Google Summer of Code 2014 - Proposal to Improve Composer UI

Unicorn.Consulting at
Sun Feb 16 03:03:28 UTC 2014

On 15/02/2014 7:33 AM, Axel Grude (Axel) wrote:
>> Gets my vote (or ckeditor ?) - can't stand the ribbon mess.
> Maybe you should have hung in there... Messy or not people HTML mail 
> users want an intuitive interface where they can easily use and define 
> styles without having to know CSS. And you can only do this if you 
> offer an interface that defines styles and is easily extendable. It is 
> a typical thing to say "I do not like X" and "I like the look of that, 
> because I know it" without looking at the actual requirements people 
> have.
> Replacing one interface with another which gives you the same basic 
> functionality of inserting predefined tags was not what I was 
> proposing. I am proposing full access to the powers that CSS gives and 
> a very simple interface to redefine the css attributes without prior 
> knowledge of CSS or HTML.
> In the corporate sector people take this pretty much for granted. 
> Click a style, define it, use it everywhere.
In the corporate world there will be, if your lucky, one person in 10 
that gets styles.  I had the misfortune to work in a 20 odd thousand 
seat installation of Word Pro some years ago.  We considered ourselves 
lucky if one in 50 "got" styles.  The net result is a lot of people 
wasted a lot of time faffing around with fonts and shadings and spacings 
because it just blew their minute minds that a thing called a style had 
all that stuff in it. Some spent far more time fiddling with appearance 
attributes after the typing was done than they spent on the composition 
in the first place.  Some years later Microsoft came out with the format 
painter,  and while I have never looked at how it works in detail, the 
user still does not need to get styles.  They point the format painter 
to the bit they like and copy it. The format painter then paints the 
rest with the same attributes.

The average user has no knowledge of markup.  They did not even get 
taught tabs in a secretarial course.  That is why your format painter 
type interface is so successful with users.  They have no idea what they 
are doing so of course they need pictures. Just as I had picture books 
once with a picture of a cat and the word cat underneath.

We still have users who do not get tabs and complain in support that 
their inbox is missing from the screen.  So when making user 
assumptions. Aim low, and then set your sights lower still and you will 
probably be close.

> Whether you call it Ribbon or have separate toolbars / areas / for the 
> various styles is just a design detail, and can be maybe solved in a 
> better way. however what we have now on the formatting bar is not good 
> enough. And the markup it creates is not up to date, we do not want to 
> create endless cascades of <font> <big> <small> etc, and put a lot of 
> pain into making an email layout.

Agreed entirely.  What is there is sadly out of touch with 
expectations.  However the user expectations I see in support are far 
more basic . I would say (and it is only my perception) from support is

  * The number one request in support would have to be a stable font and
    size.  Users are sick of having these things just (to them) randomly
  * Having images that display in the received message continue to
    display in forwarded messages ( I understand, but the user does not
    care the encoding is not up to snuff, it worked once why can in not
    continue to work, and forward as attachment is a messy workaround)
  * Being able to specify the font in name and point size, Users really
    do not like "Variable Width" and larger and smaller are just not in
    their experience.
  * remove the double dash signature separator
  * Easily set a background image
  * Play sound files so their email will play happy birthday to the

By far the largest market growth we a seeing in my opinion is outlook 
express refugees,  those 40% of XP users are mostly outlook express 
users and they are being referred to Thunderbird as "something like" 
outlook express.  WE at this point do a fairly poor job of that transition
> In its most minimal form imagine you can define <h1> with a default 
> look (could be based on the tag or on a class) and you are able to 
> reuse that on any email you write. The interface just has to be easy 
> to use and enticing enough so people start using it and panels with 
> preview styles are the most intuitive way to offer this to the users.
> On 14/02/2014 15:31, John Crisp wrote:
>> On 11/02/14 18:13, Tanstaafl wrote:
>> > On 2014-02-08 4:33 PM,neandr at
>>   <neandr at>
>>   wrote:
>> >> Also the composer (current, improved or replaced) has to be integrated
>> >> very much with the rest of the TB code, /how about using an existing
>> >> HTML composer and make it work with TB. /
>> >
>> > Something like:
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> Gets my vote (or ckeditor ?) - can't stand the ribbon mess. That's when
>> I stopped using Office....
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> tb-planning at

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” /― Friedrich 
von Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans /
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