The Thunderbird mail client developers have recently posted a Thunderbird 2 page
describing the changes they anticipate for the next major release.
According to the
, this release is expected in the "late Fall 2006" (presumably
northern hemisphere) time frame. The task list is ambitious, but perhaps
not sufficiently so.
One of the planned changes is to introduce multiple views of the folder
pane - the list of mail accounts and folders which appears on the left of
the window. Thunderbird users with vast numbers of folders would evidently
like to be able to filter the display in various ways to make the list
easier to work with. So there will be options to display "favorite"
folders, the most recently used folders, or those with unread messages.
Current Thunderbird implements "labels" for messages; the user can mark a
message as being "important," "work," "personal," "todo," or "later."
There is no facility for adding new labels, so those which might be useful
to your editor ("muchmuchlater") are not available. For 2.0, the
developers have realized that (1) any self-respecting application must
allow users to apply tags to objects, and (2) labels are really just a
form of tags. So labels will be "rebranded" as tags, and users will be
able to create their own tags. The association of colors with tags will be
possible, preserving the color-coding capability that Thunderbird has now.
Another new feature is called "improved phishing support," which, one
assumes, is not exactly what the developers intend to implement. Plans
include integrating the Firefox2 safe
browsing extension and making use of both local and network
blacklists. There are also (unspecified) plans for improving the internal
bayesian filter for spam filtering.
Then, there's the animated new mail
alerts and a tooltip-like popup which can provide a summary of new
messages in a folder without actually opening that folder. Your editor
must confess to being unconvinced that inflicting even more little popup
windows on the desktop will truly improve the overall experience.
There are a few other things which might be nice to have on this list.
Your editor has been using Thunderbird with a (non-LWN) account for a while
now, on the notion that there must be something to these graphical
mail clients which makes them worth using. Based on this experience, he
has a few suggestions for features he would like to see implemented ahead
of animated alerts:
- The ability to configure the printing of messages - or, at a minimum,
a realization that, most of the time, there is little value in using
half a page of paper for every single header, causing even short
messages to be split between two pages.
- Some flexibility in the on-screen header display would be nice as
well. Why should it be necessary have all headers displayed just to
see who a message was sent to?
- A provision for feeding a message to a shell command.
- Replace the confusing "Junk/Not junk" toggle with a non-modal
- In your editor's experience, the internal bayesian filter is
not as effective as it should be. Rather than try to improve it, why
not fill out Thunderbird's fledgling support for integration with
external filters? Being able to easily train SpamAssassin, say, from
Thunderbird would be a great thing.
- Make it possible to send plain text (such as a patch)
without having to go through strange
rituals to keep it from being reformatted.
- Cause Thunderbird to not send HTML mail by default.
- Somewhere along the way, a bit of attention to reducing Thunderbird's
memory footprint would not be entirely misplaced.
Thunderbird is a nice mail client in a number of ways, and its developers
look like they plan to make it nicer yet. Your editor supports this work,
but hopes that attention to some basic usability issues will not suffer as
new features are added to this application. In many ways, graphical mail
clients are still slower, more awkward, and less powerful than the
text-oriented clients they ostensibly replace. Sooner or later, it would
be nice to close that gap.
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