Thunderbird’s UI Directions.

On a previous post in a different blog, some commenters were asking us if we were considering doing things that we have planned to do for a while now, and that led me to realize that I haven’t been communicating the future of Thunderbird’s UI nearly well enough. I mainly blame it on my trying to do too many other things, and thus failing to cover all the bases. So, having said all that, here is the list of things, in no particular order, that I would like to see worked on in the next few versions of Thunderbird. But first, I’ld like to say a little bit about why I want them.

I recently heard about someone who said “Thunderbird looks like iTunes”, and while that’s rather complimentary given the amount of time Apple puts into making things look good, it doesn’t really lead me to believe that people can pick our product out of a screenshot. And so one of the overall goals is to make Thunderbird iconic. You can always tell when a screenshot is of Apple mail, based on the layout and the lack of colour, and Firefox is similarly immediately recognizable because of the big circular back button and smaller rectangular forward button. Similarly, I’m hoping to have Thunderbird look different to other apps, while still fitting in on the platform, and maintaining a little consistency with Firefox. Of course, that’s not the only goal, nor even the main goal. My main idea for Thunderbird is to let you focus on the content that’s important to you, and not be distracted by things you don’t care about. Hopefully most of the changes I talk about here will help that, and as a side benefit also help to give us a more unique style.

  • A simple thing that will make the product nicer to use is just to line things up. We’re all over the place, and it should be fairly simple to make this better. There are a couple of bugs that are related to this, and I suspect we could file a few more for various other parts.

  • We want to put the tabs on top, because they let us put the compose and address book into tabs, while still having the appropriate toolbars. (As well, having everything be a tab makes the application more consistent, as described in the next point.)

  • This leads into removing the standalone Compose and Address Book windows. You’ll still be able to open a window for those functions, but it will just be a regular window with a Compose or Address Book tab. (No bugs for this yet. Removals are sensitive things, and we want to get the replacement UI working well before we remove the existing UI.)

  • We really want the Thunderbird button, so that we can hide the menus, and have less Glass on Windows, and make the most common actions easier to find and use.

  • But, to add that button, we first need to see what the most common menu items people use are, therefore we need Test Pilot.

  • We would like to add a HomeTab, to give people a personalized place to land when they start Thunderbird, or open a new window.

  • We would like to merge the Gloda bar and Quick Filter bar, cause duh.

  • Having two different settings locations is too confusing for me, let alone people who don’t care about the details of the product. We want to merge those into a single searchable place for all the settings, a la Mac System Prefs.

  • This next change is more a small, personal thing, rather than part of a grand plan. It was originally suggested by Mike Beltzner, and while I’ve had some time to work on it, I haven’t had enough to push it through to completion. Basically, I’ld like to be able to order my email by date, while grouping it by subject. (This is different than threading, because I don’t care about which replies are to which messages. I just want a single group for the subject, with the messages ordered by date within that group, and the groups ordered by the date of the most recent message.) There’s no bug for this yet, but as mentioned, I started to write an extension, before hitting some annoying bugs that made it hard.

  • Compactify the header. It’s really too big. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. What I really mean here is that we should move the buttons and their toolbar out of the header, to float just above it. This would allow people to easily turn them off (by removing the entire toolbar), and for those of us who like to keep them, it would make them more visually distinct. As an added bonus, in vertical mode, we could merge that toolbar with the other toolbars, to get something like the pictures of what Thunderbird could look like posted by Asa Dotzler.

  • And finally, I think we should remove the Migration Assistant. It was very useful in the 2.0⇒3.0 transition, but it’s been less and less useful as time goes on, and as people have moved more and more onto Thunderbird 3, and 4, and 5… (No bug for this one either, again, because removals are sensitive things.)

See all the bugs in one big list.

Many thank-yous to Alex Faaborg, and areweprettyyet for the code to link the bugs, and the basis of the styling to make them stand out.


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