Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Thunderbird on life support

Screenshot of Mozilla Thunderbird 13

It is with a little sadness that Mozilla Thunderbird will no longer receive resources from the Mozilla Foundation. The decision has been made to focus on other products (mainly Firefox), and that there’s not much room for further innovation in desktop email clients – especially as many people now use webmail services exclusively.

I’ve been a long-time user of Thunderbird – right back to version 0.1 alpha (then called Minotaur) which I reviewed back in April 2003. It’s come on a long way since then, and is still my favourite email client on Windows – especially with the Lightning extension adding a calendar feature. A myriad of other extensions has also allowed me to customise it how I want.

That being said, in some ways it’s no longer meeting my needs. I use at work – officially we’re supposed to use Outlook but there are many people using Thunderbird instead, as its IMAP support is much better. This is fine for our email server which is Unix based, but if we ever move to a Microsoft solution then the lack of support for Exchange, even after all of these years, makes Thunderbird fall short.

I also no longer use Thunderbird at home; earlier this year, I moved to Sparrow which offers a much simpler and lighter experience. Thunderbird is great for an all-singing, all-dancing email client and great for the large volumes of mail that I get spanning different folders, but at home, I just want something basic that can stay in the background. It may have far fewer features but Sparrow suits my needs better. Thunderbird is still installed for the few times when I work from home, but I may now look into Apple’s own email client instead.

As I understand it, the next release of Thunderbird will be an ‘extended support release’, at which point it will receive fixes for major bugs and security issues, but no new features – at least, not from Mozilla themselves. It’ll still be hosted by Mozilla and, being open source, should ‘the community’ want to contribute patches to it then they will be welcome to. Postbox remains as a commercial fork of Thunderbird, although its £30 price tag is high.

It’s a shame to see Thunderbird fade into further obscurity but an understandable one. Many users just don’t need a desktop email client anymore, because they pick up their email on a mobile device or webmail. Outlook and Lotus Notes rule the corporate roost. That doesn’t leave much of a market for Thunderbird to serve.

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