MozillaZine

Future of Thunderbird

From MozillaZine Knowledge Base

This article discusses three issues - concerns that Thunderbird is dead, do you need to worry about vendor lock-in, and whether Thunderbird has become just another legacy application.


"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Mark Twain, New York Journal of 2 June 1897

The chair of the Mozilla Foundation stated that Mozilla will stop developing Thunderbird in a July 2012 post that has been widely mis-interpreted as meaning Thunderbird is dead. Part of the bad PR was caused by people not being aware that the community had already been doing a significant amount of the development, and that the community did not agree with his conclusion that "it is already pretty much what its users want and mostly needs some on-going maintenance". Many people are also unaware that another project survived after Mozilla stopped development. SeaMonkey was formed 8 years ago after Mozilla stopped releasing new versions of the former Mozilla Application Suite. It is now a thriving community-driven product.

The Thunderbird project is not dead. It is still a Mozilla project even though new development and bug fixing is now done by the community. Mozilla continues to provide the infrastructure (both the Mozilla add-ons web site and the servers used to build, test and distribute new versions), and add stability/security fixes. The main effect was that the pace of development slowed and there was a temporary loss of leadership. However, the project has successfully moved from a staff led to a community led project. At a recent summit meeting of 22 active contributors they decided that for the next major release (Thunderbird 38 due in May 2015) that they will:

  • Add support for mbox based mail folders larger than 4GB
  • Finish support for using maildir files as an alternative to mbox files (maildir files are similar to *.eml files, but have a UNIX heritage) [1]
  • Add support for WebRTC to instant messaging
  • Merge the Lightning calendar add-on as a shipped (but disabled by default) add-on
  • Merge the New Account Types binary addon into core, allowing new account types to be defined using addons in the future.
  • Support OAUTH authorization in GMail IMAP accounts.

One quick way to verify for yourself that Thunderbird development is still active is to take a look at The Rumbling Edge . It tracks developments in Thunderbird builds. You could also browse the Thunderbird status meetings minutes to see what people say they are working on.

Vendor lock-in

Thunderbird is a cross platform application that uses several popular standards in how it stores your data. It also minimizes the use of operating system specific features. For example, it does not store your settings in the Windows registry, they are stored along with the rest of your data in a profile directory. This makes it easy to switch to another email client without losing your data.

It currently uses mbox files for storing messages. Many email clients support importing mbox files due to their popularity. Alpine, Becky, Claws mail, Eudora, Evolution, Gnus, Kmail, Mulberry, Mutt, Netscape, Pegasus, Pine, Pocomail, SeaMonkey and at one time even Apple Mail uses them. The ImportExportTools add-on supports exporting mail as .EML files. Thunderbird fully supports IMAP accounts so a third solution would be to sign up for a free IMAP account at Gmail and use it as a intermediary to move your mail by creating an account for it in both email clients, and copying the messages into the remote folders. IMAP supports remote folders (on the mail server) that you can access just like they're local folders. You can copy/move messages/folders to/from them, even drag and drop a entire folder hierarchy.

Thunderbird stores address books as *.mab files but it has built-in support to export them as .CVS, .LDIF or .TXT files. Most email clients support importing address books as .CVS files. The MoreFunctionsForAddressBook add-on can also be used to export your contacts in vCard and vcf format

The Lightning calendar add-on can export calendars as *.ics files (iCalendar format). The iCalendar format is used by many products such as Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, Yahoo! calendar, Evolution, and eM client.

Legacy application

See also

External links