Mozilla: Open-source Thunderbird getting new look, better Gmail support, encryption

Thunderbird developers promise to make the neglected open-source email client easier to use.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Mozilla is breathing new life into Thunderbird, its desktop email client that many users may think is no longer being actively developed. 

Thunderbird will be getting some much needed attention in the coming year, with the Mozilla-backed project planning to hire six new developers -- bringing the project's employed headcount to 14 -- who will work to make the email client more stable, faster, and easier to use. 

Mozilla Corporation handed off Thunderbird to the community in 2014, but Mozilla Foundation still supports it.  

According to Thunderbird community manager Ryan Sipes, the team will be working this year to improve Thunderbird's user interface (UI) and user experience, with better Gmail support and native notifications for Windows, Mac and Linux -- the three operating systems Thunderbird supports for its 25 million users.

To address Thunderbird's sluggish UI, Sipes said developers will be "looking into leveraging new, faster technologies in rewriting parts of Thunderbird as well as working toward a multi-process Thunderbird".

Thunderbird's UI for encryption and settings will also be overhauled this year. While these changes might not make it to the next version of Thunderbird, the goal is to make encrypting email easier in future releases. 

The plan is to make encryption in Thunderbird "just work" without expecting users to know how to user or handle certificates, as well as removing technical jargon. They're also aiming to implement Off-the-record (OTR) messaging for encrypted chat. 

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The team will review add-ons and adopt the best features of these, such as Quicktext, a template creator, as well as investigate Exchange calendar support.    

Sipes notes that efforts to improve Thunderbird kicked off after a few developers attended the European open-source conference FOSDEM last year and got feedback from users who thought the project was dead. 

One of the top requests from users is to see a Thunderbird mobile app with many pointing out that there is no good open-source email app for mobile. Another top request is for encryption to be a default feature rather than having to rely on extensions like Enigmail. 

There's no word on what Mozilla plans on the mobile front for Thunderbird, but it could be on the cards once the desktop client is refreshed. 

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