Mozilla scraps Thunderbird development - email client 'not a priority' anymore

Mozilla scraps Thunderbird development - email client 'not a priority' anymore

Summary: Thunderbird's 20 million users will in future only get security updates from Mozilla, apparently because people are switching to other messaging technologies and aren't bothered with further email innovation

TOPICS: Collaboration

Mozilla has stopped developing Thunderbird, claiming there is no need to innovate further on the venerable email and newsgroup client.

Mitchell Baker, the Mozilla Foundation's chair, said on Friday that Thunderbird's users seemed happy with the program being the way it is. In future, she said, Mozilla's involvement would be limited to keeping Thunderbird stable — but those in the open source community who want to develop it further will get the mechanisms to do so.

Mozilla is stopping further development on its Thunderbird email client. Image: Mozilla
"Much of Mozilla's leadership — including that of the Thunderbird team — has come to the conclusion that on-going stability is the most important thing, and that continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla's product efforts," Baker said in a blog post.

Thunderbird has been going for eight years, having begun life as a product of the same development team that was responsible for the far more successful Firefox browser. While it has never been as big a success as Firefox, Thunderbird still has more than 20 million users. This is partly due to the fact that it is free, and partly because it remains one of the simplest ways to set up and use encrypted email.

Baker said most Thunderbird users "seem happy" with the client's "basic email feature set", and pointed out that other web-based communication technologies were become increasingly popular as alternatives to email.

When it came out in 2004, Thunderbird's biggest competitor was Microsoft's Outlook. However, in the intervening years many if not most businesses and consumers have switched to webmail of some variety. Many also now use instant messaging and collaboration platforms instead of email.

The writing had been on the wall for Thunderbird since April 2011, when Mozilla folded its previously-standalone development team into the wider Labs project.

"We've tried for years to build Thunderbird as a highly innovative offering, where it plays a role in moving modern internet messaging to a more open, innovative space, and where there is a growing, more active contributor base. To date, we haven't achieved this," Baker said.

Baker added that the Mozilla localisation communities had been the exception to this rule, through their work in translating Thunderbird into various languages. "However, the dedicated efforts of these groups have not been supported by an active contributor base in other areas. This puts great stress on a number of our localisation communities," she explained.

Mozilla has now proposed a new governance model for Thunderbird's future development, and has also urged enterprise users to sign up for the client's extended support release, so they can get security updates.

Topic: Collaboration

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Thunderbird Rocks!

    Will we still be able to download it?
    • still there

      yes and it is supported for security updates
  • Bad suprise

    While my favorite client on Windows was Outlook so far, I was using Thunderbird for my Linux machines. I'm sad Mozilla come to this. I was never fan of "Facebook" styla web based messaging nor Gmail/Hotmail web browsing...
    • Adding...

      This is also nail on the coffin for people who likes their privacy and keep their emails on thei computer rather than some cloud...
      • Don't agree with that at all

        On Linux you still have Evolution and Kontact. On Windows you still have Outlook and Windows Live (Evolution and Kontact are available on Windows as well).

        And if you value your privacy that much you are also locally hosting your own e-mail server anyway, so you could also use SquirrelMail or some other web-based client. It's no more difficult than running the e-mail server, in fact it's probably much easier.
        Michael Kelly
      • I use webmail

        Been doing it that way for years now. I'm certainly not going to have more security hole garbage like Outlook on my machines. Another program that I'm going to have to spend time maintaining. Same thing with Thunderbird.

        If you're that paranoid about email, go back to snail mail. Spend all your time worrying about how people are going to steam open your letters at night while your asleep.
  • That's really irksome

    Online/Cloud-based email may be the strong trend these days, but desktop clients are still more responsive and quicker to use generally, especially when you want to settle in to knock off a bunch of email. I have no use for Outlook and its kludgy proprietary rubbish, and have been annoyed and frustrated at how the number of alternative desktop clients steadily diminished over the years, leaving Thunderbird as the de facto main alternative.

    Google should think about taking over Thunderbird and make it a full featured Outlook alternative, especially for offices contemplating switching from Outlook/Exchange systems to Google Apps: having a desktop client as an alternative method to access Gmail and its contacts and calendars would help with wary office staff having been on Outlook/Outlook Express clients their entire working lives.
    • not likely for Google

      > Google should think about taking over Thunderbird and make it
      > a full featured Outlook alternative

      I don't see Google wanting to support TBird at all. They seem all gung-ho for you to have NOTHING on your own machine, and have all your data on the web (preferrably one of their servers)
  • Thunderbird - What's the problem.

    Why the moans? Thunderbird is just fine absolutely no need for more development as longer as it's safe and stable that will do for me.
  • They're killing the Bird?

    Bummer. That's really crappy. I've liked ThunderBird since it was in beta (I think it was called FireBird then). I've used it on Windows and Linux and I liked the fact that it was practically identical on both systems. Made email much less a chore. I especially liked the fact that you could line up different accounts and download each group independent of other groups of accounts. The email message rules were also very nice.
  • They're not killing Thunderbird...

    All they are doing is keeping it the same and perfecting it at the current point. Note also that this is only for Mozilla, not independent developers.
    Tony Burzio
  • If it weren't free....

    If people were willing to PAY FOR THE PROGRAM THAT THEY BENEFIT FROM, perhaps the foundation could afford to continue to put their precious resources into an application that enjoys a very small percentage of email client users.
  • It's the add-ons...

    ...that make it the best client for me. None of the alternatives have anything like so rich a set of add-ons and developers that allow you to customise TB massively.

    If someone wanted to keep TB going, I'd be willing to pay (a reasonable amount!) for it, just as I pay for a good quality email service.
    Manek Dubash
    • Rember XMarks?

      For those that use XMarks, they should recal that not all that long ago XMarks told users that they were going to close shop, couldn't afford to keep going along for free. Who could blame users for being frustrated.

      But more importantly, who could blame XMarks for choosing to stop investing their time and expertise for a unprofitable endeavor?

      If Thunderbird is that great, if the Mozilla foundation believes in the product then they should commercialize it. Or some enterprising ZDNet readers should step up and make an investment.

      But that would go against the grain, rub people the wrong way since so many people expect, no, demand that their software be cost-free to them. Of course it is really never free...
      • commecialization? that's really the answer?

        commercializing could also be the kiss of death. developers whould have to answer to investors who, if they were not seeing a return, would apply pressure to close up shop or go in directions not in the best interest of current customers.
        Wayne Mery
  • it ain't broke so don't fix it . . .

    "Mozilla has stopped developing Thunderbird, claiming there is no need to innovate further on the venerable email and newsgroup client."
    Fear mongering! They will continue with security updates and you can still get it. I can't imagine a need for further changes as it is nearly perfect now. I suspect it will be around a long long time . . .
    • I can't imagine a need for further changes as it is nearly perfect now.

      "I can't imagine a need for further changes as it is nearly perfect now."

      I believe you.
  • What more does it need?

    I'm using Eudora 7 which hasn't been updated since 2006, and the basic UI is unchanged since I first started using it in 1995. An email client is an email client.
  • Too bad...

    It's too bad that Thunderbird and Firefox never lived up to Mozilla's original promise of an email client and browser that "play nice together" in the same way that the Navigator browser and Mail & Newsgroups app did in the Mozilla Suite (and the way they STILL do in the SeaMonkey Suite).

    Actually, Thunderbird is a nice app, but the only reason I could have wanted MoFo to keep developing it was to deliver on that original promise, which they've never fulfilled. If they're not going to make good on that promise, I'd prefer that they just leave T'bird alone and just focus on keeping it stable.

    For all its spiff and polish, T'bird never had the functionality that you can still find in SeaMonkey's Mail & Newsgroups application, which is still being actively developed. Disgruntled T'bird users might well find refuge in SeaMonkey.
    • None of the above ...

      ... None of the above are fully accurate.

      What has not been mentioned so far is that
      - mozilla no longer pays for FULL TIME development programmers
      - new releases are still in development with, yes, new features and bug fixes above and beyond security fixes - via the hard work of community volunteers, and mozilla staff - both paid and volunteer

      While it is true that we may not see the magnitude of change that came with versions 3.0 and 3.1, it is NOT true that Thunderbird development has ceased.

      slingzenarrowzuvowtrayjissforchin scribes
      > T'bird never had the functionality that you can still find in SeaMonkey's Mail & Newsgroups application, which is still being actively developed.

      What email functionality would you like to see in Thunderbird that only exists in Seamonkey?
      Wayne Mery