Introducing Time Bubbles

Instantbird 0.2 was released with Bubbles as its default message theme:

default message themes of Instantbird 0.2

The most common feedback we received from users that quickly switched back to Simple (the previous default) or another theme was that the lack of timestamp for each message made the theme unusable.

Some users have really passionate opinions about whether these timestamps should be shown or not. On one hand, people think it’s a useful piece of information that should always be visible, but on the other hand, people think it’s a waste of space on their limited screens. The common “solution” to this problem is to include a “show timestamp” preference, allowing each user to decide for themselves which of the two behaviors is the least inconvenient.

I don’t think that making the user responsible for choosing between two not-so-good options which one is best is a good way to address this issue. So soon after the 0.2 release, I started searching for better solutions.

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Cleaner UI

In Instantbird 0.2 a lot of visual bloat has been removed from all windows. Some margins have been reduced, borders that weren’t useful for clarity have been removed, and alignments have been improved. All of this contributes to a better use of the available space on the screen, and to a better perceived impression of simplicity in the user interface.

To illustrate this, let’s compare the conversation window before and after:

Conversation windows in Instantbird 0.2 and 0.1.3

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Context Menus

Context menus (opened with a “right click”) are a common and expected part of the user interface. It can be very frustrating when they are missing, so in Instantbird 0.2 we tried to add one wherever users are likely to expect one.

In the buddy list, the context menu of contacts can be used to start a conversation (although pressing enter or double clicking is usually faster), show the conversation history, rename a contact, move the contact to a different group or remove it from the list:

Buddy context menu Continue reading

Message Styles

As exchanging messages is the most important feature of an instant messaging client, we put a great deal of thought into the way the messages are displayed. As we have already explained, we decided to implement the Adium message style system. This system offers a great flexibility to message style authors to display the conversation content the way they want.

In order to give users a good out-of-the-box experience, we have packaged a variety of messages styles by default in Instantbird.

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Conversation Tools

Some tools you already have in Firefox can help you manage your conversations in Instantbird:

Find

Trying to find where a topic or keyword was mentioned in a long conversation is a common action. Instantbird uses the same findbar as Firefox to provide a search facility inside conversations. Just press Ctrl + F (Command + F on Mac OS X) and the findbar will appear:

Findbar in conversation window

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Tabs

During the 0.2 cycle, we spent a lot of time reworking the conversation window. The conversation window will now feel more familiar to Firefox users. That’s because lots of parts have been borrowed and adapted. In this post, and the next few posts, we will present features that are already present in Firefox, but have been adapted for Instantbird.

Let’s begin with tabs: conversations appear in tabs that work exactly the same way as in Firefox 3.6.

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