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.

 

36 responses

  1. Pierrick wrote on :

    Hello Ryan,

    I’m so glad to read good news about the phenix back from the ashes.

    Thunderbird definitely has a place on the desktop, maybe even on smartphones one day as well.

    Keep up the good work at Mozilla!

  2. Daiquiri wrote on :

    Thank you so much. really love thunderbird and i see a lot of people using it at the university. too bad it looks like mozila doesn’t appreciate this project enough.

    Thank you to everyone in the team.

  3. John wrote on :

    Very pleased to see the project moving again, just when I was thinking I needed to choose a new email platform!

    Hooray!

  4. Sandy Bird wrote on :

    Thanks a lot for the update.

    As a big fan of E-Mail clients I sometimes think Thunderbird’s development should remove support for unrelated services that are handled better by other clients. For instance, the above linked mailing list post mentions a 5y-old wish to add OTR to chat (https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=954310) Isn’t OTR considered outdated by now? At least when on it, support for OMEMO should be considered likewise, though.

    IMHO Thunderbird’s most important features are E-Mail, Address Book (incl. CardDAV), Calendar (incl. CalDAV), OpenPGP-Encryption, and maybe Usenet-News (being similar to E-Mail).

    Regarding chat and feeds there are a lot of other, better, clients. As I do not see a strong connection to E-Mail I’m curious to hear other users’ opinions on removing support for chat and RSS in Thunderbird.

    Best Wishes

    1. Barry wrote on :

      I find that Thunderbird has some advantages over other RSS clients that I’m familiar with, although there are disadvantages, as well. Which clients do you think do RSS really well?

    2. rgloor wrote on :

      Hi Sandy Bird

      While I don’t know about OMEMO, and therefor can’t comment on that, I fully agree to rest of your post.

      I use Thunderbird on several platforms (Linux as my main system on notebook and desktop, but also on windows system) and use it mainly in conjunction with IMAP. So I have my eMails all synched across the different systems in use.

      Very important is as you mentioned sync of addressbook and calendar (CardDAV and CalDAV).

      I wished for a better integration of AB and CAL into TB.
      It could still be “modules” installed as required. But for ages me and many others are bothered by this localization issue on many Linux Distros. That should be taken care of.
      Why not having a base system with the base language, like english, and then having some localization files. Either in multi-language packages (like: Thunderbird-translations-common and Thunderbird-translation-others) or single language packages (like: tb-l10n-de, tb-l10n-en, etc.).

      That would also avoid to create all those individual packages. So one could pick the software package and the required/desired languages / language pack(s).

  5. Artem S. Tashkinov wrote on :

    Hopefully you’ll implement minimize to system tray which is sought after by a large number of your users. There’s an add-on for that but it uses native code which is not exactly safe and also you might disable native code support in the future, so having this in the core is a lot more preferable.

    Thank you.

  6. Sam wrote on :

    Really glad to see the renewed energy around Thunderbird, which I absolutely depend on all day every day.

    However, since all of the old extensions were jettisoned, I’m really suffering for the lack of a good minimize/close to system tray functionality with unread messages notification. This functionality seems to be so integral to the purpose of an email client that I really think it should be integrated into the main product, not as an extension.

    1. Min T. Tray wrote on :

      https://github.com/Ximi1970/FireTray/releases

  7. piotr wrote on :

    So great news that Thunderbird is not dead! I tested many different options on Win/Mac/Lin (also some paid) and there’s no real competition in terms of usability, and performance on large mailboxes. I was never a fan of online services like gmail, and the whole internet appear to move in that direction for years, so this news is really nice!

  8. Ban wrote on :

    Really great work.

    For 2019, an android application, would be so great. android store and f droid store has a lack of choice in this kind of app and open source with privacy matterds. k9 mail begins to be a little out of the date and doesn’t support oath 2 for example

  9. Alex Cabal wrote on :

    Great to hear TB is alive and well. I’ve been using it every single day for a decade and it’s a fantastic project. You guys are doing a great job.

    I also wanted to add my voice to those asking for a minimize-to-tray feature. Firetray no longer works, and being able to close TB and have it sit in the tray and light up with new mail and send a system alert notification is a critical feature for me.

    Thanks for all your hard work!

  10. Luke wrote on :

    Great news for the new year indeed! *-<:-)

    Will laptop battery life be a focus? I imagine this would already be tightly related to the long UI delays, but maybe making that a separate metric to monitor (or some proxy of it, like CPU cycles) would also be useful to optimise for.

    I love Thunderbird as my go-to place for accessing multiple email providers (covering 15+ years of history) but I'm forced to close it when undocking my laptop because it's far and away the biggest drain on battery life.

  11. Exitcode0 wrote on :

    You guys are doing an invaluable service – I love 60 and all of the new calendar improvements!

    “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.”

    Super exciting! But please for the love of god I hope this doesn’t mean switching to “Electron” PLEASE PLEASE NO.

  12. tapper wrote on :

    pleas pleas minimize/close to system tray. Rip out all the chat and social stuff RSS and Twitter to. Thanks. O PS Pleas don’t break a11y.

  13. Alejandro Sastre wrote on :

    Happy new year! Very happy to see new people involve in improving the best email client.
    A feature I have missed a lot is to improve the email editor, I know email is all about text, but comparing with outlook or Gmail I think there is some improvements that could be made in that area to be able to send pretty emails with decent format.

    Btw lost the ability to have the contact list in a separated tab with the last update, any news if that is coming back? It was very useful

  14. ginko wrote on :

    Good news for us

  15. Xte wrote on :

    IMO a very welcomed goal can be integrate notmuch so jump from a ’90s-era UI to a modern era that easily surpass webmails in speed, comfort, usability AND controls (if you integrate a proper sync solution to have all messages in a local maildr).

    That’s will be a real new revolution that may bring email again in casual users workflow and make TB shine again.

  16. Benjamin Tyger wrote on :

    I’ve talked about this time and again. ( https://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=8417651&cid=51035773 ) Just being an e-mail client isn’t enough for a desktop app. Thunderbird needs to be a whole PIM. If you are going to open a desktop app, you probably need contacts, calendaring, and e-mail together. We need calendering and contacts to be first-class support. Not relegated to plugins the seems to need some type of maintenance after every few releases.

    If we just wanted e-mail, most web interfaces are good enough.

    The only other opensource PIM I’ve seen is Evolution. I know back in the day, it was horrible and buggy. Not sure if it has gotten better since then, but it soured my taste for it.

    1. Ryan Sipes wrote on :

      We’re working on it. Redesigned address book incoming, and better support for CardDAV/CalDAV incoming.

  17. Caesar wrote on :

    Fantastic news, I’ve always loved thunderbird and it’s great to hear that it is finally getting back on its feet.
    There is much to catch on but also a lot of potential: email is still the most used communication medium in the workplace after all. Today the professional email space is still dominated by Outlook, and as much as I dislike Microsoft, I have to admit that Outlook 2016 when properly used is light years ahead every other client, even GMail.
    It would be awesome if Thunderbird could become an Outlook and GMail competitor in the coming years, like Firefox with Edge and Chrome.

    Cheers guys, to the first of many productive years.

  18. Thunderbird Donor wrote on :

    Please support MS Exchange server natively. This is the biggest addition you could ever do to making Thunderbird a viable application in corporate environments. Many companies have disabled IMAP support due to “security concerns”. In those places, the current Thunderbird client is of no use.

    – A Thunderbird Donor

    1. Ryan Sipes wrote on :

      Hey there. We’d like to and it is something we continue to look at. There are a few add-ons that address Exchange support, like Owl. You should search the add-ons and see if one works for you.

  19. Nigel wrote on :

    Nice to hear. I just wish that it has “to:” and “cc:” fields similar to Outlook, and can support drag-and-drop multiple contacts between “to:” and “cc:” fields. This is the main reason I use Outlook on my Windows machines.

  20. Muhammad Faizal Bin Abdul Rahman wrote on :

    It will not support Exchange right?

    1. Ryan Sipes wrote on :

      This is something we’d like to work on. For now there are add-ons that address Exchange support like Owl.

  21. rgloor wrote on :

    Hi Ryan

    Thanks for your update. (BTW, will also donate in this year.)

    One thing (beside some other comments, as response to Sandy Birds post):

    If you touch the UI, PLEASE don’t force this (********) ribbon list on us.
    Please give us the OPTION to select, how we want the icon bar to look like.

    Working with a ribbon list / ribbon bar, for me it is VERY INEFFICIENT.
    (Because often requiring to change ribbons and/or open pull downs to finally be able to access the required command.)

    Since many people use tools like Thunderbird in a slightly different manner, optimized to their needs an workflow, people use different commands/actions more or less.
    So I prefer to setup the icon bar to my needs, so the most often used commands/actions are accessed with a single mouse click (or key stroke).

    If you feel the need to have a ribbon list / ribbon bar, just add it as an option, together with the conventional icon bar.
    AND continue to offer the customization for the bars. Preferable with all available commands to use. Like it is done in LibreOffice, where one can have all the hundreds of commands and actions and pull-downs available to include in the icon bar. Even with the option to change / customize the icon / graphics of the command.

    Thanks in advance to make / keep this tool efficient.

    Best regards from Switzerland,
    Rolf Gloor

  22. rgloor wrote on :

    @ Ryan

    Another wish:

    Please avoid improving it towards “look nice but be impractical”.

    On many recent developement for other apps I realized, that often the UI looks as it is now made for HDPI tablets and people with huge fingers: So lots of space is wasted and on the display is only a reduced amount of information. So in the daily use, one has to scroll more often and looses the oversight of things.

    So please keep those heavy users in mind, which do actually WORK with it.

    Thanks in advance.

    Best regards,
    Rolf

    1. Ryan Sipes wrote on :

      Hey there! I probably should have elaborated on UX/UI changes. We will bear in mind existing workflows and our power users in any changes. Thanks for being a Thunderbird user!

  23. Claus wrote on :

    Great News 🙂
    I would really appreciate TB to become multi threaded, faster and more responsive. This is indeed one of the biggest problems for me personally with the current TB. But the most important thing is that Thunderbird Project is alive and growing. All the best from Austria 🙂
    Thanks to the whole Team 🙂

  24. Tammy G. Daniels wrote on :

    Are there plans for native PGP integration similar to S/MIME?

    Enigmail has a lot of UX issues and unnecessary complexity (explained in detail on https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18808615 ).

  25. Sanders wrote on :

    IMHO the UX shouldn’t be the priority, most of us think these are more important:

    * Fixes to the HTML editor (It has been a mess since the beginning, can not paste data from Libreoffice and maintain format, specially from CALC)
    * Fixes to the font handling in messages, it is broken, plain and simple.
    * Performance enhancements to the message filtering, it is dead slow if you have lots of filters and one of the filters marks the email as read.
    * Desktop notifications are a mess, they need to be sorted out ASAP. <<< (This one looks like is going to be looked at)
    * Native support for tray icon on Linux to indicate the number of messages/new email, currently it depends on plugins that have been abandoned because of internal Mozilla's internal changes to the plugin API. THIS IS A MUST MIND BLOWING THAT THE LINUX VERSION DOESN'T HAVE IT!
    * Native support for Groupware, specifically Exchange mannerisms like meeting invitations, sadly Exchangeisms are the de-facto standard, not Gmail, I know of no one who uses or understands the Gmail Labels., if you're not going to support the industry standard, please at least avoid making the life of the people who try to more difficult (https://github.com/ExchangeCalendar/exchangecalendar/issues)
    * Improvements to the archiving process, it is incredibly slow if one tries to archive more than 200 messages in one operation, and there are no progress indicators. Sometimes one has to close/reopen Thunderbird to get it out of brain freeze.
    * The activity manager needs to better reflect what is going on internally, IE: you delete 1000 messages and thunderbird will remain unresponsive for minutes with no indication of what is happening, why is not the activity manager reflecting what's going on?
    * The ability to see what is happening with server connections in the background for troubleshooting (some kind of log window where one can see if the server is returning some kind of error)

    Don't take any of this as harsh criticism, Long, long time user here, I absolutely love Thunderbird and would love to see it improving, but UI/UX cosmetic stuff is the last thing you should be worrying about.

    Thank you.

  26. Mike Schinagl wrote on :

    Happy to see thunderbird fly again!

    For professional use I consider integration of calendar and address handling, including Sync with nextcloud etc the most urgent fields. Many small companies rely on that and would be happy to know thunderbird became a reliable project.

    Best Mike

  27. Zach S wrote on :

    While Thunderbird was always a very reliable email platform , Mozilla really needs to address issues that make Thunderbird not so reliable anymore like not responding messages that are popping up more frequently as well as Thunderbird crashing on occasion.

  28. Paulo Ferreira wrote on :

    Really happy to read this post. I have been using Thunderbird for years and was considering switch to a more modern app but now I’ll be waiting for the updates.
    Thanks a lot.

  29. Au Quang Hien wrote on :

    Thunderbirds Are Go! Love you guys! Hien@Saigon