Mozilla developers remake Thunderbird, sort of

In the context: At one time, Mozilla seemingly abandoned the Thunderbird project to focus solely on Firefox. That changed in 2020, when a subsidiary, MZLA, was created to manage the email client, and now the developers have announced a clear plan for how they will improve the program over the next three years.

Mozilla Thunderbird is approaching its 20th anniversary and developers are already thinking about how one of the most popular email clients can be sustainable over the next 20 years. The Thunderbird codebase is so outdated that it becomes “unsustainable”, but this will change starting with the release of the “Supernova” update (Thunderbird 115) scheduled for July 2023.

MZLA/Mozilla Developers announced they are rebuilding the Thunderbird interface from the ground up, modernizing the software both visually and technically. A massive overhaul to get rid of all the technical and front-end debt that has accumulated over the past 10 years, which is “no easy task” but necessary if the Thunderbird team wants to keep the project alive for years to come.

With a steady stream of user donations coming into the MZLA initiative, Thunderbird developers can now put together a multi-year plan for what they’re actually going to do with open source software. Right now, there are three medium-term “majors” that the MZLA team is looking to accomplish over the next 3 years.

The first goal is to make the codebase “more compact and robust” by rewriting old code and fixing the aforementioned technical shortcomings; the second goal is to rebuild the interface from the ground up, creating a consistent design system while maintaining “an adaptable and highly customizable user interface”. Finally, the third goal is to switch to a monthly release schedule like in Firefox.

According to the developers, Thunderbird is still “literally a bunch of code” running on top of the Firefox codebase. This approach allowed Thunderbird to take advantage of all the “good things” of an open source browser, such as multi-platform support, the Gecko layout engine, and the Spidermonkey JavaScript engine/compiler. But it also made Thunderbird development more difficult, as Firefox is run by hundreds of developers who change things every day, while an email client can rely on “just over a dozen” core developers.

However, MZLA’s community-driven approach and constant donations have greatly helped Thunderbird get through the tough times the project has had to go through over the past few years. The Thunderbird community will be the focus of the project in the future, as the developers will bring many of the improvements they have in store for the program’s user interface and user interface (UX) over the next 2 years, creating an interface that “can adapt to everyone’s needs.”

In the near future, Mozilla Thunderbird will focus on adding new features that some competing email clients have had for years, as well as creating innovative solutions to improve the experience of each. The core development team is also growing, and there are plans to increase revenue streams beyond user donations.

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