Saturday, February 13, 2016

Usability issues with Mozilla Thunderbird

By Harsha Cherukuri.

Thunderbird is a free, open-source, cross-platform application for managing email and news feeds. It is most common application used on Linux based environment like Ubuntu. From my personal experience with Thunderbird on Ubuntu, I found some of its functionality when compared to other mailbox applications that I used on Windows based applications, a bit complicated and unusual. In this blog post, I would like to mainly focus on the issues a user faces when he/she starts using Thunderbird.

1. Confusion over the search options:
In the mail box when we configure email we can see two search boxes as shown in the Fig1. 

Fig1 : Search box in Thunderbird.

Users may be confused by the existence of two search fields, opting for the all messages search box we get the many results by which sorting out the required will be difficult, Here if we have configured with more than one email account we have huge hierarchy. If we observe the lower search box, it was intended to search a specific folder, but in the results we don’t come to know whether we are getting results for which email configured and for which folder. User is intended to know his selection.

Solution: Needs a much easier searching mechanism, with one search box and additional filters, by which user can easily analyze results.

2. Unclear server options and needs a research to setup school/office emails:
When trying to configure school/office email accounts in Thunderbird, we need to go through the normal process on the email accounts setup page. However after providing the details it fails, as we need to make a manual configuration in Thunderbird, but don't have a direct manual configuration option. We are expected to know the incoming, outgoing host server names, their port and the type of authentication and in some of the cases user also needs to generate application specific one time passwords to setup their email accounts.

Solution: In most modern and popular web apps like Outlook we have an option to configure directly using the service provider or IMAP. For example, let us consider our university student email account as it is associated with Google , we just need to add a Google account then it automatically directs to the University email page and make necessary configuration. The user is not expected to know any manual configuration details.

3. No email recall option:
In Mozilla Thunderbird we don’t have an option to recall a sent message. We have an option to delay a message, in which we explicit set some fixed delay during which the sent email will be in the Outbox and can be edited in the same time, and sent after the time limit passes. The problem with this method is every message sent will experience this delay.

Solution: Some web applications like Outlook provide an option to recall if the user has not read the message, i.e., the sent message will be recalled or deleted from receiver’s inbox, if the user has not read the message and we also receive an acknowledgement on the recall option regarding whether the message is recalled or not.

4. Conclusion:
Thunderbird is one of the best open-source email web application, It includes most of the features available in the other web email applications, but needs some updates to the process of setting up user accounts, some improved search options and a recall mechanism.

5. References:Recalling an Email,, Accessed : 09/02/2016

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