This July, Mozilla Plans to Completely Overhaul Thunderbird’s User Interface

This July, Mozilla Plans to Completely Overhaul Thunderbird’s User Interface

Why does Thunderbird seem so old-fashioned?

According to Thunderbird Project Design Manager Alessandro Castellani, along with “Is Thunderbird dead?,” that is one of the most often asked questions regarding Thunderbird. And it’s a question he aims to decisively address in a recent blog post about Thunderbird’s anticipated Supernova released in 2023.

The user interface of Thunderbird will be updated in the Supernova release. Castellani did not provide any screenshots, but he did say that the new user interface (UI) would be “simple and clean” and primarily aimed at novice users. The interface will also be “fluid and adjustable” for “experienced users,” allowing folks who enjoy the way Thunderbird now appears to “keep that familiarity they adore.”

Other significant enhancements in Supernova will include a new calendar and assistance with Firefox Sync.

Beyond the redesign-related information, the blog post is interesting to read if you’re interested in how the team is tackling the software’s technical debt or wondering why it seems like the app is being developed so slowly (the developers spend a lot of time just keeping up with upstream changes from Firefox since the browser still forms the basis for Thunderbird’s email rendering). The article is useful if you need to review the lengthy and intricate history of Thunderbird and Mozilla.

Today, it’s not always obvious who is in charge of Thunderbird; it used to be maintained by Mozilla alongside the Firefox browser. As early as 2007, Mozilla management sought to separate Thunderbird, and in 2012, it switched to a more community-driven development strategy.

That choice, in Castellani’s words, was “a godsend and a curse” because it put Thunderbird in the situation it is in now. Community support for Thunderbird kept the project going, but a lack of centralized management “resulted in an inconsistent user interface without a coherent user experience” and caused the app to go for extended periods of time without any updates.

The project is still significantly dependent on user donations, and community developers still have a role in some aspects of Thunderbird development today. However, it’s also partially done inside Mozilla by “a growing group of paid employees” at MZLA Technologies, a fully-owned subsidiary of Mozilla.

They are the ones determining Thunderbird’s future, assisting with its technical debt reduction, and planning to increase its user base with a new Android client based on the K-9 Mail app.

Currently, Thunderbird 115, scheduled for release in July, will feature the updated Thunderbird user interface.