Mozilla Thunderbird Lookin' For a Little Respect


It’s hard when no matter how good you are, your brother is still everyone’s darling.

Mozilla Thunderbird is a rather amazing email client in its own right. It’s quick on its feet, it’s customizable, it’s cross-platform, and it handles IMAP email and identities better than most of its competition in the desktop email client space. Despite Thunderbird’s obvious advantages, Firefox is Mozilla’s crown jewel and gets all of Daddy’s love. Does Thunderbird continue to grovel for table scraps or is it time to strike out in new territory?

Mozilla has declared a “call to action” asking users to weigh in on the future of Thunderbird.

Mitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla, discusses possible paths for Thunderbird, while stating that the organization has no intention of diverting its focus from the web.

Mozilla is exploring the options for an organization specifically focused on serving Thunderbird users. A separate organization focused on Thunderbird will both be able to move independently and will need to do so to deepen community and user involvement. We’re not yet sure what this organization will look like.

A simplified view of the 3 options she proposes:

Create a new non-profit organization analogous to the Mozilla Foundation – Thunderbird gets its own room to play in, completely separate from Mozilla as it is today.

Create a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation for Thunderbird – Will be easier for the company to do, but Thunderbird will continue to be the awkward little brother in the corner.

Thunderbird is released as a community project – Go open source, and provide consulting to continue ongoing development.

Baker goes a step further and suggests that the time may be right to turn Mail upside down…similar to the way Firefox “redefined” the web years ago.

Do you care if Thunderbird lives or dies? For all of Thunderbird’s quirks, and there are many, I know I can’t find another desktop email client that runs on Mac OS X that will satisfy my needs as much as Thunderbird has. I hope development continues and it gets the attention it deserves. Email is not dead. Desktop email is not a dinosaur.

As folks who live in email and aren’t necessarily tied to corporate Outlook and Exchange, what’s the web worker take?


Leonid Mamchenkov

I never particularly cared for Thunderbird. I mean, I’m glad a nice open source alternative exists and all, but me personally I never managed to use it.

Back when I used to use a desktop email client, I couldn’t find anything as fast and flexible as mutt. So it was my choice for several years. Then I switched to Gmail and I’m prepared to pay a little price of lesser flexibility for all the other features. I’m not going back to desktop any time soon.

2 kOoLiNuS

B) webmail is fake mail. We have to think globally and globally free, or affordable, or quick internet connections ARE NOT a common good. Even in 6 of the 8th of the most industialized worldwide nation. So they work nice for a niche of people, but to other people ?

I see your point. And it makes webmail even a better option (I am not in the USA, and I leave outside by native country for a few years now):

– Email “dependability” is tightly related with Internet access speeds and prices. Email is not a service on its own, but a part of the broader web experience usually (am I wrong?). The more people use the web (IM, web services, etc), the more they rely on email – they get more contacts, more messages, and so on. So the more expensive/inaffordable is their Internet access, the less they use email anyway.

– Localization-wise, I have to say that webmails are usually much better done than desktop clients. Maybe because it is so much easier to improve translations of web applications (just edit a .php file usually) than desktop clients (recompile?).

– Support-wise, webmail is much easier. Maybe in the US or other “top technology” countries everyone knows how to configure an email client, but for the rest of the “regular” people it is much easier to just sign up for a web service and use web browser – something that they are already familiar with.

Anyway, this is how I see things…


I’m on a PC and definitely prefer Thunderbird to other desktop clients, especially for my work email. While there is an available web client to access my work account on, it is really a poor application that I only use in emergencies while traveling.

What I would like is to see tagging implemented more fully into Thunderbird.


Your’re Web Workers and you use a “thick” email client? I use only web based email clients, word processors, spreadsheets etc.


I’d like to add my thoughts on the topic.

A) since the annual incomes of the Mozilla Foundations I’d like to see Thunderbird grow within it. Yes, more visibility and efforts to fill the gaps would be *really* welcome. The plain “sourceforge”-like approach scares me … I can see the project die in a million fork immediately after the launch!

B) webmail is fake mail. We have to think globally and globally free, or affordable, or quick internet connections ARE NOT a common good. Even in 6 of the 8th of the most industialized worldwide nation. So they work nice for a niche of people, but to other people ?

c) Google is an USA based company, bounded to their laws and some of them are sometimes a bit “too much” in terms of respect of the privacy of a person or a company. Would they assure me black on white the absolute privacy of “my” email I would rely completely on them … but as for now I’ll let them only manage my public mailing lists stuff. Private things on private server.

Ciao !

Edgar Quintero

I still can’t make the transition to webmail. I have several different e-mail accounts and it’s a pain to switch back and fourth from window to window.. or to have around 7 firefox tabs open for each account. I only use evolution right now… Thunderbird is really nice but I like how evolution integrates into my OS, plus the calnedar, taks, memos, and what not… I wish thunderbird could do all that evolution can do!!! *SIgh*

JTPRATT's Blogging Mistakes

I’ve used Thunderbird exclusively for quite a few years now. I think they should promots it quite a bit more, and I’d like to see many more 3rd party plugins as well. About the only complaint I have is that they don’t make it easy to migrate from one version, or particularly one computer to another. They should be some kind of wizard “export all my mail and folders now” into a zip file or something, and then you could just seamlessly import it on another pc and have your email instantly configured.

As it stands now, you have to read a bunch of forum posts to figure out what folders to save and where to put stuff to migrate it your mail manually.

Brian Carnell

“Well, look, as someone who has been using only webmail for the past 2 years, I can tell you that no one I knows personally uses a desktop client anymore.”

Ugh. I don’t know anyone whose exclusively using webmail. Frankly, webmail products either a) completely suck once you get large volumes of incoming e-mail and/or b) the ones that don’t suck involve trusting third parties who don’t necessarily deserve that trust (such as Google).

I’ve used only Thunderbird since the early beta releases, and its nice to have an OS alternative when everyone around me is using Novell Groupwise and/or Outlook clients. Yuck.



I think you’re right that Outlook is the best “all in one” client out there. But why have an “all in one” client at all? I prefer having separate calendar, contacts, to-do, and email applications that can talk to each other and integrate, but any one of which is replaceable. Outlook locks you in.

On the other hand, the way OS X does it, you have separate applications that are not really separable. Mail integrates really well with iCal and Address Book, but you have to take them as a whole. So who knows.

Ericson Smith

Well, look, as someone who has been using only webmail for the past 2 years, I can tell you that no one I knows personally uses a desktop client anymore.

The writing is on the wall, and the good folks that ran this project know it.

Outlook still has its place in the corporate setting, but for the vast majority of people, gmail, yahoo and hotmail is enough, so Thunderbird (as good as it is), will never get traction against outlook.

Sure, there are some disadvantages against webmail, but the advantages are pretty compelling:
* Available anywhere you go
* Consolidate all your mail into one place (gmail, yahoo)
* Managed and updated by someone else

I can tell you, as a small business owner, I used to run my own mail server. No more. This is just one of those pieces that is ripe for outsourcing, whether to a party like, or gmail. Its just not worth the headache.

Judi Sohn

Slavito, I sync Thunderbird’s address book to Plaxo. When I want to eliminate duplicates or look up an address, I use Plaxo or fire up Mac OS X Address Book. Lightning isn’t terrible for calendar integration. It’s certainly better than iCal, IMO.

What’s holding me to Thunderbird over Mail is its speed and identities. I filter email addressed to multiple email addresses through one address. Thunderbird handles that best.

The bigger question Mitchell’s call to action has brought up is the question of whether or not email is dead. You can’t declare extinct something the average world didn’t even know was sick. Yes, the web-enlightened crowd we speak to has moved on. But there are still millions of people using Outlook Express or Mail with their or or addresses who would say different. And let’s not even get started on business users, big and small. I simply can’t see my co-workers, as an example, giving up desktop clients any time this century.

As long as Microsoft and Apple continue to include half-baked email applications with their operating systems, I think there will be room for something like Thunderbird to do it better.


Funny you mention Mac OS X… I *really* tried to use Thunderbird on a Mac, repeatedly (pretty much every time a new version comes out), but there’s simply no excuse for having such poor functionality in the address book.. I mean, it’s *unusable* for anybody with over 50 contacts. There’s no way to eliminate duplicate entries in the address book, recipients already in your address book are never recognized as such and there are tons of other minor but annoying bugs. Is it that difficult to simply knock off what Entourage does?

P.S. The latest version did fix some problems with fonts, but still, they are nowhere as pretty “out-of-the-box” as in Mail or Entourage.


I have been looking for years for a good reason to drop Outlook, but the fact of the matter is that no single client (desktop or web based) handles e-mail, contacts, calendar and tasks in an integrated manner like Outlook does – especially since the release of Outlook 2003. Say what you will about Microsquash (I know I do), but Outlook is best of breed. (These comments only reflect on the client, Exchange server is a different topic.)

Thunderbird’s biggest stumbling block for me is the calendar integration (or lack thereof) currently. As a small business, we’re looking heavily into Zimbra to see what’s on the horizon in the hopes of whittling our Microsoft dependence down a little further.

Steven Hambleton

It’s just a small something but can they please collapse the From, Subject, Date etc pane like Outlook 2003 to a multi line view when it gets narrow?

At the moment it’s on one line and if I am working off a smaller screen it looks dumb.

Also Secure RSS support would be nice.

Seriously, this is all that’s holding me back!

Judi Sohn

John, sorry about that. Fixed.

Rick, I agree with you about Mozilla’s marketing of Thunderbird. But at the same time I don’t think the default OS email clients (either OS X or Windows) are nearly as good as Thunderbird.

There’s still a place for desktop email. I’ve tried many times to deal with email in a browser and I’ve always gone back to the desktop client. If Mozilla can find a market for Thunderbird, however small, it’s worth saving. I’d even pay a small fee for it to keep the development going.

rick gregory

Um…. well… goven that you ALWAYS see Firefox when you go to the Mozilla site it’s entirely possible that a lot of the potential audience simply has no idea Thunderbird even exists. In fact, I would be most people who go to that site have no idea of the different projects Mozilla does.

That, combined with the fact that many of us have moved to web based email and that all of the platforms come with decent desktop email clients as part of the default OS install, makes it a very steep uphill climb for Thunderbird.

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