Monthly Archives: May 2012

Scratchpad ported to Thunderbird. Kinda.

Firefox has a sweet suite of developer tools. If you haven’t used them, you’re seriously missing out.

Thunderbird, on the other hand, has very little in the way of developer tools. We used to have ChromeBug, but then that project went by the wayside when the Firebug developers decided to focus more on, well, Firebug.

And ever since, debugging and fiddling around in Thunderbird has been a pain.

So a few folks on the TB team decided to take a crack at porting one of Firefox’s tools to Thunderbird. We chose Scratchpad (or rather, its earlier incarnation, “Workspace”), because being able to execute snippets of script on the fly is super-useful for trying stuff out.

So without further ado, here it is – Workspace for Thunderbird.

Install that, and a new Workspace menuitem appears under Tools. This will open up Workspace. Make sure to switch your Context to Chrome for superpowers.

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A Slight Redirection

Last week, I wrote a post about a plan to extend the up-and-coming B2G Contacts App into the next iteration of Thunderbird’s address book.

After careful consideration, we’re going to redirect that effort a little bit.

Instead of working on the Gaia Contacts App, I’ll instead be focusing on making the underlying Contacts API work on desktop (at least for Thunderbird).

We will then design an address book for Thunderbird, distinct from the Gaia Contacts app, to operate on top of the Contacts API.

I’m really sorry about the confusion. I made a mistake, and misinterpreted a few lines in an email, got excited, and then put up a blog post about it. My bad, and I’m sorry.  Here’s a puppy:

http://www.mylot.com/w/image/2397146.aspx

Ultimately, this is likely a good direction; extending a mobile application like the Contacts app to be a fully functional desktop address book was, in hindsight, a bit of a long-shot.

Anyhow, this is all implementation detail. The good news is that Thunderbird will be getting a new address book, and now we have full-reign to design the user experience and interface ourselves!

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Hey, what about Thunderbird’s new address book?

UPDATE (May 7th, 2012): Some of the information in this post is now out of date / inaccurate.  See this post for more information.

This happens every couple of months – I go total heads down on a project, and I don’t blog. That’s no good for people who are interested in what I’m doing.

Filelink

So lately, I’ve been busy helping to get Filelink ready for its Thunderbird 13 debut. Filelink is a feature that allows users to upload attachments to Dropbox and YouSendIt (and more, soon), and then insert links into the emails instead of the whole attachments.

That’s a good thing. Every time you send a large attachment through e-mail, Tim Berners-Lee cries.

The Filelink work is almost done, which leads me to…

Address book

I went to some lengths last year to extend and improve the Thunderbird address book, and it’s still in pretty rough shape. For a while now, I’ve wanted to redesign it from the ground up – but some other project usually gets in the way before I can really tackle it.

With Filelink out of the way, I think I might get some time to hack on this.

But…I think I’m going to be taking a round-about route. Before I go into this, I’m going to need to mention The Kilimanjaro Event…

The Kilimanjaro Event

Damon Sicore is the VP of Engineering at Mozilla, and he recently posted about a new initiative at Mozilla, called The Kilimanjaro Event.

Salient point:

The Kilimanjaro Event is the point in time (not a release) when we realize a tightly integrated set of products that enables users to use the ID of their choice to find and install Web apps from HTML5 App marketplaces–including one created by Mozilla–and have those apps and appropriate data synchronized amongst devices.  It is important to point out that the Kilimanjaro Event is not a single release.  It is an incremental effort where we deliver a series of releases and features to each of our products that result in and enable an end-to-end user experience across these efforts.

One of the key components involved in reaching The Kilimanjaro Event is the mobile operating system that Mozilla is working on, code-named Boot2Gecko (or B2G).

Boot2Gecko (B2G)

Put simply, B2G runs web apps. Period. The B2G dialer?  Web app. The settings manager? Web app. The lock screen? Web app.

The contacts manager?

You guessed it.

The Contacts App

B2G will ship with a series of apps (Gaia) – and among those will be an app for managing your contacts. I’ve gotten myself involved there, and have started getting my hands dirty in Gaia code.

So what’s the plan? How does this affect Thunderbird?

My idea is to work on this app for B2G, get it shipped, and then attempt to bring it over to Thunderbird, expanding it and specializing it where necessary.

This offers a number of advantages:

  1. The Contacts app for B2G will be entirely HTML5/JS/CSS based, meaning a lower barrier to entry for hacking on
  2. The Contacts app makes use of the Contacts API, which allows us to add an arbitrary number of email addresses, phone numbers, and all the other goodness that you’d normally expect from a modern address book
  3. Part of the Kilimanjaro Event is to have “apps and appropriate data synchronized amongst devices”. This includes contact data. This means that if we can get Firefox Sync brought over to Thunderbird, and rely on the Contacts API for contact storage, we can likely get contact synchronization pretty cheaply.  That means that your Thunderbird contacts will be synchronized with your B2G phone (or whichever device is running the Contacts app).  Not bad!
  4. Synchronizing with services like Facebook, Google Contacts, LinkedIn, etc – this is something that’s on the eventual roadmap for the Contacts app.  Thunderbird can ride that wave too.
  5. Importing from services like those listed above are a pretty high priority, and will likely be supported sooner rather than later.

Now, a couple of things that worry me a little:

  1. I don’t want to fork the Contacts app, meaning that I want the core to remain the same as it exists in Gaia. Instead, I want to layer more code on top of the app in order to make it make sense in the context of a desktop application. Possible? Sure. Tricky? Almost certainly.
  2. The Contacts API isn’t currently supported for desktop right now – the WebAPI team is working hard on getting it working right for mobile first.  Desktop is a distant goal.
  3. Also, the Contacts API is defined as an interface for accessing the device address book.  For a phone, it’s obvious what that is.  For a desktop, it means the OS address book.  This means that, unless I’m misunderstanding, TB contacts will be going directly into the OSX address book, Windows Contacts, what-have-you.  If no such service exists in the OS, Gecko puts together a fallback database for you.

Papercuts

Along with this contacts work, there are a bunch of long-standing Thunderbird papercuts that I want to smash through. Here’s a partial list of them.

I’m hoping to drop that list to close to zero for TB 15.  Fingers crossed!

Anyhow, this appears to be my current trajectory, until further notice.

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