This is a bit of a UI complaint, moreso than a coding one. Fair cop. Most programmers aren’t designers, and most programmers have a mistaken idea that all programmers can do design.
Mozilla Thunderbird is an excellent e-mail client, though with the advent of very good webmail clients, the e-mail client is slowly moving into the cloud and becoming a thing of the past. In the business world, though, e-mail clients are still a virtual necessity — not the least reason being that people have press-ganged the venerable e-mail technology to do just about every business function, from meeting invitations to calendar management to file transfer and even instant messaging. The e-mail client has become your personal information manager, with notes, to-do lists, address books that go well beyond the simple “name and e-mail address” functionality they began with. They have become the central repository for shared business contacts with remote address directories like LDAP and Active Directory (a Microsoft LDAP extension). And the ability to synchronize your handheld personal information manager (née: cellular phone) has become a virtual necessity for businesses today.
I have been using Thunderbird in defiance of the corporate de facto standard of Microsoft Outlook for the five years I’ve been with this company. With the addition of the Lightning calendar extension, which can do meeting requests and accept invitations in a manner compatible with Microsoft Outlook, nobody’s known the difference. So I get to keep my Linux desktop, and I won’t even get forced into installing MS Office under WINE. Win-win for all involved — company doesn’t have to shell out the extra $500 for MS Office Pro, and I don’t have to subject myself to that inferior proprietary software. (What auto junkie wants to buy a car with the hood welded shut?)
However, there was one minor issue after I changed my laptop’s desktop theme. I made the sin of daring to change something unrelated, and suddenly Thunderbird’s to-do list became completely unusable — it was displaying all my tasks in light-gray-on-white. After playing around with some of the other themes available under Ubuntu 10.10’s stock set, I realized what was going on — the to-do tasks were being displayed using the application menu’s font color, rather than the window’s font color. You know, that application menu that says “File, Edit, View” — that one. Not exactly the most intuitive color choice in the world, given that the window background is not usually the background a menu item is rendered against — the menus have their own background color, so themes won’t make menus unreadable accidentally.
Under Windows, those colors probably can’t ever be different. In Linux, under Gnome at least, they most assuredly can. My system menus were configured under the Shiki-Human color theme to match the title bar, so that the application proper starts below where the menus were. It is quite aesthetically pleasing — all the OS bits are dark, and the main application is light, meaning you can focus on one or the other but not both at the same time all that easily.
So, despite tasks being very obviously not menus, Lightning decided to set the rendering for them to something that, in most of the dark-based themes in my collection, would be completely unreadable — nearly invisible in fact — on a white background. This is not a choice the UI designers had to make, in any respect. The fact that the menu color is usually only rendered against the menu background color in themes, means it may never have been tested for contrast against the window background color, or it could intentionally be very close to the window background color. It is not a set of colors that were ever supposed to render against themselves.
Granted, I’m happy that Lightning has switched to using system colors at all — in its earliest versions, all the colors were hard-coded, so no matter what Thunderbird theme or system theme you configured, you’d end up with the same unskinnable (and rather ugly) user interface. So kudos for picking system-based colors at all. However, guys, you definitely picked the wrong ones in this case.
So how to fix it? Luckily, that’s pretty simple, actually!
Continue reading “How Thunderbird’s Lightning color scheme under Ubuntu pissed me off (and how to fix it)”