Friday, August 17, 2007

Thunderbird and Firefox 2.0 Display Glitches (And Workarounds)

(Updated below: clarification)

(Updated 2 below: another possible workaround)

I upgraded to version of Thunderbird this morning. The installation seemed to run successfully, and everything seemed to work when I restarted the program. However, I noticed a problem with the display in the main window: the text in the message pane was garbled. It looked like the text had been overwritten. Also, moving around in the message pane using the up and down arrow keys caused weird highlighting, as though every other message had been selected.

It turns out that the problem almost certainly stems from my particular setup: Windows 2000 SP4, running on an old Dell Precision 330, featuring an ancient graphics card, an NVIDIA RIVA TNT2/TNT2 Pro. This is a known issue, and you can read all about it in Mozilla's bug database.

There are at least a couple of known workarounds. First, I first tried Dao Gottwald's add-on for Thunderbird, "Hot Fix for 'garbage in folder contents pane' bug 1.0." This solved the glitches, but it also had the effect of removing the "zebra striping." Zebra striping means that the lines of text in the message pane are displayed with alternating background colors, which makes it a lot easier to look at a list of messages. I didn't want to do without this feature.

The next thing I tried was turning down the hardware acceleration for my graphics card, from its default setting of "full" to one step below that. (How? See "Update" below.) This did the job, and better than the hotfix -- the glitches were gone, and the zebra striping was retained.

As a happy side effect, this workaround also seems to have fixed a minor display glitch in Firefox 2.0, something called "tab ghosting." If I had multiple tabs open in my browser, switched focus away to another app, and then returned to Firefox, I would see garbled tabs, partially overwritten with icons from the toolbar. (The overwriting would clear itself when I clicked on the tabs.) This problem has also been noted, and again, for a very small set of graphics cards.

If you want more details, I've posted them on the Thunderbird and Firefox support forums.

Finally, note that you probably have to be logged in as Administrator to change the acceleration settings.


Keywords for Googling fellow sufferers: Thunderbird 2.0 text garbled, Thunderbird 2.0 text overwritten, Thunderbird 2.0 message pane garbled, Thunderbird 2.0 display problems, Firefox 2.0 tab ghosting, Firefox 2.0 tab display problems.


2007-10-04 00:06

In the comments for this post, Tim gave the succinct description for changing hardware acceleration:

Start/Control Panel/Display/Settings/Advanced/Troubleshoot/

I did describe this in the posts I put up on the Mozilla forums, thinking the full technical details belonged there, and not here. But Tim's one-liner deserves front-page mention, to save you having to click a link.

Thanks, Tim.

Update 2

2008-07-30 10:30

From the comments, here's another possibility: If you'd rather not mess with your display settings, try installing a "theme." I have not tried this myself, but Blog said it worked for him or her.


Anonymous said...

you're a genius, worked for me too -- thanks!

bjkeefe said...

Well, if by "genius" you mean 99% perspiration, I accept the label.

But seriously, glad to have helped.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I love this solution. Thanks a lot. After reinstalling and throwing away my profile a few times I finally ran into your post. Just marvelous!.

Anonymous said...

sorry, I forgot to note that I too have this on my Dell laptop with nVidia driver (Inspiron 8000)

bjkeefe said...

You're welcome, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this fix info! It happened on a Dell Inspiron 2650 as well.

For those wondering how to changed the video acceleration (it took me a bit to find the hardware), click...

Start/Control Panel/Display/Settings/Advanced/Troubleshoot/

Changed 'Hardware acceleration' from 'Full' one notch down as prescribed

Unknown said...


Many many thanks. I too have a Dell Inspiron 2650 and this problem had been bothering me for more than two weeks.

bjkeefe said...

Another thanks from me, to Tim and Normand R., for taking the time to acknowledge the usefulness of this post.

Sharing hard-won experience is something I like to do, and appreciation for said effort gives me real pleasure.

Thanks for your thanks, I mean.

Craig said...

Yet another thanks from a recently frustrated Inspiron 8100 owner.

Anonymous said...

Splendid! Thank you.
Backing off one notch on acceleration solved it.

We have a Dell Dimension Pro 420 with Nvidia Riva TNT/TNT2
graphics card.

Anonymous said...

Thanks from another Dell Inspiron 8100'er with nVidia Go graphics.

I installed Thunderbird and got the mush as described and then remembered why I was still running 1.5...

I also have (had) the FF mush on the tabs too so it's a win-win and I'm very happy!

Thanks so much.

bjkeefe said...

Craig, Rick, and Leigh:

Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge.

Anonymous said...

Just installed current Thunderbird on Dell Inspiron 8100 w/ nVidia. You were the top google hit for "Thunderbird Display Problems" -- I should have been feeling lucky! Thank you for the painless solution!!

bjkeefe said...


Thanks for letting me know how you got here. Glad I could help.

Just About Everything! said...

I have a Dell Inspiron 8200, and had the similar display problem, and glad I found this site. A quick fix maybe installing the cutebird blue theme (, that fixed the thunderbird text garbling problem right away. Not sure about other themes 'cause I didn't try. But before trying to mess with the display settings, maybe try the install the theme first.

Joe Dubner said...

Please accept the thanks of another grateful reader a year and a half after you wrote about it. Setting the graphics hardware acceleration down one step from maximum cures the problem on my Dell Inspiron Windows-2000 SP4 laptop with nVidia video. Thanks again.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks for letting me know, Joe. I'm glad to hear the information is still useful. Makes the effort of posting it worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Hardware acceleration one notch down...who would have thought about that! Thanks very much for this information, it solved my ff2 and thunderbird garbled screen problems rightaway :-)

Dell Inspiron 8000 with WinXP Pro.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a new Dell 2208WFP and had to update the drivers on the ancient nVidia Riva TNT2 card in my system running Win2K to get it to display 1680 x 1050. However, when I did this, FF got all nasty as it did for the rest of you - until I made the hardware acceleration change. Everything is working again - thanks a bunch!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping this data up and available.

I'd had the problem ~6mos. ago, switched to another e-mail handler, and the problem 'fixed itself' after a hiatus, but came back this summer today.

Thx to your tip, Thunderbird is quick-fixed, now that I've reduced my (also ancient) graphics card performance down a notch, as poster "Tim" outlined on
September 19, 2007

Gratefully yours, Jonathan