Tab completion in Instantbird 1.2

We’ve made some major improvements to the tab completion of nicknames in IRC
channels (and other chatrooms). The goal, as always, is to make it “just work”
(so you can think about more important things!).

Simply press TAB to complete the first couple of letters you have typed:

To undo the completion, just press Backspace as usual.

If there is no unique nick that fits the bill, Instantbird tries to guess which nick you mean from the context. For example, if you have recently been pinged by someone, that nick is preferred. Otherwise it just completes as much as possible, and shows you a list of alternative completions:

You can then always press TAB again to cycle through these candidate nicks until you get the right one:

(Shift+TAB will cycle through the list in the opposite direction.)

Notice how Instantbird automatically added a colon after the nick, as we were addressing someone at the start of a message. And if you add another nick, you get a comma-separated list:

Of course, sometimes that may not be what you intended. So if you delete the trailing colon by pressing Backspace, the punctuation adjusts accordingly:

Don’t forget you can also reply to any message by double-clicking it! This will add the sender’s nick to the beginning of the message.

User icons

Another very visible change between Instantbird 0.2 and 0.3 is the possibility to set a user icon and a display name.

screenshot of the contact list with a place holder icon

You will see a place holder icon at the top of the buddy list, just click it (this will open a file picker) to set an icon. The icon will be automatically resized and converted to fit the various size and format requirements of the IM networks you use.

Similarly, click the “Display name” place holder to edit it. This name will be visible in your contacts’ buddy lists (unfortunately this currently works only for MSN).

Here you go, your friends will now easily recognize you:
screenshot of the contact list with an icon and a display name

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Better contact list

The contact list was identified as a weak area of Instantbird 0.2. It has been dramatically improved for Instantbird 0.3 which we plan to release next week.

Tags

Goodbye groups

Like most IM clients, Instantbird 0.2 had each contact placed in a group, leading users to organize contacts a bit like files are placed in folders on the disk.

While this seems ok at first, placing contacts inside groups doesn’t work well when thinking of the contact as a person. Don’t you have a friend (group ‘friend’) who is also a coworker (group ‘colleagues’)?

For this reason, with Instantbird 0.3 we replaced the notion of “Groups” with the notion of “Tags” throughout the user interface. While groups used to be containers for your contacts (it was possible to move a contact from one group into another), tags are additional data attached to the contact (you can add or remove tags on a contact, but no longer ‘move’ a contact) and thus a single contact can have multiple tags. To change the tags attached to a contact, use the “Tags…” context menu item of the contact; it shows a list of the existing tags with a check mark next to the tags attached to the selected contact. Checking/unchecking a tag in this list will attach/detach a tag from the contact.
Tags menu

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Introducing magic copy

The surprise and enthusiasm of a few people about the “magic copy” feature I mentioned briefly at the end of my previous post introducing time bubbles reminded me that we forgot to introduce this feature when it landed for Instantbird 0.2 as part of our implementation of the Adium message theme system.

We decided to use this theme system because it seemed nice overall and was already used by a few other clients as well. However there was something we really didn’t like: using a customized message theme could make copied data from the conversation really hard to read, to the point that it would be unsuitable for sending a quote via email.

As this may not be very clear yet, let me give an example:
Copying from a conversation without the 'magic copy' feature

This is the text we get when copying the selection to the clipboard and pasting it. This is without our “magic copy” feature of course.

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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