bounding brokenness

Modern times

Typography on computers has improved tremendously in the last ten years. Microsoft came out with ClearType with Windows XP (spurring endless debates about whether Apple’s or Microsoft’s sub-pixel rendering technology is better), and then with an amazing set of typefaces with Windows Vista. Meanwhile, Apple’s done its own share of shipping new typefaces in OS releases. And most Linux distributions now ship the excellent DejaVu typefaces.

Thunderbird, however, hasn’t kept up at all, despite the fact that its primary job is to display text to you. On Windows, it still uses the ancient Times New Roman and Courier New fonts, even though Microsoft itself has moved on.

Thunderbird 3 on Windows 7 next to Mozilla Suite 1.0 on Windows 98: spot the difference
win98 vs win7

This is all about to change. Starting Thunderbird 3.1 beta 2, the default typefaces for emails in Unicode and Western encodings have changed from:

Windows Vista and 7

  • Proportional: Times New Roman to Calibri
  • Monospace: Courier New to Consolas

Mac OS X


  • Proportional: System default serif typeface to DejaVu Sans system default sans-serif typeface
  • Monospace: System default monospace typeface to DejaVu Sans Mono hasn’t been changed

These typefaces provide a fresh, modern look to Thunderbird, and make the experience of reading email that much better.

A comparison of the old and new defaults on Windows and Mac
Windows and Mac font comparison

Unfortunately, we don’t have a solution for Windows XP yet, mainly because ClearType isn’t enabled by default and neither are ClearType typefaces always available. There’s a bug on file to upgrade Windows XP users to something better than the current defaults.

Thanks to Alex Faaborg for first suggesting the idea of changing the default fonts, dmose for driving it over the line, Mossop for suggesting the defaults on Mac, and Blake and Bryan for reviewing it in time ;)

I’d also like to thank Gurpartap for allowing me access to his Mac server over VNC to take screenshots. (No thanks to Apple for making connecting to Snow Leopard Server from a non-Apple computer a PITA, though.)

Update: The Linux defaults have been reverted to whatever the system specifies.

Update 2: Patricia Clausnitzer from PC has kindly provided a Belorussian translation of this post.