Talk:Mail content types

From MozillaZine Knowledge Base


Plain Text E-Mail page

Rod - This is great stuff; I learned a lot. Have you taken a look at the pre-existing article, Plain text e-mail - Thunderbird? The articles cover mostly the same topics, though each has much to add to the other. They should probably be merged, but let me know what you think. Guanxi 19:01, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

Although there is overlap, the purpose of the article Plain text e-mail - Thunderbird seems to be to promote non-MIME ASCII e-mail, which Thunderbird does not fully support. The term "plain text" in Thunderbird effectively refers to a MIME content type. The term "plain text" in that article means something different:

...minimal use of MIME...
In this article, "plain text" means, technically, 7-bit ASCII.
The goal of this page is to show users how, as much as possible, they can minimize their e-mail to 7-bit ASCII.

Also, that article contains some statements that I think are very questionable:

Plain text is much more secure...
...likely to be readable many years in the future...

together with various other errors and confusions.

In fact I spent some time wondering how that article could be fixed, and even tried redrafting it, before giving up and starting with a clean sheet. It seems to me that the article could be improved by:

  • Giving it a more precise title, such as: "ASCII mail"
  • Changing "plain text" to "ASCII" where that's what it means (but not where it really does mean plain text as Mozilla implements it)
  • Removing questionable statements, or at least rewording them as opinions and referring to other sources.
  • Removing some of the overlap, (but keeping information that a reader who really does want ASCII-only mail needs in order to achieve that.)

Rod Whiteley 10:30, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Rod - I welcome your input on the content. Because the kb is written for end users, I still think that the pages should be merged. It will only make their lives difficult to try to synthesize two pages covering the same issues from two angles.

I propose we collaborate: I will address all your questions above, which I think are good ones, in the next section and do the work of merging the articles with the content we agree on. Sound good? :) Guanxi 16:31, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Article merge issues


Rod: the purpose of the article Plain text e-mail - Thunderbird seems to be to promote non-MIME ASCII e-mail,

I don't think advocacy belongs in the kb and should be removed -- where do you see it? The intro says Some people prefer to use plain text ... then lists pros and cons, and the article lays out the facts without recommendations. If it does give the impression of advocacy, how can we change it? Guanxi 16:27, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
I have the same impression as Rod. Most windows users think in terms of plain text vs HTML. The article immediately redefines plain text as meaning non-MIME ASCII. My first impression when reading the article was that the author was a Unix fanboy. Most knowledge base articles seem to be written for windows users (since they're the overwhelming majority), sometimes adding extra text to deal with Linux or OSX. Tanstaafl 23:51, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm not sure comparing plain text and HTML should be a major focus of this article. People are likely here to learn about how to switch between the types and related information. I prefer how it's presented in Mail content types, a brief overview, over how it's presented in this article, but Mail content types actually comes off slightly anti-plain text. It should also explain (in one sentence) the benefits listed on this page.--Np 20:24, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

"Plain text is more secure"

Rod: that article contains some statements that I think are very questionable: ... Plain text is much more secure...

The word "much" I can see eliminating, but I think plain text is inherently more secure. There is no question of web bugs, tracking (unless you return a receipt), javascript/java, or other privacy or security issues. Again, maybe I'm missing something ... Guanxi 16:27, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
Plain text is simpler and there is less to go wrong. However, the article ignores the fact that between common sense and features added to Thunderbird its easy to deal with many of those security issues. I suggest you think in terms of gray scale, not black or white. Tanstaafl 23:51, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree with tanstaafl. With Thunderbird's security features, the possibilities for things going bad with HTML e-mails is almost entirely negated.--Np 20:24, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

Future compatibility

Rod: that article contains some statements that I think are very questionable: ... likely to be readable many years in the future ...

Hmmm ... I think 7 bit ASCII is more likely to be compatible with future systems than any other format, and I believe that's the general consensus of people dealing with long-term digital archives (long-term backup retention, historians, archivists, etc) (see It's a real problem (see -- in 10 or 15 years, other formats or the software needed to read them can become obsolete -- in 2020, will there be software that can read Word documents from 2007? That's questionable. Mozilla's HTML output from 2007? Much more likely. 7 bit ASCII from 2007? By definition, more likely than HTML (since HTML depends on ASCII), and I believe it's generally considered to be most likely of all; for example, operating systems (not to mention compilers) understand ASCII, with no need for application software. Guanxi 16:27, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
It is a valid concern, but most users don't care about it or will deal with it when it becomes an issue. The email provider might not even exist or Thunderbird becomes obsolete by the time it becomes an issue. There is a big distinction between serious archiving (where you might use something like Xena) and normal usage. The article should focus on the needs of the majority. Tanstaafl 23:51, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Agree with tanstaafl.--Np 20:24, 9 May 2007 (UTC)


Rod: Giving it a more precise title, such as: "ASCII mail" ... Changing "plain text" to "ASCII" where that's what it means

I agree it's imprecise, and I struggled with the terminology. I finally decided that the intended audience is the end user, for whom "ASCII" (and "Mail content types") means nothing (e.g., ask your parents (or mine) what either term means). I did put more precise terminology in the Advanced section. The merged article won't deal with just plain text anyway, but I think we need a title end users will understand. How about, "Mail format: Plain text or fonts, HTML and MIME"? Not precise, but at least most people looking at it will know what the article is about. Other suggestions are welcome. Guanxi 16:27, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
I think the current title for Guanxi's article is fine, the problem is its advocating non-MIME ASCII rather than just telling users how to configure Thunderbird for plain text. i.e. how to deal with issues such as the setting in the address book card about what the recipient prefers to receive. I suggest that rather than merging the two articles that there be separate articles for plain text, 7-bit ASCII plain text, and MIME/content types. This would eliminate most of the overlap, make each article easier to read by reducing the size of the advanced sections, and sidestep some editorial issues. The "Plain text e-mail - Thunderbird" article should point the reader to the other two articles as needed and try to avoid having an advanced section. Tanstaafl 23:51, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Tanstaafl - I'm not sure why this discussion is in the Terminology section -- do you have any helpful input about that problem? Regarding the rest -- A year ago, I tried addressing your concerns about the other article on its talk page, but you rejected any compromise and then didn't respond (I implemented the compromise anyway, to address your concerns). What you write here seems to disregard what I wrote here, ignoring my concerns and raising issues I already addressed (I assume you didn't read before you posted). If you won't make an effort to deal reasonably -- and productively (with concrete suggestions) -- why should others invest time in doing the same? Guanxi 03:18, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
I read your article twice before commenting. We have a different interpretation of what happened a year ago, I remember giving up after no success, deciding all I'd wind up doing is antagonizing you if I continued. I have no problem with the plain text and mime/content articles being merged if both of you like the end result. I proposed an alternative that would let you preserve most of your current article, and have you write a separate article about non-MIME messages for those interested in its potential benefits. However, if you're not interested in resolving the conflict that way, thats fine. To make certain Rods issues are dealt with you might consider modifying your proposal to have you make the first pass at merging the articles, and then let him take a turn. Tanstaafl 05:24, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
We should avoid the use of terms like "MIME" and "ASCII" and use every day terms where possible, even if it is slightly imprecise. --Np 20:24, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

The extent of this discussion makes it clear to me that merging these articles is not a trivial thing that can be done quickly. And I'm not sure that having three articles instead of two is going in the right direction. So my strong preference at this time would be to continue to have the two articles that we now have.

This is the wrong place to discuss issues relating specifically to the other article, and I am reluctant to become involved in matters that have remained unresolved for the last year. However, I have already raised some issues. If they can be addressed, then I might feel encouraged by that and contribute more on the other talk page. To assist in moving this discussion to the right place, I will summarize again there.

As both articles evolve, we might all see more clearly whether they should be merged or split up further.

Rod Whiteley 19:22, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Rod - I have already raised some issues. If they can be addressed ... I've already addressed them above; I'm not going to now repost the discussion on the other page. Would it be possible to respond here? Instead of using the horizontal rule, just use a colons ":" to indent your comments appropriately. Also, I'd appreciate it if you could read what I've posted and address the issues I brought up. Thanks for your time. Guanxi 15:08, 28 March 2007 (UTC)