Configuring Mozilla Thunderbird to Send Plain ASCII Text

Configuring Mail Clients to Send Plain ASCII Text is an exhaustive primer about why sending e-mail as HTML is wrong, something we've posted about before. The overview lists how to configure mail clients to send in plain-text, including instructions for several old versions of Mozilla and Netscape are listed. However, these options were recently shuffled around. So, here are the instructions to turn of HTML/MIME in Mozilla Thunderbird 0.5:

This is probably a no-brainer for most of you, so instead, forward this link to someone who needs it. Or if you're setting up Thunderbird for a non-techy, remember that when you create a new account in Thunderbird, it presets compostion to HTML format.

And remember, in the rare occasions you absolutely have to send in HTML format, you can always shift-click the "Write" button.

» posted by pinder on February 16, 2004 at 10:30 PM


what do you mean wrong? HTML 3.2 is a w3c recommended spec and near trivial to render on a console (if you can't program that you shouldn't be writing any kind of software). The fact that some popular mail clients don't do this is the problem, not the HTML itself. If lynx can display HTML, pine can do it too. It's near trivial to strip HTML tags out of an incoming message. The fact that almost no mail client does this is a good indication how unimportant this issue is to most users. The real world is full of HTML mail, that is not going to change.

I make it point to send HTML only (why waste bandwidth sending the message twice?) and generally flame people who comment by telling them to get something decent to read their mail (this happens about once a year, usually some unix jerk who thinks it is cool to read mail in a xterm) and not bother me with their software problems. It's not like there's a lack of HTML capable mail readers and I'm certainly not going to limit my set of features because of some dinosaurs refuse to upgrade their software to something of this century. I like my texts properly formatted thank you.

The link you point to is full of misguided & incorrect material:

Point 1. The quoting thing is something unix geeks seem to love but nobody else seems to be aware of. Personally I find this type of mail to be highly annoying. HTML quoted stuff is much more readable and if you have to say something to me make sure it is the first thing I see, not the last. It's a matter of taste and adapting the taste of the majority to the taste of a vocal minority is not somthing that will happen.

Point 2. Good mailinglist software can strip HTML tags so this is not something you need to handle in a mail client. If your mailinglist software can't, install something better.

Point 3. is bullshit, I have about four years of mail saved on my HD (about 1 GB) and no strange files appearing anywhere. Sure, attachments add some weight but 1GB = 1$ these days. 1$ for storing four years of email is nothing.

Point 4. Is bullshit too. HTML is not executable code. The problem is old versions of outlook that also interpret embedded scripts. Newer versions no longer do that. Also the mime type system is poorly implemented in older versions of outlook (has nothing whatsoever to do with HTML) which tricks the client into opening files that pretend to be something else than they really are. In facr many of the virus mails are formatted as ascii (I've deleted plenty from my thunderbird inbox)

Point 5. Your PDA software must be crappy if it can't turn HTML into something readable. BTW. you shouldn't use your PDA to archive stuff (email, documents, whatever): pop, read & delete. I'm sure you can spare the few hundred kilobytes for a couple of messages.

Point 6. Most of these clients also support HTML so what's your point?

# posted by jilles

Damn, Jilles just bitch-slapped you.

# posted by S

jilles congratulations! you just won the greatest moron of the week price!

Assholes that write html email deserve to have it dumped into the trash

If you are so stupid as to think that html email is such a great idea, I'm sure better not even bothering to read whatever you have to say.


# posted by \k

Jilles, you talk about wasting bandwidth by sending HTML and plain-text, but what about the waste in sending HTML -- tags add absolutely nothing to a message besides bloat.

# posted by Sean O'Hara

For a vocal minority you guys can be pretty insulting. I was just pointing out the factual incorrect statements in the link above. If you don't agree, please educate me.

HTML is not bloat IMHO. I like my text properly formatted. Most mail doesn't contain more than a few hundred bytes worth of tags anyway. It just seems pointless to send two messgages to everybody instead of one just because of the handful of people who somehow can't manage to install any of the nice email clients around.

Anyway it's a very academic discussion, most mail is HTML these days. Sending ascii is by no means a problem to anyone and even sending double messages is handled very nicely in most mail clients so go ahead and send your messages as outlined above. Just don't go and claim silly things like HTML messages are evil. I'm just glad the thunderbird developers no longer share your point of view that this kind of thing needs to be force fed to end users.

# posted by jilles

I wasn't aware the Thunderbird devs ever felt that HTML shouldn't be supported -- it's been in every version I've used, and AFAIK was carried over from Mozilla.

But it still serves no point -- you can more than adequately format a text message with the enter and space keys, and *, /, and _ more than suffice for emphasis (and are rendered as such in TB at a fraction of the size of an HTML tag). For me and many people, HTML messages are just a step down from websites designed entirely in Flash. Don't believe me, try posting an HTML message in a Usenet group.

# posted by Sean O'Hara

People who think top-posting isn't a problem don't understand E-mail.

-- This.
-- What's wrong with top-posting?

And if you want really nice plain-text mail, use format=flowed. IIRC Moz and derivates understand f=f, as do Eudora, M2, Apple Mail, and... Hotmail!

# posted by Joe Clark

Hey dude, you should put stuff like this into the Mozilla Knowledge Base. I actually put this article in there for you already, check it out at Turn off HTML/MIME.

# posted by Nelson Pavlosky

Oh yeah, and HTML/MIME actually causes problems for college students who use webmail interfaces. Here's what my friend said over IM, verbatim:

MyFriend: nelson i think there's something wrong with my mozilla thunderbird
Nelson: I'm sorry... what's the matter?
MyFriend: well
MyFriend: when i forward messages, it tries to forward the message in some weird sort of attachment that no one can read
MyFriend: i.e. it doesn't copy the message into the new message
MyFriend: but everyone has been complaining to me about when i forward things

# posted by Nelson Pavlosky

I don`t regularly run polls on eMail content, and I suppose jilles doesn`t either. Both of us can mainly judge from the eMail they receive. For me, three fourth of the incoming eMail are HTML - nearly all of it being SPAM.
But this might be due to the academic environment, or whatever.
I won`t buy any "majority" arguments without evidence.

@ jilles first posting:
pinders statement that HTML email is wrong did not imply in any way that HTML wasn`t standardised, or that it has no good uses - outside of eMail!
Of course, you can strip out unwanted HTML; and it might indeed be outworldish to think it can be better to prevent pollution than to medicate the effects later. In the net environment SPAM migth prove this, in politics - oh well...
Still, some of us believe the prevention of harm is superior than later treatment of the effects.
Here, educating people that they souldn`t HTML-mail to newsgroups and mailing lists has an advantage for them: their messages will be formatted approximately as they have written them. Stripping HTML out of a posting someone did using all the formatting options can render it almost unreadable.
Is it so important that every "let`s meet for lunch at 12, ok?" is properly formatted that something possibly annoying a single person should be the default ?
jilles, if styling your eMails is so important to you, why did you use no formatting whatsoever in your weblog posting - which is expected to be HTML anyway ?

That some people don`t understand quoting is not necessarily the fault of quoting... but I agree that it is usually useless to quote-reply HTML-mail anyway because the sender will probably not understand quotes...

Maybe many HTML-mail senders did not do it intentionally, but simply because it is on by default - for these, pinders instructions are helpful. The real solution here would be a fix for the defaults - anybody working on this ?

The "bullshit" arguments:
That space is affordable does not necessarily mean that I want to use it for storing garbage.
Proper HTML isn`t executed - but still the SPAMmer with that uniquely identified graphic/link knows that I read the eMail which makes me a more valuable target... this adds something to eMail, but not to the good of the recipient!

A lot of it boils down to "what do you want to transmit with eMail - content or style ?". I personally prefer to read content, using the settings (background & foreground color, and even font) I chose instead of being forced to look at what a lot of people call formatting.
EMail is not the medium for presentations (in the PowerPoint - sense), IMHO.

Best Regards

# posted by tgquux

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