Thunderbird:UI Reduction

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There's too much of it. It needs consolidation and simplification. It also needs reorganization.

Note: Bug 284144 (tracking bug for the preferences rewrite) has been fixed. So, some of the points below may not apply anymore. Please, fix them accordingly.

For example, the 3-pane layout could be reduced to a single-pane layout. This single UI improvement would extend the benefit of the other planned features for Thunderbird 2.0.

The Options Dialogue is poorly organized right now.

  • The Options Dialogue is accessed by the Preferences menuitem (this is inconsistent, is there a bug on it?).
    In Windows, this is under  Tools | Options —it was changed back to Preferences under Linux deliberately, so that TB would match FF: bug 264061
  • Some of the options are used by very few users and should be ditched in favour of system default.
    Provide specifics, please. I'll bet folding money that every one you want to take away has far more proponents than you imagine.
    • For example, General/When New Messages Arrive is one of those unnecessary options. System defaults should be used automatically.
    • Also, I don't believe most users care about what serif font they want to use to read their emails. Again, system defaults can be used for most (but not all, minimum font size could be kept) of the font options.
      I can't imagine these settings going away. As of 1.5, Fonts are isolated on their own tab. The fonts settings dialogs is unfortunately complex, but that's due to the requirement for multi-language support.
    • Enable javascript in emails is a dangerous option to keep in the options dialogue. Most emails with javascript are sent by viruses. It should be noted, however, that sometimes javascript in RSS feeds is desirable.
  • The junk mail dialogue should be merged into options and grouped along with sanitization options, password options, certificates etc. under Junk Mail and Privacy This has been done for TB 2.0: bug 257990).
  • Fonts and Display should be merged under Mail Display.
  • Return Receipts Options should be placed under Composition and Connection Settings should be placed under General (just like firefox).

The Account Settings also needs a redesign.

  • We should design something similar to firefox's Bookmark Manager with account grouped by their types (Email, Newsgroup and RSS) on the left pane and the specific settings on the right pane. By default, we will only have one pane What does this mean? with server settings, logins settings, folder settings (user local folder or individual folder), certificate settings and composition settings (html or plain text)
    Composition Settings and Folder Settings are actually per-identity, rather than per-account. The big failing of this dialog is that it doesn't make this clear at the account level.
  • Moving the Account Settings into the Options dialogue is being investigated in bug 286664.

There is some ongoing discussion on restructuring the menus.

Even the main window contains an entire (uncustomizable) row I consider superfluous:

  • The list of folders is clearly a list of folders. Even when not named so, users will probably suspect that clicking Inbox brings them to the inbox.
    First: it is customizeable, somewhat: the Advanced option Show expanded columns in the folder pane. Second, with bug 330797, that "Folders" label is now active, and cycles between the various View|Folders settings.
  • The "Search bar" toolbar contains the unpopular View-dropdown (which should return as addable toolbar item). The search-box could be merged with the "Mail toolbar" toolbar, as it is in Firefox.This has been done for TB 2.0: bug 324194

Finally: Why doesn't Thunderbird look more like this???

Thunderbird:UI Reduction
Thunderbird:UI Reduction

This is from a side-project of mine that I have been working for a little while on. Contrary to appearances, this has all the functionality of existing email (and webmail) and some new features. (Guess what they are.)

The above interface removes much of the clutter of traditional email/webmail, while still retaining all necessary features and benefits. There should be a "simplified user interface" option (perhaps default) that looks somewhat like this.

In actual fact, the REPLY and FORWARD buttons could be combined (as in the above example). Similarly, a MERGE button could be introduced, that would have pretty straightforward functionality (unseen in present email clients): combining email messages together. An AUTOSORT button could introduce some pre-programmed sorting by (user-determined) variables. Finally, a TAG CLOUD would bring everything together nicely.

I almost forgot to mention the FIVE-STAR RATING system, which is almost too obvious, inevitable and yet striking in its genius brilliance when you see it. (This kind of mimics Digg's functionality, of course, but with the added benefit of a "sortable" 5-star rating.)

What do you think??!

Possible reductions:

Thunderbird's interface could use a redesign. However, it's possible to have a better interface while keeping high levels of functionality. Here are some possible points of improvement:
  1. 1. Conditional Calendar button. The Calendar button should only be shown if the calendar tab is not open. If that tab is open, the button should be hidden and the space reallocated to the rest of the toolbar. If someone has the calendar tab open, they don't need that launcher. This is how it currently works when that tab is open:
    [Calendar tab] [+] , with the + meaning the calendar button. It should be more like the following:
    When open: [Calendar tab]
    when closed: [+]
    This would save screen space.
  2. Eliminate the titlebar in windows. We should keep the window management "[_|#|X]" where it is, but we don't need the Thunderbird logo, or the title there. Instead, we should shift up the tab bar to where the titlebar is now, and save valuable screen space.
  3. Add a new tab button, which would create a blank tab with a URL bar. This would be used for people who want to add other communications to Thunderbird, such as twitter, a web IRC client, web E-mail interfaces, chat rooms, or Google groups. Essentially, we add the thunderbrowse add-on, but it would actually work. Thunderbird is our Communicator, and Firefox our web page/ app frontend. This feature would help people keep that distinction.