Thunderbird In Ubuntu 11.10

I am an Evolution user. While people seem to rag on Evo, I quite like it. In Oneiric though there has been discussion about switching to Thunderbird. I have always been a firm believer in eating your own dogfood where possible, so I decided to start using Thunderbird this week when I upgraded to Oneiric.

Overall everything is looking good so far, but I wanted to summarize some feedback about Thunderbird, as well as some news about Thunderbird’s integration into Ubuntu.

Feedback

Overall I like Thunderbird. I used to be a Thunderbird user but moved away due to better desktop integration in Evolution. Some initial feedback:

  • Thunderbird now integrates with the Messaging Menu and the Unity launcher. At first this didn’t work, but with a bit of debugging help from Chris Coulson (the legend who is doing a lot of this integration work), he found the bug and rolled a fix which will land in Oneiric shortly. If this didn’t work for you, it should work when you upgrade your Oneiric.
  • I cannot stand the Global Search. It doesn’t ever net usable results. As an example, I did a search for Andy Oram today, who I have been chatting with recently, and I clicked to sort the results by date. It didn’t find the thread from the last few days, which was not good. It turns out there are really two search paths: the Global Search, and the search for filtering the messages, which acts like a more traditional email search like the one in Evolution. If this Global Search is not improved, I would recommend it be switched off in the default Thunderbird installation in Ubuntu (bug report)
  • When sending a message a window pops up to say the message is being sent – this is pretty distracting and interrupts the flow of working with your email (bug report).
  • Fonts seem too small (particularly the message font) and there are also still some quirks when it comes to configuring fonts and Thunderbird remembering what you configured (bug report).
  • The notifications integration is nice and shows you a little about what message arrived. It is also nice to not see that hulking great big Thunderbird notification appear in the lower right-hand corner. :-)

Coming Work

I talked to Chris today about some of the future work and missing integration pieces. Here are some of the goals:

  • Work is going on to integrate the Lightning extension for calendar integration into Thunderbird. This will bring the feature-set more on par with Evolution. Last time I tried Lightning it was quite young in it’s development, so I am keen to see how this works.
  • Chris is working on the Evolution Data Server integration; this would provide better integration into the desktop, so for example, you events will appear in calendar indicator.
  • Thunderbird looks less integrated today at a theming level, but Chris showed me some of the mock-ups for theming improvments being worked on by Andreas:

  • Overlay Scrollbar support is on the nice-to-have list for the 11.10 release. IF you are interested in helping with this, do let me know.

Overall, things are looking good and with these integration components complete, the Thunderbird experience should be pretty rocking in Ubuntu. I can’t wait to see it evolve over the coming months!

  • https://launchpad.net/~chrisccoulson Chris Coulson

    Just one minor point – Mike Conley is working on the Evolution Data Server integration which will enable Thunderbird to share contacts with other applications

  • Anonymous

    Oops, thanks for the clarification, Chris. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/ylynfatt Yannick

    What about integration with Microsoft Exchange/MAPI? Can anything be done to make an extension or use similar packages from Evolution?

  • Anonymous

    AFAIK, that support is built into Evolution Data Server, so when Thunderbird supports that we get Exchange. I am not 100% sure on this though. Maybe Chris or Mike can respond?

  • Anonymous

    AFAIK, that support is built into Evolution Data Server, so when Thunderbird supports that we get Exchange. I am not 100% sure on this though. Maybe Chris or Mike can respond?

  • Andrew Sutherland

    Out of curiosity, was the search for Andy Oram against an autocomplete entry for his e-mail, or just fulltext on the name?

  • Anonymous

    I was search for his name as the sender of an email.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/C6S22ANL35LHAH27EX43XFQKTQ Klau3

    I really like Thunderbird, but there are two points that need to be improved: – By default new mails will shown up at the bottom of the list – but it should be on TOP!!! – It is still not possible to write new mails in a tab instead of in a new window (don’t like to have 100000 windows open). Thunderbird uses the tab concept, but not consistently (new mail, address book, settings)

  • Matthew Newton

    Drag and drop of attachments to the Desktop (or elsewhere) is also broken and has been for a long time; sure hope we can see that fixed before 11.10. ( https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/thunderbird/+bug/151162 )

  • http://mohoho.de Kai Mast

    I really would prefer a seperate Calendar-App. Never understood where the connection to E-Mails is…

  • Andrew Sutherland

    Sorry, should have elaborated.  The global search box can actually generate a few different types of queries.  If you are typing in it, it attempts to generate auto-completes based on tag name, as well as contacts (both e-mail, and display name).

    If it generates an auto-complete entry for a contact and you select it, it generates a global database query on that e-mail address, and it should be pretty fast and entirely comprehensive (assuming the indexer has seen the messages in question.)

    If you don’t select the auto-complete entry, it does a standard fulltext inverted index type search where it finds all of the messages with “andy” in them and all of the messages with “oram” in them, intersects them, then attempts to perform a time-biased ranking and applying a limit of 400 messages (followed by a de-duplication pass on messages stored that appears in your folders multiple times.)  If you put “Andy Oram” in quotes, the intersection uses proximity information to make sure “Andy Oram” appeared.

    The former is much faster and less likely to have the ranking algorithm with LIMIT betray you.  Of course, neither way will find a message that has not yet been indexed by the system.  The indexer indexes folders in time-biased order, and tries to select folders in a reasonable fashion, but if the mail was in a custom folder and the indexer had not gotten there yet or the autosync mechanism had not gotten there yet, then the message would not be indexed yet.

    Note that I’m not trying to defend the UX here, just provide information on how it works and help disambiguate why your search failed.  It’s entirely reasonable for a user to type in the name of someone without quotes or having to select an auto-complete entry and for them to expect that the result set will include a recent conversation and have it be heavily biased towards that more recent conversation.

  • https://launchpad.net/~chrisccoulson Chris Coulson

    The integration with EDS is for contacts (initially), and eventually calendars (with Lightning). It won’t enable people to use Exchange in Thunderbird though

  • https://launchpad.net/~chrisccoulson Chris Coulson

    I would prefer this too, actually. In fact, I was thinking just a couple of weeks ago about maybe writing a calendar application. Perhaps that’s something we should think about for the next cycle?

  • http://about.me/nlsthzn Neil Oosthuizen

    The ease of setting up IMAP for Gmail in Thunderbird really makes me like it a lot more than most e-mail clients…

  • Mark Smith

    I’m a fan of Evolution. It used to be somewhat buggy and crashy with Exchange support, but the latest versions seem much improved. I certainly agree with making Thunderbird a fully integrated option for 11.10, but switching it to the default mail client might be a mistake.

    As you mentioned, many of the Thunderbird features are quite young. The lack of Exchange/MAPI support pretty much eliminates Thunderbird for most corporate environments, many of which refuse to enable IMAP or POP. Hopefully this feature will show up in Thunderbird in the future. In the mean time, lets stick with Evolution as the default browser.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure I would agree. I think the benefit is that your Personal Information is in one place – email, calendar, and other things related to information you process, particularly at work. There is also a lot of integration between email and events such as meetings, scheduling, cancelling, inviting others, sending around notes etc.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that losing the Exchange support is sub-optimal. I really hope that this support is brought in, particularly if possible with EDS as a backend.

  • Michael T

    I use Thunderbird on a daily basis, and I totally agree with you regarding Global Search.

    It’s rubbish. It simply doesn’t work as you’d expect it to.

  • http://twitter.com/Cont3mpo Cont3mpo

    Monochrome icons are coming to 11.10? Are great.

  • Quentin Hartman

    So, I switched to Thunderbird after using Evolution exclusively for many years. The things that I didn’t like about EVO were:

    -Tended to crash or get mysteriously wedged fairly frequently. By frequently I mean once or twice a week of more or less constant 8-5 use. -There was no on-demand global search, only per-folder search “and search folders”. This is totally incompatible with my organizational habits that I developed on Eudora previously. -And finally (this is what pushed me over the edge and got me to switch) the Google Calendar and Contacts integration is soooper flaky, more often than not failing to create appointments or contacts entries after I enter the information.

    To be fair, the things I don’t like about T-bird:

    -Lightning kinda sucks. It’s just awkward and ugly and I don’t like it, though it seems more functional. I actually use my calendars via the webpage now because there doesn’t seem to be any fully competent desktop solution

  • Cassidy James Blaede

    Yeah but calendaring and emailing are two totally different things. I like the elementary approach with this: two different apps that are integrated.

  • Cassidy James Blaede

    Love the mention of eating your own dog food. I recently posted an article about dogfooding on the elementary OS website. http://elementaryos.org/journal It’s an important part of the development process.

  • https://launchpad.net/~chrisccoulson Chris Coulson

    I agree, this sort of integration is definitely useful at work – but I’m not sure it’s as useful for most consumers. I think that these users probably just want the ability to create appointments and set reminders, which you should be able to do independently of an e-mail client (and the calendaring is already separated from e-mail on my smart-phone, for example).

    Having the functionality of Google calendar on the desktop is probably the type of experience that we want to bring to people.

    Of course, I don’t have any hard facts and figures, and this is just based from other people telling me how their wives/partners etc use a calendar.

  • http://aim.pp.ru/ andrey i. mavlyanov

    noooooooo! say no to evolution data server – that ugly monster who stole ram and doing NOTHING helpfull!

  • James Scholes

    Sending message window can be disabled (certainly in TB 3): http://www.ehow.com/how_2272848_disable-mozilla-thunderbird-sending-progress.html Not ideal to need to hack around in the Config editor, but it’s doable. I’d prefer it as a check box in my Preferences.

  • Sergeant

    I strongly recommend DAVMAIL (davmail.sourceforge.net) for exchange support. We use it in “headless mode” and it’s much better (stability and functionality wise) than Evolution. It would be good if Ubuntu had a simple wiki page on davmail, can actually volunteer to write one.

  • Sergeant

    Just like in Mac, calendar application can be separate, but still integrated. It is also more in line with Unix approach, one app per task. This facilitates healthy competition among different PIM projects and will eventually allow to swap apps based on their merits rather than tying good and bad programs together.

  • Andrey Yurovsky

    Then why is this becoming the default mail client on Ubuntu when the current one (Evolution) does actually work?

    Face it, lots of us are stuck with Exchange at the office.  For the rest, both of these clients do about the same thing, so what’s the rationale for changing?  And if you are changing, at least wait until the replacement matches Evolution in terms of features people need.

  • Jack David Baucum

    I’m glad you are looking into these things.  I also did a review of Thunderbird in the latest Oneiric at http://maxolasersquad.blogspot.com/2011/07/features-needed-in-thunderbird-to.html and we came to many of the same conclusions.  I noted a few more extensions other than Lightning that need to be installed by default to bring it on par with Evolution, as well as further integration that I believe needs to happen. I am kind of saddened to see Evolution go once it was just starting to be pretty good.  I do still have issues where clicking on an e-mail, and actually seeing the e-mail, can be laggy and annoying.  But overall it is starting to feel like a nice Gnomey mail client.  Thunderbird in Oneiric, at least for now, feels more like an application that happens to run on Linux rather than an application that was built to run on Linux.

  • https://launchpad.net/~chrisccoulson Chris Coulson

    We are changing because we believe that Thunderbird offers a better consumer experience than Evolution. Thunderbird is better supported, has lots of cool addons (eg, gmail conversation view), an enthusiastic addon developer community, it’s easier to set up, and it also brings a recognised brand to Ubuntu. Most users don’t use Exchange, and Evolution will still exist for those corporate environments that require it.

    What is good for a work or corporate environment doesn’t necessarily provide the best experience for everybody else (and vice-versa). We have to acknowledge that the 2 groups of users often have different requirements

  • Andrey Yurovsky

    Ok, thanks for the explanation.

    From my perspective though, we still have two tools that basically do the same job while one does normal mail (for both types of users) plus exchange and other plugins, the other just does normal mail.  The latter also doesn’t seem to do anything that the former doesn’t do aside from these cool plugins (and has broken global search, to boot), why make the change?Is Evolution’s code base in really bad shape?  Are the developers hard to work with vs. Thunderbird?  Wouldn’t it be easier to keep the mail client that has been the default in ubuntu (and supports Exchange) and just fix whatever you/users feel is wrong with it?I’ve been using Ubuntu since the first version and after it matured I’ve seen several cycles of mature applications grow a little stale and get replaced with “cool” new ones that do a only subset of the “old” tool’s functions and have new bugs and issues.  In the corporate setting this isn’t too painful (we normally just use the shell, a web browser, and a text editor and don’t care about Banshee or whatever) but changing the mail client and letting Evolution get more stale is going to be painful, especially since Exchange’s webmail intentionally sucks on non-MS browsers, we miss calendar notifications, etc.  

  • Andrey Yurovsky

    Ok, thanks for the explanation.

    From my perspective though, we still have two tools that basically do the same job while one does normal mail (for both types of users) plus exchange and other plugins, the other just does normal mail.  The latter also doesn’t seem to do anything that the former doesn’t do aside from these cool plugins (and has broken global search, to boot), why make the change?Is Evolution’s code base in really bad shape?  Are the developers hard to work with vs. Thunderbird?  Wouldn’t it be easier to keep the mail client that has been the default in ubuntu (and supports Exchange) and just fix whatever you/users feel is wrong with it?I’ve been using Ubuntu since the first version and after it matured I’ve seen several cycles of mature applications grow a little stale and get replaced with “cool” new ones that do a only subset of the “old” tool’s functions and have new bugs and issues.  In the corporate setting this isn’t too painful (we normally just use the shell, a web browser, and a text editor and don’t care about Banshee or whatever) but changing the mail client and letting Evolution get more stale is going to be painful, especially since Exchange’s webmail intentionally sucks on non-MS browsers, we miss calendar notifications, etc.  

  • Mike Conley

    Thanks for the plug, Chris.  ;)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments, Jono.  As the Thunderbird UX Lead, I appreciate the feedback.

    To address some of your points, we have someone planning on working on improving the global search this summer.  I suspect it will be more performance improvements rather than search result improvements, but we’ll see.

    As a long-term plan, I’m hoping to merge the two search boxes, so that they would do the quick-filter that you prefer first, and then present the option for a global search.

    I completely agree with the message sending popup being bad UI, and would love to see that fixed.  (I thought we had a bug for it, but didn’t see anything.)

    If you wanted to push the bugs you filed for the message sending and the fonts upstream into bugzilla, and cc-me on them, I’ld greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks, Blake.

  • Anonymous

    If you click the “date” header at the top of the list, it should reverse the order, showing you new mails on top.  (It’s odd, I thought that the default was to show new mail at the top, since I prefer them at the bottom, and think I always have to change it.  :)

    We’re working on writing new mail in a tab.  It’s slow work, and there’s a lot of it, but that’s definitely on the UX roadmap.  (Email me if you have time to help!  bwinton@mozilla.com)

    Thanks, Blake.

  • http://www.theopensourcerer.com The Open Sourcerer

    I’ve been a long-time TB user and am generally pleased by this decision. Removing Evo is the first thing I do on a new desktop install but there is so much associated baggage with it that a complete removal is virtually impossible.

    I’ve never used Evo data server and don’t really grok why I should but I bet that it won’t help with Exchange/MAPI integration whatsoever. In the most recent conversations on the TB planning list there was little (none really) enthusiasm for adding that support either. Mozilla’s focus, especially with TB, is on consumers – which is a shame IMHO.

    A possible alternative might be to look at integrating the Mapi library/proxy from the OpenChange project (http://www.openchange.org/index.php/home/what-is-openchange).

    Finally, for us, one of the most compelling arguments for TB over Evo is that is is cross-platform. It makes migration from Windows or OSX to Ubuntu much easier…

  • Giulia

    Clearly, I don’t agree about global research. Sometimes, I want to find out a specific email, and I think that it is in a folder X. However, when I make a global search, I find out that THE email I was searching is in another folder.

    So yeah, definitely keep the global research, and keeping the possibilities to narrow the research PRN.

  • Cliff Wells

    I also find the global search feature useless.  Worse, it’s prominent position means I find myself using it by default, then having to re-search using the message filter. 

    It doesn’t work, so making it “faster” (faster at what, exactly?) seems rather odd.  Slow + functional > Fast + useless.