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Bug of the moment 2007-01-08

I have used more than my share of buggy, absurd and broken applications over the years. The creed of Open Source was supposed to herald a new future by allowing everyon who can code (not me!) to go in and fix all the bugs and add all the features, creating a Massively Multiplayer development process with widespread peer review. Sadly it’s proved to be too often a more buggy system than commercial software, and the darling Mozilla group seems to be among the worst offenders.

I’ve recently moved from using ICDsoft’s in-house Webmail to Mozilla Thunderbird for mail, and the amount of flaws in that application are endless. It’s one of those rare programs that generates random bugs on the fly, that you will never see again nor can you ever hope to report them. Bugs like grabbing a smiley from the start of the last line of a paragraph and relocating it to the start of the first line of the paragraph. I lose track of all the stupid things it does. One mail I was writing, if I right-clicked, Paste was disabled but Paste as Quotation was enabled, and Paste as Quotation still turned the inserted text blue without bothering to start a new line for the quotation or realise that the cursor was at the end of an existing line!

The text engine they use is badly broken and limp, with none of the smoothness of Macintosh Outlook Express’s implementation. Mac Outlook Express colourises the text dynamically according to indent level as you type, whereas Thunderbird changes the text colour statically and gets it stuck. Rewrap is broken; it has to be forced for each message (there is no automatic rewrap when replying leaving the text unflowed and each paragraph on a single line that extends well outside the window) and per-selection rewrap only works as and when it feels like it, with no discernible pattern.

Mac Outlook Express, by Microsoft, dating back to 2000, is far smoother and has none of these problems. Remember what I have said about rival programs creating new bugs that never existed in the original program? The only down side to Mac Outlook Express is that it causes kernel leakage when used as an IMAP client which could be due to the program or due to bugs in Mac OS 9. Thunderbird’s adaptive spam filter is another advantage, if even that ever worked properly.

Generally, Thunderbird bugs are not possible to screenshot effectively but this one caught my eye. I snip quoted text when I reply to mail, to insert replies mid-line and mid-paragraph, or only quote relevant text. This upsets Thunderbird's static colouriser which cannot deal with you chopping up quoted lines (something that never fazes Mac Outlook Express). I thought it simply failed to draw manually quoted lines – ones where I split a quoted line and add a “>” manually – in blue, so when this mail that I sent to the iCab list arrived in my inbox, I was dismayed further:

What on earth has it done to my text? It’s a plain text mail, so there would surely not be a lot that can go wrong (just transmit my text verbatim) but I checked the mail source, and found this:

Where I inserted a manual “>”, it’s added a space before each one when sending it! Why?! Why does it have to tamper with my text? I think it might be time I tried to find a better mail client for Windows, since Thunderbird is proving quite a lemon and far worse than even Microsoft’s efforts (though Macintosh Outlook Express is pretty exemplary despite a few bugs in IMAP).

Everyone else seems to find Thunderbird just dandy, so maybe it’s only plain text compose mode that doesn’t work? But it’s more than that. The collected addresses system collects duplicates of addresses already stored in my address book. I have to sort through and throw all these out to try to find new addresses to collect permanently. But then I lose track of who is truly in my address book, and who is simply a duplicate? At least dragging an address from Collected Addresses into Personal Addresses creates a duplicate in there also (two contacts in the same address book with the same address is apparently valid) instead of wiping out the existing contact and its customised details. Have Microsoft, as many believe, truly lowered people’s expectations of software so much that this sort of nonsense is considered acceptable now?

And the New mail sound seems to have stopped working now too. Sheez.

I had a much cuter bug to post but I had to rant about Thunderbird. I’ll post it tomorrow.

Posted 8th January 2007 – Comments and questions?