Thunderbird 11: Tabs on Top Terrible

One of the big new features (as far as the developers were concerned) with Thunderbird 11 was having the tabs on top. It is suppose to “facilitates navigation and make it more contextual”. Um…what the heck is that suppose to mean?

Okay, so Firefox has had this feature since the release of Firefox 4 last spring, so why shouldn’t Thunderbird? I have been using Thunderbird 11 since the Beta release at the beginning of February and hadn’t given much notice to the new (and not improved) UI. Now that Thunderbird 11 has been officially release, the complaints are rolling in on the Builds and Support forums. May be it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it didn’t mess up Persona, or are they Skins now? For some reason this new UI design adds a semi-opaque overlay to the Menu and Mail toolbars, washing out the Persona or themes, or whatever they are called now.

With Firefox users can go to the View Menu and uncheck Tabs on Top. You would think the same logic would apply to Thunderbird. Sadly, no. There is no option in the menus and the developers think it is the users’ best interest that this feature can not be reversed. In fact they seem to be very excited about this change and go into a long winded explanation as to why it is the way it is.

Not only does this new ‘feature’ not play well with Personas…I mean themes, it is not at all what a lot of people were expecting with ‘Tabs on Top’. Firefox on Windows Vista/7 the menu bar is hidden and consolidated under the orange ‘Firefox’ button. A lot of folks were expecting the same thing with Thunderbird, they were expecting the menu bar to be hidden (still accessible via the ALT key) and a blue Thunderbird button with a consolidated menu. It does seems rather odd to have the tabs all the way at the top above the menu bar.

Funny thing is the testing community didn’t like this change back when the Earlybird 11.0a2 release came out in December and likely there were some rumblings with the daily builds back in November. However, the developers seemed to have dismissed the concerns, complaints, criticism, etc of us testers and seemed to think this feature was going to be a big hit when Thunderbird 11 went live.

The only ‘work around’ I have seen thus far in the forums is to get and use Thunderbird 10.0.3 ESR. ESR builds were designed for Enterprise users or for those who don’t like the rapid release process. This build is just like Thunderbird 10 (tabs on the bottom) but doesn’t have the new features (tabs on top), it does include fixes and security updates. You will still get an update (at least) every six-weeks but those will only be security and stability updates only. Thunderbird 10.0.x ESR will be supported until January 2013 when it will be replaced by Thunderbird 19.0.x ESR.

I am hoping now that Thunderbird 11 has been release and there is this ‘out cry’ about this feature, may be the developers will consider backing out this feature and do a Thunderbird 11.0.1 release. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen, given how ‘excited’ and dead set they are on this feature. We shall see what happens.

21 Comments on Thunderbird 11: Tabs on Top Terrible

  1. Given the number of people complaining about it, I’m surprised that there isn’t an add-on fixing it already… (Perhaps it could also have an option to leave tabs on top, but put the menubar above the tabs on Windows 7.)

    If you point me at one (feel free to use my email address), I’ll do what I can to get it featured on Thunderbird’s start page.


    • It is a rather surprising that no one has come out with a work-around or add-on. Even in the Builds forum it seems like the attitude is “this is the way it is going to be, so deal with it”. This is not something that was suddenly sprung upon us, as it landed on the Daily builds in November. I don’t think much was said when it hit the Earlybird channel back in December. I know when it came to the Beta channel back in February there was a lot of complaints, but then after a week or so nothing more was said.

      I find it hard to believe that Mozilla has implemented something that can not be ‘fixed’ with an add-on.

    • The addon is here – it’s not in “reviewed by Mozilla” stage, so it’s not as easy to find:

      Works well for me.

  2. Michael Schaap | March 15, 2012 at 5:40 AM |

    The way tabs work in Thunderbird is completely broken anyway.
    If you open a long message in a tab, scroll to the middle, then switch to another tab and switch back, you’re back at the top of the message.

    Also, there’s no easy way to toggle between two tabs, if you have more than two open. (Neither is there in Firefox, but there are plenty of add-ons for it to let Ctrl-Tab use MRU order; I use Tab Mix Plus.)

    The combination of these issues make tabs completely useless to me.

    – Michael

    • I like the idea of tabs in Thunderbird only because I do use the calendar. However, there is a lot work that could be done to make them work better. Sadly, though I think the lack of tab related add-ons is “par for the course” with Thunderbird. Most developers are more interested in developing add-ons for Firefox.

    • It’s not just that, in fact the tabs are being completely reloaded everytime you switch between them – which ist terrible when you’re reading RSS-News in Thunderbird 🙁

  3. all they do is fix what isn’t broken…gotta leave the good stuff alone.. keep the tabs where they were .. or at least give us an option like in FF…terrible with Tabs on Top…

  4. As with Firefox, if you right click in area for the option to open the customise box, you may then drag stuff around to your hearts content. I have dragged most of the stuff up into the menu bar so I can now see it all when I have multiple tabs open.

    Seems to work OK although Firefox is a little more user friendly to us draggers.

    1/ Open the ‘customise’ box. 2/ Drag away.


  5. Justin Illusion | March 23, 2012 at 4:42 AM |

    I would understand “tabs on top” if the Menu Bar was different for each tab. That would also give meaning to the “make it more contextual” phrase. With the menu bar being identical in each tab it only makes the interface less logical and more clumsy to use.

  6. @Stefan: You are “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

    In other words: “Rise of the Tools” is just the add-on I needed. I was already in the process of replacing TB with some other E-Mailclient, when I stumbled upon your tip. TB is safe, for now.

    However, I see dark clouds in the sky, meaning that I believe that the TB team will probably try and lock this add-on out after an update of TB, making it incompatible. So I will keep on looking for other E-Mail Clients, unless the TB team acknowledges their error and repair this “great new feature that nobody seems to want”.

  7. Rise of the tools is exactly what I needed. I was horrified when my Thunderbird updated and I saw what had happened to it, especially when I couldn’t find a way to get it back to how I liked it. I have another problem as well, though, and it’s not down to ROTT, as it was like that before I installed the add-on. No matter which tab I click on, it insists on showing me the last email I opened. I can’t view the other tabs – incredibly frustrating as I frequently switch between tabs. I have googled for a solution, but found nothing 🙁


    WTF is it with developers and web designers that think “Wow, I now, we’ll PISS THE FUCK OUT OF PEOPLE by making them RE-LEARN things all over again and have to CONSTANTLY get used to new useless changes and bullshit.. what a GREATTTT IDEA!!””. MORONS.

    You would think that they would learn from all the complaints people send in to Facebook everytime they make a change, Youtube or any other website that does this shit. People do NOT want to have to keep adapting to changing things.. they like things the way they are!!!

    At LEAST have the dam common courtesy, decency and respect to allow people to UNDO what you have done…Good GOD!!! It’s NOT freaking brain surgery!!

  9. Thanks for the link STEFAN.. worked just fine to put the toolbar back below where it was just fine before.

    Here is the link again in case you missed it.

  10. Thanks for the link to Rise of the Tools. It quickly fixed what was a stupid change on Thunderbird’s part.

  11. I just downloaded and installed “rise of the tools” addon. It put the tabs back where I like them, which is right above the message pane. Thanks for the heads-up on this add-on.

  12. Stella Frump | March 29, 2012 at 8:11 PM |

    THANKS for the link to the addon “rise of the tools”
    (it does work BUT breaks the “Icons and Text” AND “Icons beside Test” pull down menu in the customize toolbar window)

    BUT WTF can someone tell me where to post/email/complain to mozilla
    EVERY one of my friends who i recommeded TB phoned me !
    who wants to move the cursor ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP

  13. TB Team…put the tabs back where they belong. This change is awful and there should be an option to opt out! I don’t want to waste my time trying to navigate TB with something that Devs thinks is awesome. Bad idea!

  14. It’s apparently also possible to do it using a userChrome.css hack.,_etc.#Menus_below_tabs_on_Windows_7_and_Vista

    I can’t test it myself since I’m on an LXDE-based Linux and we don’t get Tabs on Top. (While I resent the GNOME guys speaking on behalf of all Linux UI design so often, they apparently did the right thing this time and told the Thunderbird guys that Tabs on Top would clash badly with the rest of the desktop.)

    • I tried this on another TBird 11 profile without success. I hope to be putting Linux Mint on this computer soon, so it will be interesting to see what develops.

  15. I am so tired of switching email programs. I loved outlook express and started using Thunderbird when I was forced to abandon OE after getting Win7. Thunderbird is really bugging me now. Thank for that add link, what a blessing. Now what happened to the html option to view html? Also my search is not working anymore. For instance I drop in Andy as the sender and I get like 100 emails none which have andy. I used the feature everyday since I run a business off this email and now it is so frustrating.

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