It so happened that, having just installed the beta of Thunderbird 1.5, one of the first things I wanted to do was compose an email. Early on in the message, I typed the word “summarise”. This spelling is correct in UK English, but clearly is not in US English, as the check-spelling-as-you-type indicator flashed up. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll simply install the correct dictionary.”
The compose window had a Tools menu, with an Options entry. Choosing this brought up the options dialog, as you might expect. There was a link to click on to install more dictionaries. “Great,” I thought, “they’ve designed this well.” I clicked on the link. Firefox opened up, and took me to the dictionary selection page – so far, so good – and I chose the UK English dictionary, and clicked on its link.
An installation window popped up, I accepted the offer of installation, and after a brief interval a confirmation message popped up indicating I had successfully installed my chosen dictionary.
Problem One: Of course, it had been installed in Firefox. Not a whole lot of use for someone wanting to use the dictionary in Thunderbird.
Being a computer programmer has its advantages sometimes: I know what a URL is! So, smugly copying the URL of the
.xpi for my chosen dictionary to the clipboard, and having a tolerant chuckle about the little problems in user interface design we all run into now and then, I headed back to the Thunderbird window to try to ask it to install the extension over there. Some time later: “That’s funny,” I thought. “I cannot for the life of me find the option for installing extensions! Not under the Tools menu, where it usually is, and not under the Options dialog, either. Bizarre!”
Problem Two: It took me several minutes to realise that the Extensions menu is only available on the main Thunderbird window, and is not available on Composition windows. This is the point of this whole rant. What on earth is the motivation for making the menus different like that? Did the designers think they were saving screen real estate? Did they think they were adroitly avoiding the pitfall of confusing the poor, helpless, ignorant users? The space where the function I expected should have been isn’t even being used for anything – it’s filled with empty, useless, function-free menu bar background!
Graphical User Interfaces have been actively regressing since 1976. So much for the creative power of a free competitive market. Thanks a whole bunch, computer industry. Way to innovate.