FOSDEM 2019 and DeltaChat

During the last month we attended two events: FOSDEM, Europe’s premier free software event, and a meetup with the folks behind DeltaChat. At both events we met great people, had interesting conversations, and talked through potential future collaboration with Thunderbird. This post details some of our conversations and insights gather from those events.

FOSDEM 2019

Magnus (Thunderbird Technical Manager), Kai (Thunderbird Security Engineer), and I (Ryan, Community Manager) arrived in Brussels for Europe’s premier free software event (free as in freedom, not beer): FOSDEM. I was excited to meet many of our contributors in-person who I’d only met online. It’s exhilarating to be looking someone in the eye and having a truly human interaction around something that you’re passionate about – this is what makes FOSDEM a blast.

There are too many conversations that we had to detail in their entirety in this blog post, but below are some highlights.

Chat over IMAP/Email

One thing we discussed at FOSDEM was Chat over IMAP with the people from Open-Xchange. Robert even gave a talk called “Break the Messaging Silos with COI”. They made a compelling case as to why email is a great medium for chat, and the idea of using a chat that lets you select the provider that stores your data – genius! We followed on FOSDEM with a meetup with the DeltaChat folks in Freiburg, Germany where we discussed encryption and Chat over Email.

Encryption, Encryption, Encryption

We discussed encryption a lot, primarily because we have been thinking about it a lot as a project. With the rising awareness of users about privacy concerns in tech, services like Protonmail getting a lot of attention, and in acknowledgement that many Thunderbird users rely on encrypted Email for their security – it was important that we use this opportunity to talk with our sister projects, contributors, and users about how we can do better.

Sequoia-PGP

We were very grateful that the Sequoia-PGP team took the time to sit down with us and listen to our ideas and concerns surrounding improving encrypted Email support in Thunderbird. Sequoia-PGP is an OpenPGP library, written in Rust that appears to be pretty solid. There is a potential barrier to incorporating their work into Thunderbird, in license compatibility (we use MPL and they use GPL). But we discussed a wide range of topics and have continued talking through what is possible following the event, it is my hope that we will find some way to collaborate going forward.

One thing that stood out to me about the Sequoia team was their true interest in seeing Thunderbird be the best that it can be, and they seemed to genuinely want to help us. I’m grateful to them for the time that they spent and look forward to getting another opportunity to sit with them and chat.

pEp

Following our discussion with the Sequoia team, we spoke to Volker of the pEp Foundation. Over dinner we discussed Volker’s vision of privacy by default and lowering the barrier of using encryption for all communication. We had spoken to Volker in the past, but it was great to sit around a table, enjoy a meal, and talk about the ways in which we could collaborate. pEp’s approach centers around key management and improved user experience to make encryption more understandable and easier to manage for all users (this is a simplified explanation, see pEp’s website for more information). I very much appreciated Volker taking the time to walk us through their approach, and sharing ideas as to how Thunderbird might move forward. Volker’s passion is infectious and I was happy to get to spend time with him discussing the pEp project.

EteSync

People close to me know that I have a strong desire to see encrypted calendar and contact sync become a standard (I’ve even grabbed the domains cryptdav.com and cryptdav.org). So when I heard that Tom of EteSync was at FOSDEM, I emailed him to set up a time to talk. EteSync is secure, end-to-end encrypted and privacy respecting sync for your contacts, calendars and tasks. That hit the mark!

In our conversation we discussed potential ways to work together, and I encouraged him to try and make this into a standard. He was quite interested and we talked through who we should pull into the conversation to move this forward. I’m happy to say that we’ve managed to get Thunderbird Council Chairman and Lightning Calendar author Philipp Kewisch in on the conversation – so I hope to see us move this along. I’m so glad that Tom created an implementation that will help people maintain their privacy online. We so often focus on securing our communication, but what about the data that is produced from those conversations? He’s doing important work and I’m glad that I was able to find ways to support his vision. Tom also gave a talk at FOSDEM this year, called “Challenges With Building End-to-End Encrypted Applications – Learnings From Etesync”.

Autocrypt on the Train

During FOSDEM we attended a talk about Autocrypt by Vincent Breitmoser. As we headed to the city Freiburg, for our meetup with the people behind DeltaChat, we realized Vincent was on our train and managed to sit with him on the ride over. Vincent was going to the same meetup that we were so it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was great to get an opportunity to sit down with him and discuss how the Autocrypt project was doing and the state of email encryption, in general.

Vincent reiterated Autocrypt’s focus on raising the floor on encryption, getting as many people using encryption keys as possible and handling some of the complexity around the exchange of keys. We had concerns around the potential for man-in-the-middle attacks when using Autocrypt and Vincent was upfront about that and we had a useful discussion about balancing the risks and ease of use of email security. Vincent’s sincerity and humble nature made the conversation an enjoyable one, and I came away having made a new friend. Vincent is a good guy, and following our meetup in Freiburg we have discussed other ways in which we could collaborate.

Other FOSDEM Conversations

Of course, I will inevitably leave out someone in recounting who we talked to as FOSDEM. I had many conversations with old friends, met new people, and shared ideas. I got to meet Elio Qoshi of Ura Design face-to-face for the first time, which was really awesome (they did a style guide and usability study for Thunderbird, and have contributed in a number of other ways). I spoke to the creators of Mailfence, a privacy-focused email provider.

I attended a lot of talks and had my head filled with new perspectives, had preconceived notions challenged, and learned a lot. I hope that we’ll get to return next year and share some of the work that we’re doing now!

DeltaChat in Freiburg

A while before finishing our FOSDEM planning, we were invited by Holger Krekel to come to Freiburg, Germany following FOSDEM and learn more about Chat over Email (as their group calls it), and their implementation – DeltaChat. They use Autocrypt in DeltaChat, so there were conversations about that as well. Patrick Brunschwig, the author of the  Enigmail add-on was also present, and had interesting insights to add to the encryption conversation.

Hanging at a flat in Freiburg we spent two days talking through Chat over Email support in Thunderbird, how we might improve encryption in Thunderbird core, and thought through how Thunderbird can enhance its user experience around chat and encryption. Friedel, the author of rpgp, a rust implementation of OpenPGP, showed up at the event and shared his insights – which we appreciated.

I also got an opportunity to talk with the core maintainer of DeltaChat, Björn Petersen, about the state of chat generally. He started DeltaChat in order to offer an alternative to these chat silos, with a focus on an experience that would be on par with the likes of Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp.

Following more general conversations, I spoke with Björn, Janka, and Xenia about the chat experience in DeltaChat. We discussed what a Chat over Email implementation in Thunderbird might look like, and more broadly talked through other potential UX improvements in the app. Xenia described the process their team went through when polling DeltaChat users about potential improvements and what insights they gained in doing that. We chatted about how what they have learned might apply to Thunderbird and it was very enlightening.

At one point Holger took us to Freiburg’s Chaos Computer Club, and there we got to hang out and talk about a wide range of topics – mostly centered around open source software and privacy. I thought it was fascinating and I got to learn about new projects that are up and coming. I hope to be able to collaborate with some of them to improve Thunderbird. In the end I was grateful that Holger and the rest of the DeltaChat contributors encouraged us to join them for their meetup, and opened up their space for us so that we could spend time with them and learn from them.

Thanks for reading this post! I know it was long, but I hope you found it interesting and learned something from it.

Thunderbird in 2019

From the Thunderbird team we wish you a Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019, and in this blog post we’ll look at what we got accomplished in 2018 and look forward to what we’re going to be working on this year.

Looking Back on 2018

More Eggs in the Nest

Our team grew considerably in 2018, to eight staff working full-time on Thunderbird. At the beginning of this year we are going to be adding as many as six new members to our team. Most of these people with the exception of this author (Ryan Sipes, Community Manager) are engineers who will be focused on making Thunderbird more stable, faster, and easier to use (more on this below).

The primary reason we’ve been able to do this is an increase in donors to the project. We hope that anyone reading this will consider giving to Thunderbird as well. Donations from individual contributors are our primary source of funding, and we greatly appreciate all our supporters who made this year so successful!

Thunderbird 60

We released the latest ESR, Thunderbird 60 – which saw many improvements in security, stability, and the app’s interface. Beyond big upgrades to core Thunderbird, Thunderbird’s calendar saw many improvements as well.

For the team this was also a big learning opportunity. We heard from users who upgraded and loved the improvements, and we heard from users who encountered issues with legacy add-ons or other changes that they hurt their workflow.

We listened, and will continue to listen. We’re going to build upon what made Thunderbird 60 a success, and work to address the concerns of those users who experienced issues with the update. Hiring more staff (as mentioned above) will go a long way to having the manpower needed to build even better releases going forward.

A Growing Community

Early in the year, a couple of members of the Thunderbird team visited FOSDEM – from then on we worked hard to ensure our users and contributors that Thunderbird was spreading its wings and flying high again.

That work was rewarded when folks came to help us out. The folks at Ura Design worked on us on a few initiatives, including a style guide and user testing. They’ve also joined us in working on a new UX team, which we very much expect to grow with a dedicated UX designer/developer on staff in the new year. If you are interested in contributing or following along, you can join the UX team mailing list here.

We heard from many users who were excited at the new energy that’s been injected into Thunderbird. I received many Emails detailing what our userbase loved about Thunderbird 60 and what they’d like to see in future releases. Some even said they’d like to get involved, so we made a page with information on how to do that.

We still have some areas to improve on this year, with one of them being onboarding core contributors. Thunderbird is a big, complex project that isn’t easy to jump into. So, as we closed out the year I opened a bug where we can detail what documentation needs to be created or updated for new members of the community – to ensure they can dive into the project.

Plans for 2019

So here we are, in 2019. Looking into the future, this year looks bright for the Thunderbird project. As I pointed out earlier in this post, we start the new year with the hiring of some new staff to the Thunderbird team. Which will put us at as many as 14 full-time members on our staff. This opens up a world of possibilities for what we are able to accomplish, some of those goals I will detail now.

Making Thunderbird Fly Faster

Our hires are already addressing technical debt and doing a fair bit of plumbing when it comes to Thunderbird’s codebase. Our new hires will also be addressing UI-slowness and general performance issues across the application.

This is an area where I think we will see some of the best improvements in Thunderbird for 2019, as we look into methods for testing and measuring slowness – and then put our engineers on architecting solutions to these pain points. Beyond that, we will be looking into leveraging new, faster technologies in rewriting parts of Thunderbird as well as working toward a multi-process Thunderbird.

A More Beautiful (and Useable) Thunderbird

We have received considerable feedback asking for UX/UI improvements and, as teased above, we will work on this in 2019. With the addition of new developers we will see some focus on improving the experience for our users across the board in Thunderbird.

For instance, one area of useability that we are planning on addresssing in 2019 is integration improvements in various areas. One of those in better GMail support, as one of the biggest Email providers it makes sense to focus some resources on this area. We are looking at addressing GMail label support and ensuring that other features specific to the GMail experience translate well into Thunderbird.

We are looking at improving notifications in Thunderbird, by better integrating with each operating system’s built-in notification system. By working on this feature Thunderbird will feel more “native” on each desktop and will make managing notifications from the app easier.

The UX/UI around encryption and settings will get an overhaul in the coming year, whether or not all this work makes it into the next release is an open question – but as we grow our team this will be a focus. It is our hope to make encrypting Email and ensuring your private communication easier in upcoming releases, we’ve even hired an engineer who will be focused primarily on security and privacy. Beyond that, Thunderbird can do a lot so we’ll be looking into improving the experience around settings so that it is easier to find and manage what you’re looking for.

So Much More

There are a still a few things to work out for a 2019 roadmap. But if you’d like to see a technical overview of our plans, take a look at this post on the Thunderbird mailing list.

Support Thunderbird

If you are excited about the direction that Thunderbird is headed and would like to support the project, please consider becoming a donor to the project. We even have a newsletter that donors receive with news and updates about the project (and awesome Thunderbird art). You can even make a recurring monthly gift to Thunderbird, which is much appreciated. It’s the folks that have given of their time or donated that have made 2018 a success, and it’s your support that makes the future look bright for Thunderbird.

 

The Thunderbird project is hiring: Software Engineers

We’re Hiring Again!

You read that right, we are hiring “Software Engineers”, plural. We have some big plans for the next year and you can be a part of it!

You can find the job post below. If you are interested Email your CV/Resume and cover letter to: apply@mozillafoundation.org.

About Thunderbird

Thunderbird is an email client depended on daily by 25 million people on three platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux (and other *nix). It was developed under the Mozilla Corporation until 2014 when the project was handed over to the community.

The Thunderbird project is lead by the Thunderbird Council, a group of volunteers from the community who has a strong interest in moving Thunderbird forward. With the help of the Mozilla Foundation, Thunderbird employs about a handful of staff, and is now hiring additional developers to support the volunteer community in making Thunderbird shine.

You will join the team that is leading Thunderbird into a bright future. We are working on increasing the use of web technologies and decreasing dependencies on the internals of the Mozilla platform, to ensure independence and easier maintenance.

The Thunderbird team works openly using public bug trackers and repositories, providing you with a premier chance to show your work to the world.

About the Contract

We need your help to improve and maintain Thunderbird. Moving Thunderbird forward includes replacing/rewriting components to be based primarily on web technologies, reducing the reliance on Mozilla-internal interfaces. It also includes boosting the user experience of the product.

Maintenance involves fixing bugs and regressions, as well as addressing technical debt and enhancing performance. Most tasks have a component of both maintenance and improvement, and any new component needs careful integration with the existing system.

We have compiled a high level list of tasks here; the work assigned to you will include a subset of these items. Let us know in your cover letter where you believe you can make most impact and how.

You will work with community volunteers and other employees around the globe to advance the Thunderbird product and mission of open and secure communications.

This is a remote, hourly 6-month contract with a possibility to extend. Hours will be up to 40 per week.

Your Professional Profile

Since we are looking to fill a few positions, we are interested to hear from both junior and senior candidates who can offer the following:

  • Familiarity with open source development.
  • Solid knowledge and experience developing a large software system.
  • Strong knowledge of JavaScript, HTML and CSS, as well as at least some basic C++ skills.
  • Good debugging skills.
  • Ideally exposure to the Mozilla platform as a voluntary contributor or add-on author with knowledge of XPCOM, XUL, etc.
  • Experience using distributed version control systems (preferably Mercurial).
  • Experience developing software cross-platform applications is a plus.
  • Ability to work with a geographically distributed team and community.
  • A degree in Computer Science would be lovely; real-world experience is essential.

You should be a self-starter. In a large code-base it’s inevitable that you conduct your own research, investigation and debugging, although others in the project will of course share their knowledge.

We expect you to have excellent communication skills and coordinate your work over email, IRC, and Bugzilla as well as video conferencing.

Next Steps

If this position sounds like a good fit for you, please send us your resume and cover letter to apply@mozillafoundation.org.

A cover letter is essential to your application, as we want to know how you’d envision your contributions to the team. Tell us about why you’re passionate about Thunderbird and this position. Also include samples of your work as a programmer, either directly or a link. If you contribute to any open source software, or maintain a blog we’d love to hear about it.

You will be hired as an independent contractor through the Upwork service as a client to the Mozilla Foundation. The Thunderbird Project is separate from the Mozilla Foundation, but the Foundation acts as the project’s fiscal and legal home.

By applying for this job, you are agreeing to have your applications reviewed by Thunderbird contractors and volunteers who are a part of the hiring committee as well as by staff members of the Mozilla Foundation.

Mozilla is an equal opportunity employer. Mozilla and the Thunderbird Project value diversity and do not discriminate based on race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.

What’s New in Thunderbird 60

Thunderbird 60, the newest stable release of everyone’s favorite desktop Email client, has been released. This version of Thunderbird is packed full of great new features, fixes, and changes that improve the user experience and make for a worthwhile upgrade. I’ll highlight three of the biggest changes in Thunderbird 60 in this post. For more information on the release check out the list over on the support website and the full release notes over on our website.

Thunderbird’s Photon Look

Like Firefox, Thunderbird now has a new “Photon” look. Tabs are square, the title bar can be toggled on and off, resulting in some saved pixels so your Email can shine. There are also new light and dark themes that ship with Thunderbird by default. Additionally, there are multiple chat themes now available. WebExtension themes are now enabled in Thunderbird as well.

Thunder 57 “Photon” Visual Refresh

Thunder 60 “Photon” Visual Refresh

Also, Thunderbird has a new logo accompanying the new release! We’re very pleased with the new branding that mirrors the Quantum-y upgrade of our sister project Firefox. You can see all the branding updates on Identihub. Identihub is run by Ura Design and they have been a great design partner for Thunderbird, spearheading the logo update as well as helping out in various other ways.

New Thunderbird Logo

New Thunderbird Logo

Attachment Management Improvements

Thunderbird 60 features several improvements to attachment handling in the compose window. Attachments can now be reordered using a dialog, keyboard shortcuts, or drag and drop. The “Attach” button has been moved to the right side of the compose window, above the attachment pane. The localized access key of the attachment pane (e.g. Alt+M for English) now also works to show or hide the pane (on Mac, it’s always Ctrl+M). Hiding a non-empty attachment pane will now show a placeholder paperclip to indicate the presence of attachments and avoid sending them accidentally. The attachment pane can also be shown initially when composing a new message: Right-click on the pane header to enable this option.

Attachment Management in Thunderbird 60

Attachment Management in Thunderbird 60

 

Calendar Improvements

In this new version of Thunderbird there are various improvements to the Calendar. For instance, the calendar allows for copying, cutting or deleting a selected occurrence or the entire series for recurring events. Calendar provides an option to display locations for events in calendar day and week views. Calendar now has the ability to send meeting notifications directly instead of showing a popup. When pasting an event or task, calendar lets the user select a target calendar. Finally, email scheduling is now possible when using CalDAV servers supporting server-side scheduling.

Other Changes

Outside of the changes described above there are many other improvements and bug fixes in Thunderbird 60. To get an idea of the full scope you can check out the great list over at the Mozilla Support site or the release notes.

Lastly, you can give Thunderbird 60 a try by downloading it here. If you want to support the development of Thunderbird, please consider making a donation.

EFail and Thunderbird, What You Need To Know

Yesterday, researchers and the press shared information describing security vulnerabilities that would enable an attacker to gain access to the plaintext of encrypted Emails. To understand how this happens, the researchers who uncovered EFail provide a good description on their website:

In a nutshell, EFAIL abuses active content of HTML emails, for example externally loaded images or styles, to exfiltrate plaintext through requested URLs. To create these exfiltration channels, the attacker first needs access to the encrypted emails, for example, by eavesdropping on network traffic, compromising email accounts, email servers, backup systems or client computers. The emails could even have been collected years ago.

The attacker changes an encrypted email in a particular way and sends this changed encrypted email to the victim. The victim’s email client decrypts the email and loads any external content, thus exfiltrating the plaintext to the attacker.

How to know if you’re affected

You’re affected only if you:

  • Are using S/MIME encryption or PGP encryption (through the Enigmail add-on)
  • And the attacker has access to encrypted Emails of yours

How to protect yourself


DO NOT DISABLE ENCRYPTION. 
We’ve seen recommendations from some outlets to stop using encrypted Email altogether. If you are sending sensitive data via Email, Thunderbird still recommends using encryption to keep those messages safe. You should, however, check the configuration of the applications you use to view encrypted EMail. For Thunderbird, follow our guidelines below to protect yourself.

Until Thunderbird 52.8 and 52.8.1 are released with fixes:

  • Keep remote content disabled in Thunderbird (the default) is advisable as it should mitigate the described attack vector.
  • Do not use the “allow now” option that pops up when remote content is encountered in your encrypted Emails.

Most of the EFail bugs require a back-channel and require the attacker to send a manipulated Email to you, which contains part of a previously obtained encrypted message. It is also worth noting that clicking content in the Email can also allow for a back-channel (until the fixes are live).

Enigmail version 2.0.3 also shows a warning now, which should help you be aware if you are affected.

 

Thunderbird April News Update: GSoC, 60 Beta 4, New Thunderbird Council

Due to lots of news coming out of the Thunderbird project, I’ve decided to combine three different blog posts I was working on into one news update that gives people an idea of what has been happening in the Thunderbird community this month. Enjoy and comment to let me know if you like or dislike this kind of post!

Enigmail GSoC Student Selected

Great news! A student has been selected for the Enigmail/Thunderbird Google Summer of Code (GSoC) project. Enigmail, the OpenPGP privacy extension for Thunderbird, submitted its project to GSoC seeking a student to help update user interface elements and assist with other design work.

Thunderbird 60, Beta 4 Released

A new version of the Thunderbird 60 Beta is out, with version four beginning to roll out. Users of the Beta are testing what will ultimately be the next Extended Support Release (ESR), which acts as our stable release and is what most of our users see. There are a lot of changes between Thunderbird 52, that last ESR, and this release. Some of these changes include: An updated “Photon” UI (like that seen in Firefox), various updates to Thunder’s “Lightning” calendar, a new “Message from Template” command, and various others. You can find a full list here.

As with every Beta, but especially this one given it will become the new stable release, we hope that you will download it and give us feedback on your experience.

A New Thunderbird Council

A new Thunderbird Council was elected this month. This new council of seven members will serve for a year. The members of the new council are as follows:

  • Philipp Kewisch
  • Magnus Melin
  • Patrick Cloke
  • Wayne Mery
  • Philippe Lieser
  • Jorg Knobloch
  • Ryan Sipes

This blog will try to lay out the new council’s visions and priorities in future posts.

We’re Hiring a Build Engineer

We at the Thunderbird project are hiring a Build and Release Engineer. Interested in getting paid to work on Thunderbird? You’ll find information about the role ,as well as how to apply, below!

Thunderbird Build & Release Engineer

About Thunderbird
Thunderbird is a email client depended on daily by 25 million people on three platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux (and other *nix). It was developed under the Mozilla Corporation until 2014 when development was handed over to the community. The Mozilla Foundation is now the fiscal home of Thunderbird. The Thunderbird Council, who lead the community effort, has begun hiring contractors through Mozilla in support of this venture and to guarantee that all vital services are provided in a reliable fashion.

You will join the team that is leading Thunderbird into a bright future. As a build engineer you will be serving the community, empowering them to make their contributions available to over 25 million people.

The Thunderbird team works openly using public bug trackers and repositories, providing you with a premier chance to show your work to the world.

About the Contract
The Mozilla Thunderbird project is looking to hire a build and release engineer to help maintain Thunderbird. You’ll be expected to work with community volunteers, the Thunderbird Council, and other employees to maintain and improve the Thunderbird build and release process.

This is a remote, hourly 6-month contract (with the possibility of continuing). Hours will be up to 40 a week. You will be expected to have excellent written communication skills and coordinate your work over email, IRC, and Bugzilla.

As a build & release engineer for Thunderbird you will

  • Maintain and improve the Thunderbird build system to ensure that both nightly builds and releases are always possible.
  • Finalise the migration if Thunderbird’s continuous integration/deployment (CI/CD) service from Buildbot to TaskCluster.
  • Procure and maintain build infrastructure in tandem with Thunderbird’s infrastructure engineer (who is currently focused on web-based services).
  • Work with both volunteers and employees across the world to fix build issues.
  • Follow improvements made by Mozilla engineers for the Firefox build & release process and implement those for Thunderbird.
  • Collaborate with QA, Security, Localization, and Engineering for coordinated code releases for “release” builds (known as ESR) and beta builds.

Your Previous Experience

  • Have experience using build systems (preferably make).
  • Have experience setting up a continuous integration service.
  • Have solid scripting knowledge (shell, Python).
  • Experience with Buildbot and TaskCluster is highly desirable.
  • Have experience using distributed version control systems (preferably Mercurial, Git would be acceptable).
  • Some development background with Python and C is highly preferred.
  • Experience building and releasing cross-platform applications is a plus.
  • B.S. in Computer Science would be lovely, but real-world experience is preferred.

Next Steps
If this position sounds like a good fit for you, please send us your resume with a cover letter to apply@mozillafoundation.org.

A cover letter is essential to your application, as it shows us how you envision Thunderbird’s technical future. Tell us about why you’re passionate about Thunderbird and this position. Also include samples of your work as a programmer, either directly or a link. If you contribute to any open source software, or maintain a blog we’d love to hear about it.

Please note that while the Thunderbird project is a group of individuals separate from the Mozilla Foundation that works to further the Thunderbird email client, the Mozilla Foundation is the Project’s fiscal home. The Thunderbird Council, separate from Mozilla, manages the Project and will direct the software engineer’s work.

The successful applicant will be hired as freelancer (independent contractor) through the Mozilla Foundation’s third-party service Upwork. By applying to this job, you are agreeing to have your applications reviewed by Thunderbird contractors and volunteers who are a part of the hiring committee as well as by staff members of the Mozilla Foundation.

Mozilla values diversity. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.

What Thunderbird Learned at FOSDEM

Hello everyone! I’m writing this following a visit to Brussels this past weekend to the Free and Open Source Software conference called FOSDEM. As far as I know it is one of the largest, if not the largest FOSS conference in Europe. It proved to be a great opportunity to discuss Thunderbird with a wide range of contributors, users, and interested developers – and the feedback I received at the event was fantastic (and helpful)!

First, some background, the Thunderbird team was stationed in the Mozilla booth, on the second floor of building K. We were next to the Apache Software Foundation and the Kopano Collaborative software booths (the Kopano folks gave us candy with “Mozilla” printed on it – very cool). We had hundreds of people stop by the booth and I got to ask a bunch of them about what they thought of Thunderbird. Below are some insights I gained from talking to the FOSDEM attendees.

Feedback from FOSDEM

1. I thought the project was dead. What’s the plan for the future of Thunderbird?

This was the number one thing I heard repeatedly throughout the conference. This is not surprising as, while the project has remained active following its split from Mozilla corp, it has not been seen to push the boundaries or made a lot of noise about its own initiatives. We, as the Thunderbird community, should be planning on the future and what that looks like – once we have a concrete roadmap, we should share that with the world to solicit interest and enthusiasm.

For fear of this question being misunderstood, this was never asked with malevolent intent or in a dismissive way (as far as I could tell). Most of the people who commented on the project being dead were generally interested in using Thunderbird (or were still), but didn’t realize anyone was actively doing development. I got many stories where people shared their relief saying “I was planning on having to move to something else for a mail client, but now that I’ve seen the project making plans, I’m going to stay with it.”

Currently, we have a lot to talk about regarding the future of Thunderbird. We have made new hires (yours truly included), we are hiring a developer to work on various parts of the project, and we are working with organizations like Monterail in order to get feedback on the interface. With the upcoming Thunderbird Council elections, the Community will get an opportunity to shape the leadership of the project as well.

2. I would like to see a mobile app.

The second most prevalent thing expressed to me at FOSDEM was the desire for a Thunderbird mobile app. When I asked what that might look like the answers were uniformly along the lines of: “There is not a really good, open source, Email client on mobile. Thunderbird seems like a great project with the expertise to solve that.”

3. Where’s the forum?

Heard this a few times and was surprised out how adamant the people asking were. They pointed out that they were Thunderbird users, but weren’t really into mailing lists. I had it iterated to me a handful of times that Discourse allows you to respond via Email or the website. As a result I have begun working on setting something up.

The biggest barrier I see to making a forum a core part of the community effort is getting buy-in from MOST of the contributors to the project currently. So, over the next week I’m going to try and get an idea of who is interested in participating and who is opposed.

4. I want built-in Encryption

This was a frequent request asked for in two forms, repeatedly. First, “How can I encrypt my Thunderbird Email?” and second, “Can you make encryption a default feature?” – the frequency with which this was asked indicates that this is important to this segment of our users (open source, technical).

To those who are curious as to how to encrypt your mail currently – the answer is you may use the Enigmail extension. In the future, we may be able to make this easier by having it built-in to Thunderbird and making it possible to enable in the settings. But that is a discussion that the community and developers need to explore further.

Final Thoughts

In closing, I heard a great many things beyond those four key points above – but many were thoughts on specific bugs people experienced (you can file bugs here), or just comments on how people used mostly webmail these days. On that second point, I heard that so frequently that I began to wonder what more we could offer as a project that would provide added value to users over what things like GMail, Inbox, and Outlook365 were offering.

All-around FOSDEM was a great event, met great people, heard amazing talks, and got to spread the good word of Thunderbird. Would love to hear the community’s ideas on what they think of what I heard, that means you, so please leave a comment below.

We’re Hiring a Developer to Work on Thunderbird Full-Time!

The Thunderbird Project is hiring for a software engineer! We’re looking for an amazing developer to come on board to help make Thunderbird the best Email client on the planet! If you are interested you can apply via the link below, following the job description.

Here’s the job description:

Title: Thunderbird Software Engineer

About Thunderbird
Thunderbird is a email client depended on daily by 25 million people on
three platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux (and other *nix). It was developed by the Mozilla Corporation until 2014 when development was handed over to the community. The Mozilla Foundation is now the fiscal home of Thunderbird. The Thunderbird Council, who lead the community effort, has begun hiring contractors through Mozilla in support of this venture and to guarantee that all vital services are provided in a reliable fashion.

You will join the team that is leading Thunderbird into a bright future. As a software engineer you will be maintaining and improving the existing Gecko-based Thunderbird but also pave the way for its transition to being based on web technologies.

The Thunderbird team works openly using public bug trackers and repositories, providing you with a premier chance to showcase your work to the world.

About the Contract
The Thunderbird project is looking to hire software engineers to help maintain Thunderbird. You’ll be expected to work with community volunteers, the Thunderbird Council, and other employees to maintain and improve the Thunderbird product.

This is a remote, hourly 6-month contract. Hours will be up to 40 a week. You will be expected to have excellent written communication skills and coordinate your work over email, IRC, and Bugzilla.

As a software engineer for Thunderbird you will
* Fix bugs and regressions and address technical debt.
* In collaboration with Thunderbird’s Engineering Steering Committee,
replace/rewrite modules to prepare Thunderbird for the transition to a
new platform.
* Maintain and improve Thunderbird to ensure that both nightly builds
and releases are always possible.
* Follow improvements made by Mozilla engineers for the Firefox platform
process and implement those for Thunderbird.
* Be a self-starter. In a large code-base it’s inevitable that you
conduct your own research, investigation and debugging, although others
in the project will of course share their knowledge.
* Work with both volunteers and employees across the world to fix issues.
* Collaborate with QA, Security, Localization, and Release Engineering
for coordinated code releases.

Your Previous Experience
Since we are looking to fill one or more positions, we are interested to
hear from junior and senior candidates who can offer the following:
* Solid knowledge and experience developing a large software system (7+
million lines of code).
* Solid knowledge of C++ as well as JavaScript, HTML and CSS.
* Ideally exposure to the Mozilla platform as a voluntary contributor or
add-on author with knowledge of XPCOM, XUL, etc.
* Some experience using distributed version control systems (preferably
Mercurial, Git would be acceptable).
* Some prior exposure to Python and build systems (preferably make)
would be beneficial.
* Experience developing software cross-platform applications is a plus.
* B.S. in Computer Science would be lovely, but real-world experience is
preferred.

Check out the Thunderbird Source Code

Want to learn more about Thunderbird and get a sense of the project? You can find the source code and a short tutorial on getting started below:

Source: https://hg.mozilla.org/comm-central/

Getting Started: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Mozilla/Developer_guide/Source_Code/Getting_comm-central

Next Steps
If this position sounds like a good fit for you, please send us your resume with a cover letter to apply@mozillafoundation.org.

A cover letter is essential to your application, as it shows us how you envision Thunderbird’s technical future. Tell us about why you’re passionate about Thunderbird and this position. Also include samples of your work as a programmer, either directly or a link. If you contribute to any open source software, or maintain a blog we’d love to hear about it.

Please note that while the Thunderbird project is a group of individuals separate from the Mozilla Foundation that works to further the Thunderbird email client, the Mozilla Foundation is the Project’s fiscal home. The Thunderbird Council, separate from Mozilla, manages the Project and will direct the software engineer’s work.

The successful applicant will be hired as freelancer (independent contractor) through the Mozilla Foundation’s third-party service Upwork (www.upwork.com). By applying to this job, you are agreeing to have your applications reviewed by Thunderbird contractors and volunteers who are a part of the hiring committee as well as by staff members of the Mozilla Foundation.

Mozilla values diversity. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.

New Thunderbird Releases and New Thunderbird Staff

Thunderbird is going strong at version 52 (ESR) and 57, 58 beta

In April 2017 Thunderbird released its successful Extended Service Release (ESR) version 52. This release has just seen it’s fifth “dot update” 52.5.0, where fixes, stability and minor functionality improvements were shipped.

Thunder 57 “Photon” Visual Refresh

Thunder 57 “Photon” Visual Refresh

Thunderbird 57 beta was also very successful. While Thunderbird 58 is equally stable and offers further cutting-edge improvements to Thunderbird users, the user community is starting to feel the impact of Mozilla platform changes which are phasing out so-called legacy add-ons. The Thunderbird technical leadership is working closely with add-on authors who face the challenge of updating their add-ons to work with the Mozilla interface changes. With a few usually simple changes most add-ons can be made to work in Thunderbird 58 beta. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Thunderbird/Add-ons_Guide_57 explains what needs to be done, and Thunderbird developers are happy to lend a hand to add-on authors. 

There has been some discussion about the modernisation of Thunderbird’s user interface. Thunderbird 57 is now following Mozilla’s Photon design, and there is also a new theme available based on the design by the Monterail team.

You can download the current Thunderbird beta here.


New Staff at Thunderbird

Since November 2016 the Thunderbird project has contracted the services of long-time Thunderbird volunteer contributor Jörg Knobloch. Since Jörg moved from being a volunteer to being a contractor, his focus has changed from chasing his favourite pet-hate bugs to taking on responsibility for the product. As the continuous integration engineer, he guarantees that Thunderbird Daily is always in sync with Mozilla core changes to keep Daily in a working order. Jörg manages all code for releases (beta and ESR) and monitors regressions as reported at BMO. As a Thunderbird and Mailnews peer he reviews the work of others and is part of the Engineering Steering Committee which is in charge of the code base.

In March 2017 Andrei Hajdukewycz joined the project. Andrei is the project’s infrastructure engineer. He’s been working on transitioning the project from using Mozilla infrastructure to procuring its own. He administers all the websites used by the project. There are many: Thunderbird.net*), the ISPDB, websites for telemetry, updates and release notes. And last not least: Add-ons. Soon Thunderbird add-ons will transition to Thunderbird’s own add-ons site. Watch this space!

In June 2017 Tom Prince joined the project as a build and release engineer. He makes sure that we can always build Daily, beta and ESR in en-US English and all localisations. He also helps out when diagnosing test and other miscellaneous failures. Most recently Tom has been migrating the Thunderbird build system from Buildbot to TaskCluster to future-proof this aspect of the project.

The project’s last hire in December 2017 has been Ryan Sipes (the guy posting this) as Community Manager. His task is to organise the community of voluntary contributors including add-on authors, spread the good news about Thunderbird, engage with donors to guarantee a solid income stream and be in touch with Thunderbird users.

These four staff members are just the beginning. The project is currently in the process of hiring developers to address some technical debt, fix some sore points in the software and transition the codebase from a mix of C++, JavaScript, XUL and XPCOM to be increasingly based on web technologies.

The Thunderbird project has taken control of the Thunderbird.net domain, of which the project will make increasing use. The www.thunderbird.net domain is being updated to be more helpful to users and eventually become Thunderbird’s home on the web. The in-product Thunderbird start page has already been served via this domain for several months. And, the members of the Thunderbird Council have received email accounts @ thunderbird.net, powered by FastMail, a gift that we are very grateful for.