The Grounding of Mozilla’s Thunderbird

There may be no end in sight to the ongoing Secure Boot Saga in the Windows 8 world, but the same, alas, cannot be said for Mozilla’s Thunderbird.

No, as was apparently prematurely revealed by a leaked email earlier this month, the “end” for the desktop email client may be all too near now that it’s no longer “a priority for Mozilla’s product efforts.” Rather, while security maintenance updates for the software will continue, any further feature development is being turned over to the community.

“Most Thunderbird users seem happy with the basic email feature set,” wrote Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, in a recent blog post. “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,” Baker added.

Stick a Fork in It?

Reactions in the Linux blogosphere have ranged from wholehearted support to shocked disagreement.

Following soon afterward came a flurry of suggestions for alternative software to use.

So which is it? Is Thunderbird pretty much “done,” or is Mozilla just washing its hands of the software for its own reasons?

That’s what bloggers have been trying to figure out.

‘It’s Not Dead – It’s Mature’

“Hey, Ford retired the Thunderbird and brought it back. Nothing is forever!” noted Slashdot blogger yagu, for example.

“That said, Thunderbird is now mature — I give Mozilla kudos for even asking the question,” yagu added. “Takes insight to be introspective.”

Yagu also applauds Mozilla “for their contributions to Thunderbird — one of my longtime favorite e-mail clients — and expect Thunderbird will be used by many for a long time to come,” he said. “It’s not dead — it’s mature. That’s more than one can say for most other software.”

‘I Am Fine With It’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien said he’s perfectly content with Thunderbird just the way it is.

“Thunderbird does everything I want it to do right now,” O’Brien told Linux Girl.

“I grant that someone out there probably wants it to become a feed reader, a floor polish, and a dessert topping, but I’m fine with it just the way it is,” he added. “If they just keep up the security patches (which they say they will do), I am fine with it.”

‘The Community Won’t Let It Fade Away’

Mozilla’s decision “isn’t surprising in the least,” opined Google+ blogger Linux Rants.

“More and more services are moving into The Cloud, and email was already half there,” he explained. “An extremely large number of people already use webmail of some kind.”

In any case, “I seriously doubt that this is the last we’ll see of Thunderbird,” Linux Rants predicted. “As far as email thick clients are concerned, Thunderbird is pretty popular, and I’m fairly confident that the community won’t let it fade away.”

‘That Could Be a Mistake’

It’s true that “Thunderbird is pretty mature software,” mused blogger Robert Pogson. “It works well for many people and it does not require much more than maintenance. It makes sense for Mozilla to expend fewer resources on it.”

On the other hand, “that could be a mistake, as e-mail, calendaring, and contacts are vital on the web, the domain of Firefox,” Pogson pointed out.

“Being FLOSS, I think it is possible some organization like the Document Foundation could include it with LibreOffice, making that office suite more whole,” he suggested. “Of course, a lot of us are using GMail and don’t need a special e-mail client…”

‘Dead as Disco’

Indeed, download email clients are a thing of the past, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined.

“I have exactly ONE customer that still uses download mail, and she is a 74-year-old grandmom who has been using the same account for over a decade,” he explained. “Not really the demographic most want to target, while my two late-teen boys have never used anything but webmail.

“Let’s face it, download email is dead as disco, and the younger generations honestly won’t miss it,” he concluded.

“I have not used a desktop email client in over 10 years,” agreed Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “Last one I used was Lotus Notes.”

‘They Are Out of Ideas’

What Mozilla is really saying “is that they are out of ideas, so moving programmers to other projects is more efficient for them,” offered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“What can happen now is that if someone has some fresh ideas they can either contributepatches or fork the project,” he added.

Bottom line? “We will see what happens,” said Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “Either the larger community will continue to innovate or Thunderbird will stagnate.”

‘We May See a Backlash’

However, “I would hope that the Mozilla Foundation would put some effort into deciding what to include with Thunderbird in terms of community contributions in the future,” Travers added.

“I think Mozilla feels that the rise of web-based mail services like Gmail makes Thunderbird less interesting,” he suggested. “I don’t think that’s true, though, because we are seeing also the possibility that many service providers seem to be spying on users in one way or another.

“Facebook, for example, has been scanning private messages for evidence of crimes, and it is possible that Google’s collection of data for things like targeting advertisements may be used in a similar way,” Travers pointed out.

In short, “I think we may see a backlash against this sort of online-centered web-mail experience,” he concluded. “Open source clients are likely to be important there.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I have 6 active email addresses used for diverse purposes. I don’t want to log into 6 different webmail services every day to check email, Thunderbird feeds them to me.

    • Uhhh…You can do that with webmail too ya know. I have 5 email addresses that are all going through my Gmail so I don’t have to log into anything, Gmail does it for me.

      As a retailer I can tell you I haven’t seen a download email client on a consumer machine in years, and the younger generations have no desire to use old download mail, so while I’m sure there will always be a few guys like you (just as I’m sure there are probably some guys using Gopher out there) its just not cost effective to waste developers on a product whose times was past years ago. RIP TBird.

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