With the advent of Thunderbird 3, searching messages became a bit more sassy in the old bird.

There is one little problem: it is not readily apparent how one actually searches for text inside an open e-mail.

It used to be that you could just type Ctrl-F and the little “Find” bar opened at the bottom of your message pane/window. Type in some text, and all instances of that text would be highlighted in the open message.

In the latest Tbird, that doesn’t work in certain cases. In fact, searching in an open message has become downright annoying, and nobody seems to know how to make it work. Several people even filed bug reports about it.

This situation was obviously intolerable, so I finally managed to solve it!

I read messages in Thunderbird without actually opening them in a new tab. In other words, I use the standard configuration and I read messages in the message pane. If you’re one of those people who double-clicks to open each e-mail in a new tab, then you’ve probably noticed that simply typing Ctrl-F still brings up the “Find in Message” bar just like it did before.

For the rest of us, Ctrl-F brings up the “Quick Filter” bar above the e-mail list pane at the top of the Tbird window:

CTRL-F brings up the QuickFilter in the normal Thunderbird 3-pane view

To make matters worse, if you go into the Edit -> Find menu, you will see the following keyboard shortcuts:

Edit -> Find Menu in Thunderbird 3.1

Problem is, Ctrl-F does NOT bring up the “Find in Message” bar. There are two tricks to make the “Find in Message” bar show up when viewing e-mails in the 3-pane mode:

  1. Type: Ctrl-F-F
  2. Type: Ctrl-G

Both will give you the “Find in Message” bar:

The Find in Message bar in Thunderbird 3.1

If you type Ctrl-F-F, first the Quick Filter bar will appear, and with the second “F” keypress, the “Find in Message” bar will also appear at the bottom of the message pane.

Alternatively, you can just type Ctrl-G. That’s supposed to be “Find Again”, and in fact if there is already a search term in the “Find in Message” bar, it will just find the next instance of that search term in the currently selected message. In that case, you’ll have to use the Ctrl-F-F trick to change the search term.

Pressing Ctrl-Shift-F will give you the old Search Messages box, like so:

Search Messages box

Now, I have to say that the Quick Filter and the general all-message-searching capabilities in Tbird 3.1 are pretty nice. However, I don’t use them very often. What I usually need is to be able to find some text in the current e-mail I’m reading. That used to be very straightforward in previous versions of Thunderbird. Now the behavior of the old keystroke changes depending upon how you read your mail.

That’s not very user-friendly. At the very least, there should be an option to configure the different search modes so that it works the way you need it to. Thunderbird 3.1 seems to have made the assumption for you that you will search multiple messages more often than you will search inside a given e-mail.

What I would really like to see is a unification of the three different search modes: Find in Message, Quick Filter, and Search Messages. Give me one keystroke that works the same in ALL views with buttons that let me expand my search to the current folder or all folders – but only if I tell it to do that. Or, give me 2 keystrokes that work the same all the time: one for the current message, and one for the current folder that can be expanded to all folders if necessary.

I really love Thunderbird, but sometimes I have to wonder about the UI people at Mozilla!

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