Canonical Design Team Releases Thunderbird Usability Testing Results

Charline Poirier says, "This time, I had the pleasure of working with Andreas Nilsson, who came to London to observe the sessions. It was very useful to get his feedback and to work collaboratively with him on the analysis and implications of the findings." Poirier continues, "In addition to these benefits of our work together, there is an added one: since he observed participants struggling with certain aspects of the interface, he will no doubt be a very effective user experience advocate with his team."

The Canonical Design Team blog posts details the test, methodology, what participants liked, where the trouble is and more.

There were 12 participants which represented a mix of gender and age with special consideration given to heavy email users. In the end there were only 11 participants as one was a no-show. Of these 11, 5 were Windows only users, 3 were Mac only users and 3 used a combination on both Windows and Mac.

Thunderbird was tested on Maverick and Unity and between each of the 60 minute sessions Thunderbird was removed so the each participant got to start from scratch.

Participants were asked to Install Thunderbird from the Software Center, Create an account, Sign up, Create filters, Set up alerts, Manage emails in folders, Create a signature, Change the color of the font, Create a contact list, Search for a specific email discussing a form (which I had sent prior to the session and Respond to an email that contained an attachment: in particular, open the attachment, modify it and send it back to the original sender.

The trouble areas for this group of tester seemed to be with installing, creating folders, creating filters, finding opening and modifying attachments, as well as searching. There were other "less critical" issues that were identified such as setting up a mail account and alert, as well as creating a signature.

More information about the Thunderbird testing can be found on the Canonical Design Team Blog.


System 100% used

I used to use T-bird until the 3.x upgrade. It locks up my system so badly it is hard to start the system monitor. A couple of times I ran system monitor first and then started T-bird. When the system activity went to 100% I was able to see what state its in. Think it was "D Uninterruptible sleep" which I'd never seen before. Tried several changes, even wiped the T-bird directory for the user, but nothing worked. Now I use the web interface for mail. It's a big disappointment.


I use T'bird and the only gripe I have with it is the address book.

Setting up groups and moving addresses to the folders is confusing at first.

After mucking around for a while you can stumble across how to do this.

I love it!

Users in corporate environments have IT support staff for a lot of this stuff

You put a bunch of "typical" corporate users in front of MS Outlook and ask them to set up an email account, and they'll panic then, too. "I'm not a 'computer person'!" they will loudly complain, and then they will call the help desk to dispatch a tech out to configure their email clients for them. This isn't like in the dot-com days where users either figured it out or they didn't get email. But today they're pretty much lost no matter what the email client is.

I have a relative that was on MS Outlook Express. I moved him to Mozilla Thunderbird. He actually prefers Thunderbird over the "familiar" Outlook Express, as the 'Bird has plenty of features that O.E. doesn't have.

And for those who just won't be satisfied unless it's "just like Outlook", give 'em Evolution. That's what I've done, and it works every time.


Quelle suprise!

New users, unfamiliar with either the program or the operating system, didn't instantly understand how to install an e-mail program, configure it correctly for their account, and be comfortable with using the more "advanced" features (eg. filters) in less than an hour.

There were some useful observations coming out of this "usability study" I use quotes here, because a sample size of 11 subjects strikes me as distinctly deficient, and likely even misleading. But some of the more basic identified issues (eg. finding the installed app, or having two different steps both being labelled "create account") are obviously valid concerns.

But of the task list
* Install Thunderbird from the Software Centre
* Create an account
* Sign up
* Create filters
* Set up alerts
* Manage emails in folders
* Create a signature
* Change the colour of the font
* Create a contact list
* Search for a specific email discussing a form (which I had sent prior to the session)
* Respond to an email that contained an attachment: in particular, open the attachment, modify it and send it back to the original sender)

I must say it strikes me that many of my acquaintances can't do any of those things in whatever e-mail program they already use, except perhaps for changing font colour or (possibly) creating a contact list (You'd be surprised how resistant some people are to sorting their mail into folders, and how many of those don't like / can't manage search functions either).

From what I've seen when moving friends from Outlook to Thunderbird (as a simple security improvement), the ones that can do more are divided among those who can cope with change, and those who feel that any app that does things differently than MS Outlook is arbitrary and confusing and must be just plain stupid, or at least inferior, simply by virtue of the fact that it's different from MS (though if pressed, they will agree that the Apple way must be good, too). They've learned the tricks and quirks of Outlook (or Word or Excel or...), and consider learning ANYTHING else an unwarranted imposition.

Also, it would probably be worthwhile to categorize users by their depth of experience, as well as by what OS/application they have experience in. I've noticed that often it is the most experienced who have the most trouble; they just don't appreciate how many assumptions they're making, which can cause them to not think of -- or even just not see -- obvious options. I would argue that a readily seen "guide for Windows/Outlook users" would be helpful.

Of course, in a workplace environment, quick adjustment to a new email client would be essential. I don't know if "up to speed in 1 (one) hour" is reasonable though -- eeven if that didn't include installation and account configuration.

RE: Surprise Surprise

No doubt they would have been, along with 5000 others, many contradictory. Its easy to take a dismissive stance after the fact. While this testing is not going to reveal any single issue that is earth-shatteringly new, it does help focus priorities. Now sit down and stop being so negative.

Surprise Surprise

These are all the topics that have appeared for the last five years in the Thunderbird support forums and in the bug reports.

Had they been asked to use it to read usenet, there would have been more.

Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.


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