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.

Tab sizing

Tabs are sized to take full advantage of the available space: when there are only a few tabs, their width allows seeing most of the title of the conversations, and a close button is visible on each tab, making it easy to close a tab with a single click.

Top of conversation window with 2 tabs and some free space

If there are more tabs or if the window is smaller, the tabs shrink, and the close button remains visible only on the selected tab to save space.

Top of conversation window with 4 tabs, only one close button is displayed

If the space is really too limited to fit all the conversation tabs, the tab bar becomes scrollable and a button appears to give the user a way to display a list of all tabs at once.

Top of conversation window with overflowing tabs, and the all tabs menu opened

All this makes very small conversation windows usable.

Very small conversation window with 2 tabs

Drag and drop

Tabs can be easily reordered, just drag a tab and drop it where you wish it to be.

dragging a tab, tab drop arrow visible in the same window

Dropping a tab elsewhere detaches the tab to create a new window. The new window appears where the tab was dropped.

new window with only one tab

Tabs can also be dragged between windows:

dragging a tab, drop arrow visible in another window

OS integration

On Mac OS X, the active conversation window is easy to distinguish from the others, thanks to different colors of the tabs.

An active and an inactive conversation window on Mac OS X

Our goals: toward Instantbird 0.2 and beyond

As you may already know, Instantbird 0.2 will be released soon. The development of this version has been going on for more than a year already! While we have been busy adding new features or polishing existing ones, we may have missed a few opportunities to communicate about what we were doing, what we had already done, where we are going, and why. And when we did write something about our new features, the announcements lacked screenshots, and probably didn’t convey much of our enthusiasm.

The last few days before the 0.2 release are an opportunity for us make up for our lack of communication.

The way toward Instantbird 1.0

Let’s begin with a clarification about the way we are slowly but surely going to our future 1.0 release. Our initial roadmap contained the somewhat misleading claim that our goal for 1.0 was to reach “feature parity” with Pidgin. This led some people to believe that we were basically copying the Pidgin graphical user interface and reimplementing it in XUL. Although this could have held some truth for the earlier goal of Instantbird - which was to provide the extensibility that is loved in Firefox and features similar to those found in Pidgin - this is no longer the case.

When we implement a new feature in Instantbird, we carefully consider how it is likely to be used. We think about the use cases. We look at how the same problem has been handled by other existing IM clients, so that we can benefit from what others have done before us. Sometimes we take inspiration and implement something in a similar way to another client (for instance the message theme system that we have borrowed from Adium), but sometimes things don’t look satisfying and we have to look for a better solution. We especially try to avoid exposing the user to new popup dialogs that interrupt the user but don’t seem absolutely necessary.

Once something is implemented, we do our best to take advantage of the early feedback we get from our nightly testers.

So why are we doing this? Copying the interface of an existing application as quickly as possible would be easier, and would lead to a fast result. But it would be worthless. We don’t need another Pidgin, Adium, … (insert the name of your favorite multi-protocol IM application here). These applications already exist and are mostly great, there’s no point in cloning them. What we do care about is our users: our current users of course, but also future users. We believe instant messaging should be less frustrating. We want to build an all-in-one instant messaging application that is as easy as possible to use, yet powerful. We value simplicity and ease of use in the default configuration, and at the same time we want to allow advanced customizations. Developers with an idea should be able to easily customize their IM client, like they can already do with their web browser.

We value privacy, and respect your data. Instant messages often have confidential or intimate content. We believe that our users should have the power to decide how this information is used, and where it is stored. This is the reason why even though more and more users decide to use web applications like Gmail, Facebook or Meebo for their IM needs, we believe that it is still relevant in 2010 to build an IM application that runs directly on the computer you own.

We don’t know yet how Instantbird 1.0 will be, it will need to be discussed. With You. At this point we are discussing which improvements will compose the 0.3 release. If you want to take part in this discussion or have questions related to our long term goals, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

What’s next?

We are confident that if you have tried a release from the Instantbird 0.1.* series, you will see Instantbird 0.2 as major improvement. And if you haven’t used Instantbird before, then the 0.2 release is a great time to start! In the next few days, we will detail a few of the features that already make Instantbird 0.2 a very usable instant messaging application, despite its low version number.

Status Update - Why 0.2 is not out yet

The last status update here was more than a month ago, so it’s probably time for another update. We are still working toward releasing Instantbird 0.2 in the near future.

At this point, the code of the application is ready. Two points are still holding the release though:

  • we have to rework the server side part of our update system, because the scripts we used on the server up to version 0.2b2 of Instantbird were not able to handle updates in several languages. We want to be sure that users who downloaded Instantbird 0.2 beta 2 in a non-English language will receive an updated version in the same language.
  • we are redesigning the main website of Instantbird. The goal of this redesign is partly to provide a visual refresh, but also to clarify the message. We are de-emphasizing the “multi-platform” argument (it is probably irrelevant to most users and is probably quickly understood by those who care about using Instantbird on more than one operating system), and we try to emphasis the simplicity and ease of use of Instantbird.

We look forward to putting Instantbird 0.2 in the hands of users who didn’t dare to try the beta releases.