Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

So long, Thunderbird

It’s with something of a heavy heart that I’ve had to give up using Mozilla Thunderbird for my email altogether. You may recall that I now use Airmail at home, but have been using Thunderbird at work. Sadly, Thunderbird is no longer fit for my purposes and so it’s had to go. I’m now using Outlook 2010, just like (almost) everyone else at work.

The reason for the change has been because of our move to Office 365. We’ve migrated from an old Unix system for email, and a proprietary calendar system called Meeting Maker, which also has various other nicknames not to be repeated in polite company. Meeting Maker was a separate application but the server had a CalDAV servlet which could also produce a subscribable internet calendar (.ics) file. And the email system was IMAP-based.

Office 365, however, primarily uses Exchange. IMAP and POP3 are provided for email, but it doesn’t support CalDAV for calendars, or CardDAV for contacts. So whilst Thunderbird would be okay for using just as an email client, I’d still have to go back to Outlook for my calendars – at which point, there’s no reason to carry on using Thunderbird.

‘But wait’, you may be saying, ‘you linked to a Provider for Exchange extension only last month!’. I did, but sadly I couldn’t get it to work, and development on it has ceased in any case. There was no way I was able to get my Office 365 calendars working in Thunderbird’s Lightning extension.

The really sad thing is that I’m not missing Thunderbird as much as I thought I would. Unsurprisingly, Outlook works much better when it’s used with an Exchange email server than a generic IMAP one, and it’s nice to be able to set out of office replies without having to go into webmail. It’s also a lot faster in my experience.

To me, Thunderbird’s problem is that it seems to be falling into a power user niche. It’s too big and complicated for basic users, or even people like me who want a relatively straightforward interface for use at home. But it also lacks enterprise features, like support for Exchange. And I’m surprised that Lightning is still an extension, rather than being offered as part of a bundle, given that Outlook comes as a complete package. It needs some love and attention, but with the Mozilla Foundation’s focus on Firefox and its Firefox OS phones, I can’t see it getting any.


  1. I think its also a potential market share issue: more and more people are using browsers to access their email; fewer and fewer are using traditional mail clients. The ‘market’ probably only really consists of geeks, traditionalists and workplace users tied to proprietary email systems – of which Outlook/Exchange users are probably the biggest number by a long way.

  2. I stopped using Thunderbird a couple of years ago after I started importing my various personal email accounts from my blog into Gmail and made my Gmail address my primary email address. Gmail just does a better job of spam filtering and I can reply to messages using any of my email addresses. Plus my Google Calendar works with it just fine.

  3. At work I’m pretty much the only one left running, everyone else has switched to Outlook. I’m THIS close to making the move myself.

  4. It may be worth noting that development of the Provider for Exchange has resumed ( Also, I use Thunderbird on Linux and my company uses Office 365, I never had a problem getting my calendar working. There are some instructions for configuring your calendar in Thunderbird here: