Some thoughts on the new message parts UI (long!)

Hello everybody!

I've been using Balsa as my main MUA for 2 or 3 months
now, and I love to see it steadily improving. I hope 
what I am writing in this message does not come across
as too harsh a critique, it is just what I thought
when I opened Balsa from CVS as of yesterday.

New message part view, the good:

Well I like the functionality. This really does convey
what's going on in a message, it reveals its structure
better. In a time when fowarded messages with numerous
attachments of "Security updates from Microsoft" (got 
at least 20 of these), various forms of encryption/signing,
forwarding as attachment, or all of the above in arbitrary
combinations is quite common, this is a very desirable

I never got what's going on by looking at the attachment
icons at the bottom. This is an drastical improvement.

New message part view, the bad:

I think the "feel" of it is head-on, it's the look that
is wrong IMHO. Before the message view of Balsa was
pure simplicity and visually reduced to the bare minimum,
so it would not interfere with the most important thing
(the text message somewhere in there). Now it is different:

The two tabs at the top not only cost valuable screen
estate, they are at the worst possible space. When I
open a message (i do this in a new window, but I think
this is not different in the pane view), I scan down
with my eyes, to get the most important parts, the
Subject, Date and From lines first. Now these tabs
are in the way, at the completely wrong place. I will
not be interested in the message's structure unless
I first know what it is about (by whom, first two
sentences). Using the same fixed font for headers
as for the message text, the subject and from are
completely dwarfed by "Content | Message parts".

Of course I can increase the subject's font, but I
don't think fighting visual clutter by more visual
clutter should be the solution. 

Scenarios I consider better than the current display
(at least for my personal taste), I don't know however
if there are serious problems with these, there might.

a) Moving the tabs to the right border (so they are tabs
like in a ring binder) would solve the worst problem
for me, the visual clutter while following (with the
eye) the left border down until something interests
me. I don't think this is technically feasible however,
fonts would have to be rotated 90 degrees and I have
never seen such tabs in Gnome.

b) moving tabs down in a Gnumeric/Excel way would be
just as good, though it might be harder to use for
people who don't like to scroll down all the way.

I think Gnumeric/Excel has the tabs at the bottom
for exactly the same reason I dislike Balsa's current
behavior: Most important UI features should be at
the most accessible place, not so often used features
should be moved out of the way.

c) A "Parts" or "Structure" button right aligned
on the right of the header field could be a solution,
though it might be seen as slower and/or more confusing
(depending on if it opened a new window or not). 

I am not sure if the tabs model (which is used most
often just as replacement for opening another window
*of the same type* (3 websites, 4 textfiles in a window)
is the right one here, btw.

d) some form of special UI at the top making it possible
to change to Message Parts view, making it obvious
there are attachment without showing them all in there
full glory -- inviting to switch to the other view instead.
d) A button like this might go into the toolbar of the
message. Then it should open another window.

Minor nits:

Terminology: I think calling it "Message parts" is not
what it is about,it's about "Structure". Could be just
my odd understanding of things, however ;)

The triangles in "Message Parts" are clickable, wiggle
a bit, but are fixed in principle. This does not feel
right to me.

The beveled border above the tabs is plain ugly IMO and
quite unnecessary (don't know what the toolkit needs
technically). A simple grey line would be better.
This is most clearly seen when there are not tabs, btw,
as in pure text messages. Then there are three lines
there, making it look somewhat faux-Inca-pyramid ;) 
There is a text by Edward R. Tufte on this, IIRC.

I think a simple grey line like between Headers and Message
would be best: Less distracting, less cluttered, more modern.
Yes, Gnome can do 3d effects, it does not have to ;)

Thanks for reading down all the way, If you disagree,
that's no problem, above is just the personal opinion
of a user.

/ralph  -- who would like to thank all the Balsa developers
           for the great work they have done so far.

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