Thunderbird is getting good again

I used to be a fan of Mozilla’s email application, Thunderbird, for a long time – even going back to Netscape Communicator days and through the first Mozilla release. Unfortunately, at some point, Mozilla focused on Firefox to the neglect of everything else, and then directed their energies into what at the time felt like sideshows (like Pocket, Mozilla VPN, etc.). What ultimately made me switch away from Thunderbird, aside from growing performance issues, was the lack of a space-efficient three-column view (Bug 213945):

Screenshot of Thunderbird bug 213945 about better three-column layout – opened 20 years(!) ago, and finally closed in March 2023.

However, recently (-ish, 2017), Thunderbird was “spun out” of Mozilla proper and started to reorganize themselves, with a clear roadmap, a plan for funding including donations, new design directions, and a general re-architecture and cleanup of the Thunderbird code base.

For a while, I’ve been trying Betterbird, a Thunderbird fork that prioritized merging UI/UX improvements for end users (see the Betterbird FAQ for a few examples) over endlessly discussing technical concerns. However, many of the core issues remained, so I did not fully commit to Betterbird either.

Now, with the new Thunderbird “Supernova” design landing in Beta, I’ve been back on Thunderbird again for a bit longer and the difference is night and day. There are still some improvements to be made, especially around performance in large mailboxes and virtual views including them, but the current Thunderbird Beta looks and feels much more like a modern mail client: Performance is much improved, the UX looks fresh, there is an option to use Unified Folders, groupware (calendaring, contacts, tasks and chat) have been integrated instead of being relegated to extensions, encryption has been integrated in the core (again, from extensions), and even one of the most useful features for me – dynamically managing email identities, i.e. sender addresses – is now part of Thunderbird core (which I needed a while to realize, and which also triggered me writing this blog post, as I feel that function is not documented well).

So, what’s good?

There was a bug in a few betas that made Unified Folders unusable for me, but that appears to be fixed now as well – I may be staying on Thunderbird for the foreseeable future now! 🎉

Try it out for yourself with the Thunderbird Beta (installs alongside the stable version), or wait until the changes land in the next release – and if you want to support FOSS email, donate to the Thunderbird project!