Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thunderbird is bogged down

Thunderbird is spending more and more efforts into social media, such as the F1 extension. Unfortunately I think the Thunderbird drivers are falling in the smart phone trap.

These days you read a review on a new phone and the one extremely important things about the phone does not get a mention.

'Is it a good telephone'. Is the reception clear, in the aerial sufficient to allow it work at a reasonable distance from the tower, is making a call intuitive. These things just don't rate at all.

Volumes are spent on app stores and available apps, much verbiage is wasted on touch screens and gesture driven commands. At the end of the review you are none the wiser if the product is actually good at doing it's job, that is what is is like as a phone?

Recently the Thunderbird project also appear to be off on this glitz and glamor model. Thunderbird does not have anything more than 'adequate' message compose functions. The calendar features appear to be languishing in a black hole from which I am uncertain if it will ever arise.

What is Thunderbird?

Seriously for those that don't know you probably need to read this. But for this discussion is is a mail and news client. The basic underpinning of Thunderbird is EMail and to a lesser extent News (NNTP).

In the headlong rush to get into the 'new media' and make themselves relevant, I believe than the Mozilla team risks forgetting their roots. They are also forgetting that their real strength lies with email. Small business is crying out for an Outlook replacement and very many are opting for Thunderbird as it is in many ways similar. Mozilla is seriously letting this group down wish their policy of targeting home users. Come on guys, these home users are often quite happy with the web interface offered by their provider. Given that Yahoo and Hotmail alone account for 30% of 'email clients' this is a segment that is notoriously hard to win people over from. The 30% who are using Outlook 2003 and earlier are clearly the group where the converts will come from. When they buy their new PC with Windows 7 and find Outlook does not work with it they will be out there looking for a replacement. These are the people who expect their email client to have a good editor. They expect it to just work, and most of all they are not interested in the process or the security.

Long have users been requesting that Thunderbirds editor be improved. This is little wonder, it really was quite good when Mozilla inherited it from Netscape 13 years ago, but it has had very little real work done to improve it in the years since. It is dated, clunky and creaking at the seams trying to write to a 21st century standard. I applaud the work being done by Jonathan Protzenko in trying the shoe horn CKEditor into Thunderbird as a replacement editor, but there does not appear to be any impetus to move that sort of project forward any faster than when Jonathan as a PhD student finds spare time. Given that he is also behind the conversations add on he is indeed a busy fellow.

When you look at the 'new' features currently in Miramar (3.3) there is really little more than inherited changes from the change of Geko versions and bug fixes.

The new account wizard was launched in version 3 and was a debacle reminiscent of the worst in software development. It simply did not work. The new and improved version in Miramar works, but still leaves a lot to be desired. It locates settings for the account, and creates the account. If the setting in the database don't work it blithely continues as if they did, because at no point are they tested. The options to change accounts to and from POP are almost random, given that the database rarely contains all the working settings for a provider, only those favoured by the developers. If the user want to create a POP account they are in a real catch 22.

Thunderbird needs integration to other 'office' products. The world as a whole has come to expect mail merge to be a feature of email. They also expect the editor to belong to the same family of product as their office suite. As it stands in Thunderbird using anything other than the aging edit of really a role of the dice. Sometimes it will work and sometime it will not.

While supporting Thunderbird it has become obvious that the following other enhancements are important to users.

  • Simple passwords on their account/ profile to block casual snooping. This is available here.
  • Vacation responses which is available here
  • The ability to change profiles without closing and re opening the program.
  • Synchronisation of profile data between devices
  • An archive that actually archives (That is to an archive device)
  • An account and data transfer wizard that lets people press a button and have their account/profile bundled up ready for their new computer. Microsoft solved most of this years ago with PST files. Why can't Thunderbird do something?
As I sit here writing this I receive an email from the Thunderbird planning mailing list from someone complaining about the impenetrable mess that has become the lot of the contributor. It also suggests that the future includes chat and an integrated calendar.

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