Thunderbird is probably the most popular open source email, calendar, and contact management app. It’s basically an open source answer to Microsoft Outlook, capable of running on Linux, Mac, and Windows computers.

But desktop email clients aren’t as popular as they once were, with many email users just logging into Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail using the web interface.

So it’s probably not a huge shock to see that Mozilla has decided to focus on web and mobile projects such as the Firefox browser and Firefox OS in the future and decrease emphasis on Thunderbird.


TechCrunch obtained a memo to Mozilla staff explaining the decision. A formal announcement is expected Monday.

Mozilla isn’t necessarily killing off Thunderbird altogether. The software will still be available for download, and it sounds like the developers are looking for a way to continue providing security and stability updates while devoting fewer resources to the project. But it sounds like we should expect any major new features for Thunderbird… at least not from Mozilla.

As open source software, it’s possible that Mozilla could encourage greater community development, or even hand over governance of the project to another organization. I could imagine Canonical, the Linux Foundation, or GNOME or KDE taking over development and keeping the software alive. But I could also see Thunderbird fading slowly into oblivion over the years as it becomes slowly obsolete.

Personally, it’s been years since I’ve used a desktop email client or calendar app. But I’m also always a little uncomfortable relying solely on web apps. If your web mail provider decides to change the user interface or shut down their service altogether, there’s little you can do about it. But if you use a desktop app you have more control over your saved messages, notification settings, and layout.

What do you use for email? Are you disappointed in Mozilla’s decision, or are you surprised to learn that Thunderbird was still under active development at all?

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28 replies on “Mozilla is (nearly) ceasing development of Thunderbird email app”

  1. Here we are a year later…..just got a Thunderbird security update yesterday…..and Google Reader is dead. Glad TB is still with us and hope it will be for as long as I’m using Windows (or Linux).

  2. We need Thunderbird on Android. Not only doesn’t Opera support mail or news on mobile, but the desktop versions have been bad to maintain with regular bugs, and opera installation led nuking of email structures. To be truly internet and open representative, it does not make sense to kill off thunderbird, limit it to desktop machines, or promote closed vendor only web solutions. The software situation on Android is barbaric, the software is light weight, restrictive and obnoxious, otherwise android would a desktop alternative in a tablet or connected via HDMI. What are people aiming for, bring on Thunderbird and Open Office for Android.

    1. I’d write shit exactly like they’re officially done, particularly ‘OpenOffice’ instead of ‘Open Office’, the latter looks foolish.

  3. I still use Thunderbird. I don’t like the label of Google. Using folders is still cleaner.

  4. I could never understand why IM ever got off the ground. One must be connected. Always. And one must be utterly e-mail illiterate. But e-mail only ever became truly useful to me when clients began offering off-line capability. I’m often out of range when I have either the time and/or the need to access old messages, reread, and make replies while the thought is still fresh in my head. No purely web-based anything can do that for me. When I browse, I often print to pdf to read later. In fact, my e-mail clients (Evolution on Ubuntu, and Outlook on Windows) (Didn’t care for Thunderbird, even with Lightning, but maybe it’s improved since I last tried it.) have pretty much replaced most other applications on all my computers. I keep forgetting to log in and keep up with development on my favorite sites, so I subscribe to e-mail updates, which I read when I can, often off-line. I get bank statements, interesting articles, even social statuses via e-mail (through the magic of scripts and mutt). Where I once used a word-processor to jot-down, and store ideas, I now e-mail myself (and others) reminders, notes, thoughts, ideas. The folders have become my file-system. The rules have been a blessing, and Evolution’s rules beat Outlook’s in certain ways, but Outlook’s beat Evolution’s in other ways, but they both need to be improved upon. There is still much work to be done to make e-mail clients better. But they’re already far better, I find, than any web-app.

  5. I couldn’t live without cuz I don’t have enough RAM to run Firefox and loads of tabs, plus Google Reader sucks. Tb has issues but it still makes life more pleasant. And death of Tb lives up Outlook.

  6. Oh no! Thunderbird is not my email client (mutt, pine, web-based) but it is my dowloader and indexer of hundreds of newsgroups, RSS feeds.
    For the latter it is wonderful, and transportable and “convertable”.

    For that it is better than anything else.
    Looking at the wikipedia list of newsgroups/email clients I see how many others have bit the dust or are on their last roundups. Sad really.

    1. I switched to Google Reader for RSS a while ago. Web-based, so it is accessible from anywhere, and there is an Android app client as well.

      As for USEnet – I actually gave up on it a couple of years ago. The news server I’d be using had some issues and, faced with finding a new solution, I realized it just wasn’t worth the effort for me anymore and I abandoned it. Too much noise, not enough signal.

  7. i also use Thunderbird, w/multiple AOL,yahoo, gmail. both windows and Linux. without a client, WOW cumbersome. I was aware of Gmail account aggregation. Thanks MegaZone for the offline tip.

  8. Years ago I used Pegasus (which I think disappeared) and have played with other email systems (including Thunderbird) but now use Gmail almost exclusively.

  9. I use Thunderbird all the time because off-line access to old messages is crucial to my workflow. Gmail could handle the account aggregation that I also do with Thunderbird, but what the heck do all the cloudies do when they need to look at the contents of a message from last week and there’s no wifi or cell signal? Where I live, that’s the norm, not the exception.

  10. They are not killing it, only not going with more features. Making it more stable instead. *THAT* is a good thing. Only feature I would want, is to have them build SyncKolab into Thunderbird, only where contact and calendar are “encrypted” up on IMAP location of choice. Hmmm, they could also use IMAP as an FTP location maybe too (also encrypted as a storage location).

  11. i simply do not get decisions like these.. I personally use Thunderbird
    every day to manage all my gmail and private email boxes and this one is
    a shock to me.. Simply because web/cloud based services are much
    slower, more clutered and inefficient when compared with desktop
    applications and I am not even talking about the flexibility and
    customization via plugins of desktop apps like TB.

    I do not get this new generation of users, maybe most of them are not so clever or I am just getting old..

  12. Oh no! Thunderbird is my email client of choice on all the Windoze boxes in the house and I had assumed that if I fired up a Linux-based system it would use Thunderbird as well. I hope they find a way to keep it alive and safe to use for a long time to come, even if they don’t roll out a new version seemingly every few days as they have been lately.

    I use Apple Mail on my MacBookPro (the machine I’m typing this on) and on my iPhone…..

    1. It’s not going away. The open source community will probably keep it going for a long time yet. Just don’t expect any major enhancements in the future.

  13. I guess there aren’t many consumers who use desktop email but there are plenty of corporate users who do. I know many of the Linux users at work use Thunderbird (it’s one of the allowed email software for Linux).

    1. I doubt Thunderbird is a major corporate player — not compared with Lotus Notes and MS Outlook anyway.

      1. He’s talking about Linux. Also, any source on Lotus Notes being more used in corporations?

  14. I dislike webmail. I use Thunderbird, but would welcome a simplified version without RSS or News and just IMAP. I don’t need new features, but I’d like to see more bug fixes.

  15. Sad day, Thunderbird is a great way to manage emails and calendar data, there is a level of control not available in iCal or Outlook; and web based calendars are no good when there is no signal/web

  16. Didn’t see this one coming. I use gmail but mostly access it through Thunderbird. I prefer to keep email local. But it might be a generational thing I suspect. Most young people today have likely never using anything other than web based email.

    1. All hail the cloud. I’m a 30 year veteran of the computer industry (yikes!) but I’ve been a confirmed Gmail user for the past seven years or so. It’s just so much easier being able to login from wherever you happen to be on whatever device you happen to be using.

      The one key thing everyone should always remember if they are using web-based service as their main account — use a strong, unique password that you don’t use for any other account or website.

      1. I do use a strong pw. But I also have a smartphone linked to the Gmail. Im increasingly worried how vulnerable id be if the phone got dropped or stolen. I dont trust the Android login screen much and past that an adversary would have everything, including all your communication for dozens of years.

      2. My feelings as well. Outside of corporate email, which has pretty much always mandated Outlook, I’ve never used desktop mail clients. I did use Thunderbird (or Mozilla Suite aka Seamonkey earlier on) at some past jobs when I had a Linux/UNIX desktop and couldn’t run Outlook, and it was decent, but I only used it out of necessity.

        Starting in 1989 and going up until a couple of years ago my solution was simple – I logged into a UNIX box and read email from the command line. First in elm, then in mutt. I used that solution for nearly 20 years. I could access my email from anywhere by using any ssh client.
        Eventually it just wasn’t cutting it anymore, especially once I got my the Droid. I switched over to Google Apps and migrated all of my domains there for email – and wondered why I hadn’t done so sooner. Having full access to my email from any device – any of my PCs, my Galaxy Nexus, my Transformer Prime, etc. – is far more useful than having my email local. And I don’t miss any functionality from desktop clients.

        You can install dedicated Google ‘clients’ for email and calendar, which are really specially skinned Chrome instances, and they support offline access. Gmail is very responsive on the desktop, just as good as Outlook.

        IMAP just doesn’t measure up and POP is a joke.

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