Mozilla to freeze Thunderbird innovations

July 8, 2012 by Nancy Owano, report

( -- Friday’s blog and news site revelations of an internal Mozilla email leading off with “Hello Mozillians” said there is to be a Mozilla Foundation announcement on Monday. The announcement is big. Mozilla is freezing further development of its popular and well-received email client, Thunderbird, which has over 20 million users. “We’ve been focusing efforts towards important web and mobile projects,” read the message from Jb Piacentino, Thunderbird Managing Director. The message noted that while Thunderbird is purely a desktop-only email client “We have come to the conclusion that continued innovation on Thunderbird is not the best use of our resources given our ambitious organizational goals.” The announcement on Monday is to carry details of Thunderbird’s proposed new “governance model.

“We’re not ‘stopping’ , but proposing we adapt the Thunderbird release and governance model in a way that allows both ongoing security and stability maintenance, as well as community-driven innovation and development for the product,“ said the heads-up message to its Mozillians.

Similarly, in a Friday blog posting from the Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker, the Thunderbird freeze was reiterated that “Continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla’s product efforts.”

In some circles the news raised more questions than answers. A carefully spun message that Thunderbird was being killed off? Shot down except for maintenance and security fixes? A long goodbye? Time to hunt for another e-mail system? “Putting it in a hospice” was one site’s suggested take.

Mozilla will be pulling some in-house developers off the Thunderbird project but intends to continue handling bug fixes and security updates “This will mean an eventual shift in how we staff Thunderbird at Mozilla Corporation - we are still working out details, but some people will likely end up on other Mozilla projects,” said the Piacentino message. “Today the Thunderbird team is back in the main Mozilla product organization,” said Baker in her Friday blog.

The news may not have come as a big surprise, however, to Foundation insiders and those otherwise close to the situation. According to, “We know that developers began moving off the Thunderbird team back in January. This has been coming for a while; we’re just learning about it now.”

Still, to others, this was unexpected and puzzling, considering Thunderbird, first released in 2004, had just got a new version in June. Users complimented Mozilla for its “rapid update cycle” for Thunderbird and Version 13 was allowing users to sign up for new custom e-mail addresses without having to leave the app. The Version 13 announcement was accompanied by the information that “In partnership with Gandi and Hover, you can now sign up for a personalized email address from within Thunderbird. Along with your new email address, Thunderbird will be automatically set up and ready to send and receive messages. We are working with additional suppliers to cover more areas of the world and to provide more options in the future.”

In Mozilla’s favor, reader reactions among those who use Thunderbird have been largely expressed as disappointment but continued support for the Foundation’s efforts to follow paths of growth. They largely say they do not like but understand the decision.

“As I lose more and more trust everyday in cloud computing and giving my information to companies for hosting on their servers, it was reassuring to have an e-mail system in place that gave me control over my e-mail,” said one comment to a site report. “Saddened to hear that Mozilla is making these changes, but understand it given today’s technological advances on the web.”

Also in Mozilla’s favor, e-mail market facts speak for themselves. Thunderbird has 24 million users but Gmail has 425 million users.

“Thunderbird provides an open-source, cross-platform email alternative for those of us who still use stand-alone email clients (and I am one). It’s trust-worthy, it’s under your control, and it’s built to reflect the mission,” wrote Baker in her Friday blog.

However, she said, “in parallel, we have seen the rising popularity of Web-based forms of communications representing email alternatives to a desktop solution. Given this, focusing on stability for Thunderbird and driving innovation through other offerings seems a natural choice.”

The Foundation is inviting those in the wider development community to continue work on Thunderbird if there is enough interest. The Thunderbird team is to propose a new release and governance model that would allow for ongoing maintenance in security and stability.

Final details of how this new “release and governance” model will work will be hammered out in the coming months. “We are going to open this plan for public discussion to individuals and organizations interested in maintaining and advancing Thunderbird in the future on Monday. We are looking for your feedback, comments and suggestions to refine and adapt the plan in the best possible way throughout the summer so we can share a final plan of action in early September 2012.”

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3.3 / 5 (3) Jul 08, 2012
I'm afraid that I am a dinosaur. I still use Eudora and have yet to find anything better, including Thunderbird.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2012
I used to avoid Microsoft products because there was no Customer. Only a faceless mass of expendable sheep. Seems this thinking is flooding the FOSS landscape, too. I can feel my adrenaline coming.
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 09, 2012
The trend is such that all network communication for all applications will take place via HTTP/HTML. The IETF might as well just disband now, nothing left to do.
2 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
Haven't been using a email program that sits on my computer for 10 years or so (Eudora and Thunderbird before that). I've yet to find a use for a dedicated email program.

Email isn't safe from prying eyes - so there's no security reason why one would keep it on ones' own machine (unless oyu use PGP - and most people just don't).
The content is also (for the hugley overwhelming part) useless unless you are connected to the internet - so the argument that you dont have your mail when the internet is down is moot (and how often does THAT happen? 10 minutes per year? I think I can survive that long without access to mail services)

With more and more web-based alternatives springing up which incorporate all the niceties (linked calendars, reminder programs, and whatnot) I'd estimate that this type of service is going to move into the cloud anyhow.
2 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
A colleague laughed at me for using a mail client. "We're always connected to the 'net, ALWAYS." He was right, and I dumped my use of Thunderbird. Life is simpler now.
not rated yet Jul 09, 2012
Having a mail client doesn't force you to download mail. For example, I can use my gmail account both with a web browser (which I often do when traveling) and a client program (which I have on my phone, on the office non GUI Linux "mainframe of sorts", and on my laptop).

A client program offers you a vast improvement in speed, flexibility, and a possibility to use several accounts (one at your office, another for private mail, and then the old one that grandpa uses to send mail to you) at once. And you get no ads.
not rated yet Jul 09, 2012
I use T-bird .. I like it as it is. Not much need for new bells & whistles on a e-mail client. Just keep it secure is all I ask. BTW ... clients are not "always connected", they connect only when u click Send/Receive or have the timed auto connect turned on.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 09, 2012
A client program offers you a vast improvement in speed, flexibility, and a possibility to use several accounts (one at your office, another for private mail, and then the old one that grandpa uses to send mail to you) at once. And you get no ads.

How's that different from webmail clients? I get no ads, have different ones for work, ordering stuff (gmail) and private (the one provided by my ISP). AND everything is virus-checked there (Additionally I can only download attachments as needed/wanted)

And where exactly is the advantage of speed? Web clients are as fast as any mail program (more so, since I don't even need to download/synch the mails - as this is handled while I'm offline automatically as the mails arrive there)
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
Can anyone suggest a tutorial for using 'web mail clients'?
Digital Neanderthal, trying to cope! Older than many Great Grandpas', which I do not mind! Age is a blessing i.e. "better over the hill than under it!"
perhaps via Twitter?
Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
anti - only because web mail clients from *some* ISP's have closed the gap. That is a somewhat recent development.
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
anti - only because web mail clients from *some* ISP's have closed the gap.

Gmail has bee available for almost 10 years now. Calendar functionality for 6.

Webmail client with all the whistles and bells of standalone programs have been available since the days of AOL and Hotmail (which is the mid 90s).

No one has ever been dependent on their ISP to 'up their ballgame to the level of a dedicated program' in order to consider a switch.

At first the only sensible reason NOT to use webmail clients was because you weren't sure companies would last - and would potentially take your mail with them when they folded.
not rated yet Jul 14, 2012
Access to the interwebs is still not ubiquitous when flying. I have read and responded to many messages on my laptop during travel using a dedicated email client. I have not recently seen the offline capabilities of web based email clients but I suspect they do not come close to providing sufficient functionality for my needs.

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