A new installment of Mozilla’s sterling e-mail program, Thunderbird, has been released, and while this new variant doesn’t blow the doors off its predecessor, version 1.5, it has some tantalizing enhancements that spurred me to upgrade to the new edition without hesitation.
A major change in the application that immediately attracted me to it was its advanced folder views.
In its classic view, Thunderbird has three window panes: a vertical pane and stacked beside it, panes for listing messages in a folder and for previewing the text of a message.
With previous versions of Thunderbird, you had only one folder view. If you had a lot of folders and subfolders, that could lead to a tedious amount of scrolling in the folder pane.
In T-bird 1.5, I found an add-on that helped alleviate that problem to a degree. Add-ons, or extensions, are little programs that add functionality to bigger programs. In this case, the add-on allowed me to create a folder bar under T-bird’s main tool bar.
Folders on the folder bar could be accessed with a click, oftentimes making scrolling through the folder trees in the folder pane unnecessary.
That idea was developed further by T-bird 2.0’s authors. They built in a number of views in the new version’s folder pane.
A pair of arrow keys at the top of the folder pane let you toggle what’s displayed in the pane. You can look at all folders, all folders with unread messages in them, all folders you recently looked at or all your favorite folders.
Adding a folder to your favorites list is as easy as right clicking on it with your mouse and choosing “favorite folder” from a pop-up menu.
While this system is an improvement over past incarnations of the program, it seemed to be replacing the tedium of scrolling with the tedium of toggling.
That hangup was quickly addressed by add-on writer Georges-Etienne Legendre, who created “additional folders view.” That allows you to split the folder pane in two so you can have two views in sight at all times. It greatly reduces the amount of ping-pong you have to play with the toggle keys.
Mozilla has also added to this edition of T-bird browser-like forward and back buttons. That allows you to move through a trail of messages based on the order that you viewed them, regardless of what folder they may be in. Although that idea is a simple one, it’s definitely a powerful addition to T-bird’s repertoire.
Unlimited tagging of messages is another new feature of the program. In past versions of the client, it allowed you to attach a limited number of labels to missives. Those labels are still there — only now they’re called tags — and you can create as many of them as you want, as well as attach multiple numbers of them to a message.
Certainly the addition of tagging is good idea, but I found T-bird’s implementation of them unwieldy.
For example, you can only create one new tag at a time. By the same token, when you add multiple tags to an item, you have to add them one at a time.
Labels may now be called tags, but they still contain a lot of the old label mentality.
A disappointing omission in this latest chapter in the program’s development is the absence of message tabs. They allow you to create tabs for open messages, as is done for open pages in a Web browser. An unofficial version of T-bird with the tab feature created by software developer Myk Melez has been out for some time, but Mozilla has turned a thumbs down on the idea — at least for this version of the program.
If you’ve been using Thunderbird 1.5, TB2 won’t knock your socks off, but it does contain enough new goodies to make upgrading worthwhile.
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].