The new Thunderbird UI is now available and it's a long overdue refresh

Mozilla's latest version of Thunderbird email has a brand-new interface that finally brings the aging application closer to modern aesthetic standards.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
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I've been using Thunderbird for a very, very long time. In fact, it's been so long, I can't remember the email client I used before it.  

My only standing beef with Thunderbird is that the UI has been outdated for a while. For the longest time, it's just felt…old. I've even been known to go through the motions of adding a theme just to make the app not seem too bland.

Also: How to view email priority in Thunderbird

Fortunately, as of version 115, Thunderbird has finally begun the slow, steady creep toward modernization. 

Now, it's not like it's going to absolutely wow you. The new look isn't a dramatic departure from the aging UI. Instead, it's a subtle tweak that gives Thunderbird a more in-touch feel that is not just more pleasing to look at but easier to use. It's more efficient and it offers a cleaner default font that renders text so much better (especially on the Linux desktop).

Also: How to encrypt your email (and why you should)

The good news is that the new-look Thunderbird isn't such a dramatic departure from the old that you'll have to scramble to get up to speed. The changes the developers and designers have made all make sense, and anyone who's used Thunderbird will automatically feel right at home.

A comparison between the old and new Thunderbird UIs.

The previous version of Thunderbird is on the left and the new iteration on the right.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

If you compare the previous release to the new refresh, you'll see that both are laid out very similarly. There's still the email account/folder hierarchy on the left, the inbox pane in the upper right, and the reading pane in the lower right. Both have tool buttons on the left sidebar (for email, contacts, calendar, to-do, and chats), but that's where the similarities start to fade.

Also: How to add Send Later functionality to Thunderbird email

The new iteration breaks the Search bar out of the standard toolbar and places it in the header. There's also the Quick Filter button. With Quick Filters enabled, you'll see the Unread, Starred, Contact, Tags, and Attachments filter buttons available to the right of the message filter search bar.

The new Quick Filter option in Thunderbird.

The New Thunderbird UI with the Quick Filter buttons visible.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET
The Thunderbird UI without the Quick Filter buttons.

A cleaner UI still gives you access to the Quick Filters.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

If you disable the Quick Filter option, the UI becomes even cleaner -- and you can still quickly enable the Quick Filters with a click of a button.

Also: How to add Do Not Track to Thunderbird (and why you should)

Another very nice addition is found directly to the right of the Quick Filter button and allows you to change the Message List from the standard Table view to a new Cards view. The Cards view displays each email as a separate card. From that same popup menu, you can also sort your email by a number of different options, such as Date, Received, Star, Priority, and From.

The Thunderbird Compact UI view.

The Thunderbird Card View is a nice and elegant touch.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

One thing I like about the Card view is that it makes the email preview easier to read. You get the recipient and subject together instead of in different columns. At first, I wasn't too keen on the Cards view, but the more I use it, the more I prefer it. I'm all for anything -- even something very small -- that makes my day a bit more efficient, and the new Card view does just that.

Also: How to send password-protected emails in Gmail

One final treat I discovered is the new Density settings, where you can slightly shrink or enlarge the UI. If you click the menu button in the top right corner (three horizontal lines), you can select from Compact, Default, and Relaxed density (with Compact being the smallest UI and Relaxed being the largest). 

The Thunderbird menu.

Change the density of the Thunderbird UI with a quick click.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

I've set my new Thunderbird instance up with the Card View and Compact Density, and I've found that it looks and performs great.

As long as you don't expect a massive change in the Thunderbird UI, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how these subtle changes make using the app even easier. 

If you're using either MacOS or Windows, you should be able to install the latest version in the normal fashion. If, however, you're using Linux, I found the easiest way to get the new version is to install it via Snap with the command:

sudo snap install thunderbird --candidate

If you install the new version via Snap, you'll have to configure your email accounts, as it will install separately from the previous versions. If you install on either MacOS or Windows (as long as you have Thunderbird already installed and configured), it should just update the app, so there's no need to re-add your accounts.

Enjoy the new Thunderbird UI.

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