Menus in Thunderbird

If you install or upgrade Thunderbird, it may appear something like this:

Note that there is no Toolbar or Menu Bar.

The Application Menu button, with its three horizontal lines, as shown at the right hand end of my tab bar, is intended as an alternative to conventional menus. It is a new feature and there is little documentation about its layout. In common with other menus, the structures of the menus it reveals vary between Operating Systems. These screen shots were made on a Linux Mint system, so it uses “Preferences” where you will see “Options” in Windows. See the following article for more information on the variations in menus.

Menu differences in Windows, Linux, and Mac - MozillaZine Knowledge Base

Most help on the web for Thunderbird is based on the traditional menu system, and in order to be able to use all the legacy help, it is useful to be able to view the old menus.

If you click on the Application Menu button, a menu will appear. Hover your cursor over “Options” or “Preferences” and a pop-up sub-menu appears. Here you can tick the check boxes to enable the Toolbar (which I think you will need) and the Menu Bar (which I think you may find useful.)

Thunderbird has at least three other windows, namely the Address Book, the Message View and the Compose windows where the Toolbar may be hidden, and there isn't necessarily an Application Menu button to help you. In these cases, you will need to use a standard GUI keystroke to start things off.

In both Windows and Linux, F10 will open the menu system on the File sub-menu. From here you can select View then Toolbars and you have the same checkboxes. I'd recommend you enable both the Toolbar and the Menu Bar on these other windows.

Alternatively, you can press and hold the alt key, then the v key, then release both. This will open the menu at the View sub-menu, where you can go straight to the Toolbars sub-menu and the checkboxes for the toolbars.

You can choose whether to use the old menus or the new Application Menu, but I would urge you to enable the Toolbar using its checkbox, as the toolbar offers all the commonly used commands.

The Application Menu is quite hard to describe to users. In the first level menu, you hover for sub-menus to appear. If you click, you may be taken to some default sub-menu or options dialogue window. For instance, if we clicked on “Preferences” or “Options”, we would by-pass the menu and go straight to this window:

Personally, I don't like the hover metaphor. It is not always clear which options have a sub-menu that responds to hovering, or which items will do something useful in response to a click. Subjectively, I dislike waiting for a hover-provoked item to appear, perhaps only to find that this is an item that needs a click. Clicking is definitive and deterministic, whereas waiting for a hover item to appear is open-ended and may never happen.

Why has this been done? In conversation with one of the developers, I learned that there is an interest in reducing the amount of screen space occupied by the controls, particularly for those using smaller screens. Given that netbooks have pretty much died out, and that we don't build Thunderbird for iOS, Android or Chrome OS for use on tablets, smartphones and ChromeBooks, I'm not sure where this userbase with smaller screens comes from. There has also been a fair amount of interest from some users in moving to a Firefox-like menu system, where the menu can be configured to be accessible behind a single orange button, so together these are given as the reason for the change to using the Application Menu. I understood that the intention was for the Toolbars to remain visible, but this doesn't seem to happen.

As far as I understand it, this loss of menus or toolbars doesn't affect Mac users.

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