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Thursday, December 8th, 2005, 4:22 pm

Tabs in E-mail Programs

Tabs in Thunderbird
Tabs corresponding to separate E-mail messages in Thunderbird

TABBED views in E-mail applications (also referred to as “mail clients”) are a brand new idea as far as I can gather. Thunderbird developers are now said to be going down this unprecedented route. From the recent article:

A developer has added tabbed browsing of e-mail messages to Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail client, mimicking one of the most popular features of the Firefox and Opera Web browsers.

Tabs in RSSOwl
Tabs corresponding to separate RSS feeds in Owl

I have seen tabs in feed readers before, namely in RSSOwl (shown above). Nonetheless, I believe that incorporation of tabs into E-mail/newsreaders would be uncalled for. Much-familiar applications like Thunderbird would prove confusing to many users unless tabs are shrewdly hidden, thereby protecting users from their freedom.

Tabs make the controls finer, maybe unnecessarily so. E-mail, as oppose to feed readers, is used by merely everybody (assuming Webmail is put aside for the sake of the argument). Not everyone who uses Outlook (Express) can handle higher levels of complexity, let alone those who are new to E-mail altogether. Overall, tabs can make the entry barrier even higher. In firefox, tabs do not appear by default until/unless a second one appears. This makes tabbed browsing a function which is easy to enable if/when the user feels confident. Yet, owing to smart UI design, it never contributes to unnecessary clutter.

Thunderbird and RSSOwl are of course Open Source projects that are not bound to desires of large companies. According to Wozniak (AKA Woz), who is co-founder of Apple, the worst applications come from the large companies, Apple included. To quote Woz, “Microsoft, Apple and AOL, they tend to turn out the crappiest products, you know, software-wise”.

CrossOver
A shrunk-down screenshot of Thunderbird
‘dressed’ with the CrossOver theme

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