Two steps forward, one step back

I really like Thunderbird as an E-mail client but the program’s developers are trying to drive me crazy with their implementation of the next/previous and forward/back buttons.

In the good old days – Thunderbird 3.1.20 – the previous and next buttons only worked on unread messages. This is different to most other E-mail clients in the world, where the “Next” button moves to the “next” message, irrespective of whether the message had been read or not. But, fortunately, the add-on process in Thunderbird allowed other programmers to write software (e.g. Custom Buttons) that would allow the construction of a button that would simply move to the next message, read or unread, in the queue. Similarly, a second button could be developed that would move to the previous message in the queue. Life was now good, with customized buttons working in a logical manner.

However, Thunderbird 3.1.20 reached end-of-life on April 24, 2012 and, soon after, the automatic update process provided the opportunity to upgrade Thunderbird to Version 12.0.1. (We won’t ask what happened to the intervening Versions 5 through 11 – there was no Version 4.)

This latest version of Thunderbird sports additional Forward and Back buttons as a configuration option, suggesting to the naïve end user that these are intended to allow scrolling through messages. However, when viewing the message queue, these buttons are greyed out. Furthermore, if you select and view a message, the forward and back buttons remain greyed out. In fact, they seem to stay greyed out until the user has pressed either the F or B key, as a keyboard short cut for “forward” or “back”.
Question – if you know, and wish to use, the keyboard short cuts, why would you install custom forward and back buttons as part of the graphical user interface?

But, it gets sillier. Even when a button is activated, it only stays active for messages that have been “visited” (i.e. read) in the current session.

For example, having opened a message, and hence having read it, pressing F takes you (forward) to the next message in the queue. The “Back” button now becomes active in this second message (i.e. you are allowed to go back to the message you just read). But, the “Forward” button in the second message remains greyed out, seemingly because you haven’t yet “visited” the third message in the queue. So, you are not allowed to move further ahead in the queue using the Forward button.

Confused yet? Well, I told you it was a silly system. But, it gets worse…

We are, reading the second message. The Back button is active, the Forward button is greyed out. If we press the Back button, we move back to our original message, i.e. the message that we initially selected. In this message, the Forward button is now active, so that we are allowed to move ahead to the second message using the button. But, the Back button is still greyed out, meaning that we can’t use this button to move further back down the queue.

And, don’t even think about closing the open message and returning to the message queue. If you re-open the message – guess what – the Forward and Back buttons are now both greyed out, and you have to start the above-noted process all over again!

So, there you have it – a graphical user interface consisting of customized buttons that can’t be used – or, at least, can only be used in rather narrow circumstances. And, you had better know the “F” and “B” keyboard short cuts for message queue handling.

Getting the Thunderbird developers to implement previous and next buttons in the same manner that is used by just about every other E-mail client seems a bit like death by a thousand cuts!

But, there is even worse news. Custom Buttons, my preferred workaround now refuses to install because the add-on is “incompatible with Thunderbird 12.0.1”.

My solution to this dilemma was to roll back my Linux operating system, and all the installed applications, including Thunderbird, to a happier time. I simply restored a disk image made a few days prior to the update process and then re-applied the updates, but making sure that the optional update to Thunderbird was unchecked.

I guess my message-queue processing logic is at odds with Thunderbird’s development team, but I don’t think that I am the only person in the world who thinks that a next button should always go to the next message in the queue. Still, for now, I’m stuck waiting for yet another upgrade – either to a sane version of Thunderbird – or to a compatible version of Custom Buttons!

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