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

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
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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.

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