Thunderbird 3 on a netbook?

I’ve been discussing the layout of the forthcoming TB3 release on their mailing list recently.

Since I installed it on my new Asus 1008HA on top of the Ubuntu Karmic Alpha build I’m having a bit of an issue with the [relatively] huge size of the header panel for messages. According to a quick measurement in the Gimp, the header is using 137px of vertical space. Netbooks typically have a 1024x600px resolution, some are even smaller. 137px represents almost 23% of the available vertical space.

TB3 Classic View

TB3 Classic View

Here’s a screenshot showing the typical layout I prefer clearly showing the space required by the header. Note that I also have the Calendar plugin Lightning installed too.

There used to be a “compact header” layout that took up much less space but allowed you to see more of the information if needed. But for reasons I do not understand that has been dropped from the current builds which seems a bit of a shame to me. The size of the header is making TB3 quite difficult to use on the increasingly popular and common ultra-portable devices. I am assuming this will be same if you are using another operating system too.

It was suggested that I try one of the other “views” or layouts that you can choose in TB and provide some screenshots too. Here you go then:

TB3 in the Wide View layout

TB3 in the Wide View layout

TB3 in the Vertical layout

TB3 in the Vertical layout

TB3 Vertical layout with the Today Pane removed

TB3 Vertical layout with the Today Pane removed

As you can see, the header impacts the available message body considerably in all layouts. One thing I realised though is these screenshots show a plain text email from a newsgroup reader. How about another common type of email then? HTML…

TB3 Classic View HTML Email

TB3 Classic View HTML Email

TB3 Wide View HTML Email

TB3 Wide View HTML Email

TB3 Vertical View HTML Email

TB3 Vertical View HTML Email

I find these images even more telling. Note how there is virtually no working space in the Classic View to determine if the mail is one you want to allow images to be loaded. I don’t think the Vertical view works at all and even the Wide View which is probably the most usable of the three seems to just draw your attention to the header and not to the message itself.

I also notice that there is a rather silly bit of wastage to do with the Calendar and Tasks buttons (underneath the search box). Why can’t they appear alongside the rest of the main toolbar? If you have multiple tabs accessible then I can see why we need the row to hold the tabs, But when there isn’t a tab open, is it really necessary? Whatever the case, I see no reason why the Lightning buttons need to have their own toolbar. That’s just waste and unintuitive. I’d expect those buttons to be with the others, not out on their own like that.

I will post a link to this blog page on the mailing list for all to see and hopefully comment.

Don’t get me wrong though. I really like Thunderbird. I have a strong preference to it over Evolution. Whenever I have tried Evolution I’ve found it difficult to use (in the sense it isn’t obvious), and it failed to work with our CalDAV calendars which was a known and long standing bug (I am not sure if this is still the case). It also didn’t feel as stable as TB, and considering I regularly use Alphas or nightly builds of Thunderbird and Lightning that is saying something. There is also a bug that has been open since 2004 with the title “Evolution is unusable in 800×600 or 1024×768”. It has seemingly received little attention since it was reported 5 years ago.

A recent post to the bug above pointed me to a blog post by Srini Ragavan discussing a new development going on for Evolution specifically to create a UI that is better suited to small resolution displays called Anjal.

Anjal looks to be a very interesting development and one I will be following closely. If Evolution gets to be as easy to use and as polished as I feel about Thunderbird, then I might well end up giving it a try again.

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  • Alan Bell says:

    looking at the very first screenshot I can’t see anything at all in the header that I can’t see elsewhere on screen, even the references isn’t really required, especially if you had the message list in thread order.

  • Blake Winton says:

    But for reasons I do not understand that has been dropped from the current builds

    The reason, as I understand it, is that there just isn’t enough time for the developers to maintain a compact mode, and do all the other stuff that needs doing. There is an extension that adds the functionality back in, though, so you’re not totally out of luck.


  • Ste says:

    Or you could just use Claws Mail instead.

  • 12" says:

    There’s a config option to disable tabs when there’s only one, mail.tabs.autoHide. You can also edit toolbars so that quicksearch is on the main menu and disable the toolbar with buttons.

  • JIFF says:

    The answer lies in developing a different client for netbooks
    It is outrageous that the same jerks that want Xp on their netbooks because they don’t get the difference are trying to do the same things on that small screens

  • tb3b3/4 tester says:

    I’m with the Open Sourcerer on this one; why did they remove the existing functionality?! I’ve fed this back to Mozilla and hope it will re-appear in the next beta/RC.

    The other bit of wastage around the headers is the alignment to a “right tab” of the “from”, “subject”, “to”, and “date” labels. If they moved them around a bit they could shrink the vertical space usage by around half. Those buttons should go too.

    On the subject of functionality, it would be really nice to have buttons for “previous” and “next” messages, not previous and next UNREAD messages…

  • snowflake says:

    I came here looking for an answer… An system update on my eeepc 701 (with archlinux) installed Thunderbird 3. Although I find it great on my main computer, it’s a real pain on my 800×480 screen! I didn’t have this issue with the previous version of TB…

  • dave says:

    compact header extension
    works really well.

    Also TinyMenu and the moving all the buttons up to the menu bar and getting ride of the Mail tool bar helps!

  • Tarky says:

    I won’t lie, Thunderbird 3 is an ugly mess. Who needs those buttons right in the header? They’re meaningless and should be left at the top. Ugly and a tremendous waste of space. Whoever thought of that one should never do UI design again. I had to switch back to TB2 because of the mess they made of 3. Tabs in a mail program? I don’t think so.

  • Daniel says:

    Although this thread is old, it’s still – unfortunately – very relevant. I’ve got a 22 inch screen and am also frustrated by the thoughtless use of screen real-estate in Thunderbird 3 – It’s like UI bloatware! I hope the designers will refine the UI in the next few versions.

  • Jerry Peek says:

    I’ve just installed TB 3.1.2 after running TB2 forever. (This is on a netbook running Windows XP… but, for those of us on multiple OSes, FYI…)

    The Migration Assistant said “We noticed that you were using the compact message reader header. This function has moved into its own extension…” and it offered to install v1.2.4 of the CompactHeader extension. After I clicked “Install,” it told me I had to restart TB (aborting the Migration Assistant, I guess) to complete the installation. I ignored that, finished the Assistant, then restarted TB.

    Though the first view of a message had all of the space-eating buttons and a multi-line header, clicking the “-” at the left edge of the huge header gave me a single-line header. After an hour, it’s still working well. @dave, thanks for your report on February 27. Any other reports from open OS users?

  • RFortier says:

    This is an old post, but it still shows up near the top of some searches, so I’ll post what I did here in case anyone is still experiencing this problem.

    * I installed both the Compact Header and the Compact Menu extensions.
    * In the Config Editor I set mail.tabs.autoHide to true
    * In Customize Toolbar I dragged the Delete, Reply, Reply All buttons to the main toolbar. When you shrink the message headers, the reply and delete buttons disappear, so this takes care of that.

  • Oleg says:

    The only solution that I found useful is to stay with ThunderBird v2.

    The team who developed this ugly header shot not in their leg, not.. They shot into their head.

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