

In the hopefully not too distant future Thunderbird will gain Jetpack as it’s new extension model and it will be no longer necessary for add-ons like this these be created but instead a simple Jetpack which can do the same things without restarts or complicated installs.

If you’re interested in this take a look at Andrew’s recent Jetpack in Thunderbird post.

Above code snippet courtesy of Magnus in

Google Calendar in Thunderbird tabs

If you’re a Google Calendar user like myself you might want to check out this really simple add-on for Thunderbird, which should be available as an official add-on for the coming Thunderbird 3 release.

The Google Calendar Tab

As simple as it sounds, this adds the Google Calendar web interface as a new tab directly into Thunderbird.  Creating and viewing events works just as it would in a browser like Firefox. :)

Google Calendar Tab

If your calendar is setup to show popup alerts you’ll continue to see them from the calendar tab while in other, mail, tabs.

Here’s my family Pinochle game reminder alert showing.

Google Calendar Alerts

There is no official release of this extension yet, however you could grab the latest XPI, download and install it into the latest (at least rc1) Shredder release.

More Extensions

It’s easy to get started integrating a web application like Twitter, Remember the Milk, and other sites into Thunderbird.  Once you get the initial pieces you can start working on better integration into your email conversations.

If you’re interested in creating an extension similar to this one, here are a couple links you probably want to check out:

Lightning

This calendar extension only handles a single url for Google Calendar.  If you’re looking for actual calendar integration with different calendars, including google calendar, you’ll want to check out the Lightning Calendar extension which also runs inside Thunderbird tabs.

Cubed Mail

Lately I’ve been working a lot on the Thunderbird add-ons developers user experience.  Often times designers don’t get to work on developer experiences because developers tend to do those pieces themselves without much design.  With a lot of others I’ve spent a good amount of time working on the whole experience of development, docs, and extension types so hopefully the Thunderbird 3 add-on developer experience will be significantly better.

To get into the user experience of an add-on developer I recently made a Jetpack, Bugzilla Air Traffic Control, to examine what it is like to develop inside Jetpack.  I’ve also been creating a number of example extensions that take advantage of the new code that has landed in Thunderbird recently and learn the pitfalls of extension development.

So in honor of the hacks.mozilla.org recent article called 3D transforms in Firefox 3.5 – the isocube I added a similar hack to my tabbed message example extension.  I give you…

Cubed Email Messages

messages-in-a-cube

To demonstrate the awesome interactiveness that I didn’t add to my email extension I also have a pure HTML demo available.   Try out the email cube test demo for yourself.  This demo requires Firefox 3.5, go get it if you don’t have it.

If you’re asking “why email in a cube,?” then I’ll ask you why not?  This demo reminds me that Thunderbird has all the same Firefox goodness that’s coming out in 3.5 but we have yet to take advantage of much of it.  Hopefully as we make more progress in the coming months we’ll do just that.

And if you’re asking yourself… Is this what Bryan gets paid to do?  Well then we’re asking ourselves the same question; though I don’t think I’m referring to myself in the third person.

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.

Thunderbird Tab Session Restore

The new Thundertab has (partially) landed in the nightly builds of Thunderbird.  You’ll need to get Lightning installed to see all this and it’s not too pretty yet, but we’re making lots of progress.

But there’s no time to lose!  We’re already talking about how to handle tab session restore to keep all your opened mail tabs around for future sessions.

I’ve put up a partial mockup already, but it’s still early.  As always please leave comments below!

Thunder-tab

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.

Shortcuts

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.

Progress

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.

Tabulation

Lately I’ve been asking a lot of different people, “Why do you use tabs?”, in reference to tabbed web browsers.  I wanted to do some quick and dirty research on the design and usage behind tabs; some of this is obvious yet it helps to have it written out.

So here’s a bit of what I’ve found people claim to use tabs for.  I’ve arranged the information into what I felt were 4 distinct types of usage.  I’d love to hear about other usage that doesn’t fit into these categories or other categories people have observed.

Defer Action

Tabs for Defering

Often people want to defer an action until a later time.  In a web browser they will open a link in tab that they’d like to read a little bit later.  This was reported to occur on news or information sites where a person is reading a single page but wants to branch off to other links after reading.  After completing the tab in their current focus the person would begin processing the other tabs lined up for later.

Lightweight Bookmark

Similar to deferring an action, people mentioned that tabs were a way of keeping certain pages around for an indefinite period of time.  These pages weren’t necessarily going to be processed right away but they didn’t want to be lost.  When asked if they bookmarked these page people responded that these pages were transitive reference type pages (i.e. they needed them to continuously use them for a certain project) and so tabbing seemed to be a way to bookmark things in a lightweight fashion.  This especially made sense when tabs are saved within a session; people reported opening lots of tabs (hundreds) and then closing Firefox down completely only to reopen them all later.

Collect Related Information

Many people cited using tabs specifically to collect information on the same subject.  Often this kind of collection was research for a composition like a blog post.  Some people claimed to do this in a very formal fashion of opening up a fresh window for a blog post and then creating new tabs in that window for research related to the blog post.  While others referenced doing an important activity in one window and having a set of windows with tabs in them for researching ideas around that important activity.  This type of collection is similar to the lightweight bookmark except that most of the tabs were intended for a very finite period of time such as using the page to link to.

Switch Context and Keep Current State

Many people also talked about how they would “Adventure off” into other tabs to follow something that was either more important or more interesting but they really wanted to keep their exact place they were.  This  is very similar to the defer action, you could say this is the after state of the defer action.  The only difference here is that the person is intentionally keeping the first tab around in it’s exact state where the defer might lead to closing tabs as they are finished.  A common example was a quick interruption that called for searching for something unrelated to what they were doing.  People would open a new tab, complete their search and then close that tab to go back to what they were doing.

Some Related Links for you to open up in Tabs

What does this mean for Thunderbird?

This information isn’t for figuring out how tabs work in firefox and then squeezing that idea into thunderbird.  It is merely here to create a common language reference for talking about tabs and their usage.  Hopefully people could see new ideas on how tabs can be used from understanding how they are used in other contexts.  There currently exists an implementation of tabs in Thunderbird but it will not be the same as it is now by the 3.0 release.

aboot

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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