Older blog entries for clarkbw (starting at number 188)

Thunderbird 3 beta 2

It’s been a little while since the release of Thunderbird beta 2 and today we’re automatically offering the upgrade to all our existing alpha and beta users.


Upgrading from Previous Development Releases

At 12:00pm today (12:00 PDT) updates will start to be picked up by Thunderbird Alpha and Beta users.  In the following 24 - 48 hours you should be offered the update if you’re running a previous development release.

Alternatively, you can pick it quicker by going to the menu, selecting Help and then “Check for updates…”

Take a look a the Thunderbird 3.0 Beta 2 Release Notes for more information, we have one additional note for POP3 users.

Syndicated 2009-03-19 19:00:08 from Bryan Clark

Budget Customer Experience FTW!

Budget Truck rental of Canada has some special promotions available when you reserve via their web site.

However you actually can’t reserve trucks via the web site.  You have to call the locations.

When you call the location it goes something like this.

  • You: I would like to reserve a truck for next week.  I have a coupon from your site.
  • Them: Next week is no problem.  However the coupon is only for online reservations.
  • You: Oh, I couldn’t reserve online; it said there were no places available.
  • Them: No you can’t reserve online, only via phone.
  • You: So…
  • Them: So next week is all set!

Syndicated 2009-03-02 20:13:18 from Bryan Clark

Design by Committee

I like to look at this painting every so often to remind myself how things can go so wrong even when they seem like they are going right.

If you haven’t seen this image before, the description of the project is amazing.  An effort to find the “People’s Choice” art award a market survey queried respondents from around the globe on what aspects of art they enjoyed.

Results were tallied for various countries and “The Web”, the paintings were created to spec with total disregard for an overall vision / goal / theme and the results are completely unappealing.  I originally found this site via the excellent email on Design from Dan Winship of years back.

U.S.A. - Most wanted Painting

Design & Choice

I was talking with someone about Design about a year ago and we go into the topic of choice vs. decisions, we debated this.

Committees make decisions

Making decisions is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities and then merging and pruning the list of possible options until only 1 option remains; which could be a hybrid of the original possible options.

Design makes choices

Making choices is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities, then selecting one of the options.  The design process suggests that this selection be iterated on and further choices made.  Part of design choices means knowing that other options are valid but possibly lack a clear expression or vision.

Decisions vs. Choices

The difference between choices and decisions is subtle , some of it has to do with the quality of your ingredients and some of it has to do with compromise at the wrong stage of development.  Is the process all that matters?  A process that is used to constantly create new possible options and choose from those instead of making Frankenstein out of the options given?  The design process will constantly emphasize the goal in the iteration of options leading to a choice.  I don’t think that definition clear, but it’s the best we came up with.

Allowing More Choice

If design requires choices that defines a vision and other designers incorporate that design with their own vision…  How do we create this space where design can make choices according to a single vision and still allow other designers [1] to continue making further choices toward their own vision?  And further, how do you have a meaningful community other designers can make their own?

[1] As in, “Everyone is a designer”, by choice or by accident.

Syndicated 2009-02-18 00:21:08 from Bryan Clark

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.


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.


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.

Syndicated 2009-01-20 04:25:16 from Bryan Clark

Is George W Bush the worst president?

I’m eagerly downloading the latest Intelligence Squared debate, Bush 43 is the worst president of the last 50 years.  What makes this especially interesting to me is the fact that Karl Rove is participating in the debate the panel, arguing against the motion.

Syndicated 2009-01-12 18:02:51 from Bryan Clark

Activity Manager… Activity!

It’s been a while since my first post on the Activity Manager for Thunderbird.  There was a lot of positive feedback from an Activity Manager talk we gave in Barcelona for the EU Mozcamp.  And since that time there has been quite a bit of progress on the Activity Manager code.

Emre recently landed a new “work in progress” patch ( check out the patch in bug 257942 ).  Also there has been a lot of work put into documenting the Activity Manger Interfaces to help other developers properly hook into it and use it.  Please take a look over the interface docs and if you’re so inclined you could grab the patch and apply to a current release, beta or later, to see the current activity manager in action.

Beta 1 Released

David Ascher has a great post about our recent Thunderbird 3 Beta 1 release with info on where you can get it and what it involves.

Syndicated 2008-12-12 19:47:30 from Bryan Clark

This bird can dance!

Thunderbird can finally do the Tango

For a long time Thunderbird has been using the same theme for Linux and Windows, resulting in an ugly and out of place Linux theme.  However now Magnus has a patch is up to create a gnomestripe theme space.  Magnus already moved Thunderbird menus over to using the gtk stock icons.

Here’s a screenshot (courtesy of Michael Monreal) of Thunderbird using the desktop icon spec.

Now we can start the move over to using the Tango icon set!

Syndicated 2008-12-04 16:48:19 from Bryan Clark

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!

Syndicated 2008-10-10 03:56:38 from Bryan Clark


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.

Syndicated 2008-09-25 23:58:47 from Bryan Clark

How to steal from a Fox

Interface design is hard work, so it’s really nice when someone else has done much of the heavy lifting for you and left their labor open to cherry picking.  :)  The Mozilla platform has been getting a number of upgrades in large part due to the work of the Firefox team and thankfully I have no shame in stealing the work of our compatriots.  Here’s how you can do it too.

What to Steal

I started in the Preferences area because we (TB & FF) share many of the same mechanisms used to change preferences.  Also it’s difficult to get preferences done right so it’s nice to be able to take all the hard work someone else did there and make it our own.

In Bug 451620 — “Remove the Advanced Preference for Connection timeout” we are cleaning up a preference mostly used for debugging and therefore doesn’t really belong in the main interface.  While working on the patch I took a look at FIrefox’s preferences to see what they were doing in that area and noticed they have the exact same preference, but it looked cleaner and nicer.  So I took it. :)

In Bug 452711 — “Use firefox default font chooser for display” I wanted to improve a users ability to change their font preferences.  Currently Thunderbird requires a user to change fonts with the daunting font dialog now available from the Advanced button.  In making this patch I went straight over to the Firefox font preferences and ported it over to our code.  Again, I have no shame about taking this either. :)

How You Can Steal Too!

Stealing code for preferences is easy, so easy, that I (not a programmer) can do this in a fairly short amount of time.  It only takes a reasonable knowledge of HTML/XML (XUL can help) and Javascript.

There are lots of this kind of preferences work to be done and it’s a great way for a new person who wants to submit a patch into the codebase to get a sense of the process.

Here’s a step by step on how I’ve been borrowing their code such that anyone should be able to do it.

Step 1 - Source Code

Get the source code from steps in the Comm-Central source code wiki page.  This step takes a little while as it downloads all the necessary components to build Thunderbird.

Step 2 - Initial Build

Build Thunderbird initially, you should only need to build it entirely once.  Follow the steps to create your .mozconfig or you could just try mine, which gives you a debug build.

export MOZCONFIG=~/tbsrc/comm-central/mozilla/browser/config/mozconfig
. $topsrcdir/mozilla/browser/config/mozconfig
mk_add_options MOZ_OBJDIR=@TOPSRCDIR@/tbird-debug
mk_add_options MOZ_CO_PROJECT=mail,calendar
ac_add_options --enable-application=mail
ac_add_options --disable-optimize
ac_add_options --enable-debug

Then run the build command as they describe.  Now go get some coffee or something.

Step 3 - Start Stealing

Time to start stealing!  Move into the Mail Preferences code and open up one of the files (check out Prime Places to Steal for ideas).

(from src)
cd mail/components/preferences/

Then at the same time go into the Firefox preferences and open up the preferences file that has the component pieces you’re looking to steal.

(from src)
cd mozilla/browser/components/preferences/

Step 4 - Building Your Theft

Now as you viciously swap pieces from the Firefox preferences over to Thunderbird preferences you don’t need to rebuild the entire Thunderbird source code, just the preferences component you’re changing.

Move into the preferences component on the build directory.  (this assumes you have a tbird-debug directory, which you’d get if you used my .mozconfig file)  There should only be a Makefile in this directory so type “make” and it will build up the preferences component.

(from src)
cd tbird-debug/mail/components/preferences

If you were to change any of the strings (preferences DTD files) used in the DTD that the XUL file references then you’ll need to rebuild the locales jar, which is just as easy.

(from src)
cd tbird-debug/mail/locales

Step 5 - Testing Your Theft

Now you’re ready to run your new version of Thunderbird!  You’ll likely want to create a different profile than your normal profile.

(from src)
./tbird-debug/mozilla/dist/bin/thunderbird -P test

Common Gotchas I Encountered

Here are some common errors I hit that were annoying to work through.

Parse Error: If you add code with references to DTD entities ( often labels like “&colors.label” ) that don’t exist you’ll get a parse error that’s pretty difficult to understand.  Check that your DTD has the correct entity ( <ENTITY colors.label “Colors:”> ) and that you’ve built the jar from the locales directory.

Adding New Files: If you’ve added new XUL and DTD files you’ll need to add references to those files in the “.mn” file.  Don’t ask me why!  I just work here.  See the preferences jar.mn and the locales jar.mn files, the format is pretty obvious.

Prime Places to Steal

Bug 451599 — “Add preferences UI for disk cache size and clearing the cache“.  To implement this bug you really just need to grab the Firefox Preference code from line 221 to line 233 and copy it just after line 216 of the Thunderbird Preferences code.  You’ll need to poke around at the related Javascript code for hooking it up.   And don’t forget to copy the strings from Firefox advanced.dtd file into the Thunderbird advanced.dtd file.  See, no shame at all!

Another one is the continuation of Bug 452711 — “Use firefox default font chooser for display” where you can copy over the color chooser.  First apply the patch provided in the bug. Copy the Firefox colors.xul file over to the Thunderbird preferences directory and the colors.dtd over to the Thunderbird preferences locale directory. Don’t forget to update both jar.mn files (and build the jars) as mentioned in the Gotchas section.

Then have a look at the code for the Firefox Content Preference and grab the row from line 195 to line 201, the button which launches the color chooser dialog.  You’ll also need to grab the content.js configureColors function and add it to the display.js code.  Don’t forget to change “chrome://browser/…” to “chrome://messenger/…”.

Making and Submitting Your Patch

Once you’ve made your changes and tested them out you’ll want to open a new bug, and upload your patch to that bug.  Use the hg diff command to make your patch, I generally do something like this.

hg diff --git > ~/Desktop/stealing-ff-preferences.patch

Make sure the new bug is against Thunderbird Preferences, use this link to get the product/component entries correct, and attach your patch along with that new bug.

Don’t forget to CC me on that bug!  Use my email: clarkbw at gnome . org

Legitimate Sharing

Stealing isn’t right.  It’s not that we want to copy all this code, which can create known issues of code sharing.  However I defend this especially for something like the preferences UI which goes under a considerable amount of churn each release; making it difficult to place those elements in a lower layer like toolkit for optimum sharing.

Once we’ve played catch up for a bit I hope that Thunderbird can start sharing code back as we create new improvements on the current systems.

Syndicated 2008-09-03 21:11:33 from Bryan Clark

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