Thunderbird 91 Available Now

The newest stable release of Thunderbird, version 91, is available for download on our website now. Existing Thunderbird users will be updated to the newest version in the coming weeks.

Thunderbird 91 is our biggest release in years with a ton of new features, bug fixes and polish across the app. This past year had its challenges for the Thunderbird team, our community and our users. But in the midst of a global pandemic, the important role that email plays in our lives became even more obvious. Our team was blown away by the support we received in terms of donations and open source contributions and we extend a big thanks to everyone who helped out Thunderbird in the lead up to this release.

There are a ton of changes in the new Thunderbird, you can see them all in the release notes. In this post we’ll focus on the most notable and visible ones.

Multi-Process Support (Faster Thunderbird)

Thunderbird has gotten faster with multi-process support. The new multi-process Thunderbird takes better advantage of the processor in your computer by splitting up the application into multiple smaller processes instead of running as one large one. That’s a lot of geekspeak to say that Thunderbird 91 will feel like it got a speed boost.

New Account Setup

One of the most noticeable changes for Thunderbird 91 is the new account setup wizard. The new wizard not only features a better look, but does auto-discovery of calendars and address books and allows most users to set them up with just a click. After setting up an account, the wizard also points users at additional (optional) things to do – such as adding a signature or setting up end-to-end encryption.

Account Setup Wizard

The New Account Setup Wizard

Attachments Pane + Drag-and-Drop Overlay

The attachments pane has been moved to the bottom of the compose window for better visibility of filenames as well as being able to see many at once. We’ve also added an overlay that appears when you drag-and-drop a file into the compose window asking how you would like to handle the file in that email (such as putting a picture in-line in your message or simply attaching it to the email).

The Thunderbird compose window with the attachment pane at the bottom.

Compose window with bottom attachment pane.

The new attachment drag-and-drop overlay.

The new attachment drag-and-drop overlay.

PDF Viewer

Thunderbird now has a built-in PDF viewer, which means you can read and even do some editing on PDFs sent to you as attachments. You can do all this without ever leaving Thunderbird, allowing you to return to your inbox without missing a beat.

The PDF Viewer in Thunderbird 91

The PDF Viewer in Thunderbird 91

UI Density Control

Depending on how you use Thunderbird and whether you are using it on a large desktop monitor or a small laptop touchscreen, you may want the icons and text of the interface to be larger and more spread out or very compact. In Thunderbird 91 under the View -> Density in the menu, you can select the UI density for the entire application. Three options are available: compact – which puts everything closer together, normal – the experience you are accustomed to in Thunderbird, and touch – that makes icons bigger and separates elements.

Play around with this new level of control and find what works best for you!

UI density control option

UI density control options

Calendar Sidebar Improvements

Managing multiple calendars has been made easier with the calendar sidebar improvements in this release. There is a quick enable button for disabled calendars, as well as a show/hide icon for easily toggling what calendars are visible. There is also a lock indicator for read-only calendars. Additionally, although not a sidebar improvement, there are now better color accents to highlight the current day in the calendar.

The improved calendar sidebar.

Improved Calendar sidebar

Better Dark Theme

Thunderbird’s Dark Theme got even better in this release. In the past some windows and dialogues looked a bit out of place if you had Thunderbird’s dark theme selected. Now almost every dialogue and window in Thunderbird is fully styled to respect the user’s color scheme preferences.

Dark Theme Screenshot

Dark Theme

Other Notable Mentions

You really have to scroll through the release notes as there are a lot of little changes that make Thunderbird 91 feel really polished. Some other notable mentions are:

Mailfence Encrypted Email Suite in Thunderbird

Mailfence Encrypted Email Suite in Thunderbird

Today, the Thunderbird team is happy to announce that we have partnered with Mailfence to offer their encrypted email service in Thunderbird’s account setup. To check this out, you click on “Get a new email address…” when you are setting up an account. We are excited that those using Thunderbird will have this easily accessible option to get a new email address from a privacy-focused provider with just a few clicks.

Why partner with Mailfence?

It comes down to two important shared values: a commitment to privacy and open standards. Mailfence has built a private and secure email experience, whilst using open standards that ensure its users can use clients like Thunderbird with no extra hoops to jump through – which respects their freedom. Also, Mailfence has been doing this for longer than most providers have been around and this shows real commitment to their cause.

We’ve known we wanted to work with the Mailfence team for well over a year, and this is just the beginning of our collaboration. We’ve made it easy to get an email address from Mailfence, and their team has created many great guides on how to get the most out of their service in Thunderbird. But this is just the beginning. The goal is that, in the near future, Mailfence users will benefit from the automatic sync of their contacts and calendars – as well as their email.

Why is this important?

If we’ve learned anything about the tech landscape these last few years it’s that big tech doesn’t always have your best interests in mind. Big tech has based its business model on the harvesting and exploitation of data. Your data that the companies gobble up is used for discrimination and manipulation – not to mention the damage done when this data is sold to or stolen by really bad actors.

We wanted to give our users an alternative, and we want to continue to show our users that you can communicate online and leverage the power of the Internet without giving up your right to privacy. Mailfence is a great service that we want to share with our community and users, to show there are good options out there.

Patrick De-Schutter, Co-Founder of Mailfence, makes an excellent case for why this partnership is important:

“Thunderbird’s mission and values completely align with ours. We live in times of ever growing Internet domination by big tech companies. These have repeatedly shown a total disrespect of online privacy and oblige their users to sign away their privacy through unreadable Terms of Service. We believe this is wrong and dangerous. Privacy is a fundamental human right. With this partnership, we create a user-friendly privacy-respecting alternative to the Big Tech offerings that are centered around the commodification of personal data.”

How to try out Mailfence

If you want to give Mailfence a try right now (and are already using Thunderbird), just open Thunderbird account settings, click “Account Actions” and then “Add Mail Account”, it is there that you will see the option to “Get a new email address”. There you can select Mailfence as your provider and choose your desired username, then you will be prompted to set up your account. Once you have done this your account will be set up in Thunderbird and you will be able to start your Mailfence trial.

It is our sincere hope that our users will give Mailfence a try because using services that respect your freedom and privacy is better for you, and better for society at large. We look forward to deepening our relationship with Mailfence and working hand-in-hand with them to improve the Thunderbird experience for those using their service.

We’ll share more about our partnership with Mailfence, as well as our other efforts to promote privacy and open standards as the year progresses. We’re so grateful to get to work with great people who share our values, and to then share that work with the world.

OpenPGP in Thunderbird 78

Updating to Thunderbird 78 from 68

Soon the Thunderbird automatic update system will start to deliver the new Thunderbird 78 to current users of the previous release, Thunderbird 68. This blog post is intended to share with you details about our OpenPGP support in Thunderbird 78, and some details Enigmail add-on users should consider when updating. If you are interested in reading more about the other features in the Thunderbird 78 release, please see our previous blog post.

Updating to Thunderbird 78 is highly recommended to ensure you will receive security fixes, because no more fixes will be provided for Thunderbird 68 after September 2020.

The traditional Enigmail Add-on cannot be used with version 78, because of changes to the underlying Mozilla platform Thunderbird is built upon. Fortunately, it is no longer needed with Thunderbird version 78.2.1 because it enables a new built-in OpenPGP feature.

Not all of Enigmail’s functionality is offered by Thunderbird 78 yet – but there is more to come. And some functionality has been implemented differently, partly because of technical necessity, but also because we are simplifying the workflow for our users.

With the help of a migration tool provided by the Enigmail Add-on developer, users of Enigmail’s classic mode will get assistance to migrate their settings and keys. Users of Enigmail’s Junior Mode will be informed by Enigmail, upon update, about their options for using that mode with Thunderbird 78, which requires downloading software that isn’t provided by the Thunderbird project. Alternatively, users of Enigmail’s Junior Mode may attempt a manual migration to Thunderbird’s new integrated OpenPGP feature, as explained in our howto document listed below.

Unlike Enigmail, OpenPGP in Thunderbird 78 does not use GnuPG software by default. This change was necessary to provide a seamless and integrated experience to users on all platforms. Instead, the software of the RNP project was chosen for Thunderbird’s core OpenPGP engine. Because RNP is a newer project in comparison to GnuPG, it has certain limitations, for example it currently lacks support for OpenPGP smartcards. As a workaround, Thunderbird 78 offers an optional configuration for advanced users, which requires additional manual setup, but which can allow the optional use of separately installed GnuPG software for private key operations.

The Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) awards program has thankfully provided funding for an audit of the RNP library and Thunderbird’s related code, which was conducted by the Cure53 company.  We are happy to report that no critical or major security issues were found, all identified issues had a medium or low severity rating, and we will publish the results in the future.

More Info and Support

We have written a support article that lists questions that users might have, and it provides more detailed information on the technology, answers, and links to additional articles and resources. You may find it at: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/openpgp-thunderbird-howto-and-faq

If you have questions about the OpenPGP feature, please use Thunderbird’s discussion list for end-to-end encryption functionality at: https://thunderbird.topicbox.com/groups/e2ee

Several topics have already been discussed, so you might be able to find some answers in its archive.

What’s New in Thunderbird 78

Thunderbird 78 is our newest ESR (extended-support release), which comes out yearly and is considered the latest stable release. Right now you can download the newest version from our website, and existing users will be automatically updated in the near future. We encourage those who rely on the popular add-on Enigmail to wait to update until the automatic update rolls out to them to ensure their encrypted email settings are properly imported into Thunderbird’s new built-in OpenPGP encrypted email feature.

Last year’s release focused on ensuring Thunderbird has a stable foundation on which to build. The new Thunderbird 78 aims to improve the experience of using Thunderbird, adding many quality-of-life features to the application and making it easier to use.

Compose Window Redesign

Compose Window Comparison, 68 and 78

The compose window has been reworked to help users find features more easily and to make composing a message faster and more straightforward. The compose window now also takes up less space with recipients listed in “pills” instead of an entire line for every address.

Dark Mode

Dark Mode

Thunderbird’s new Dark Mode is easier on the eyes for those working in the dark, and it has the added benefit of looking really cool! The Dark Mode even works when writing and reading emails – so you are not suddenly blinded while you work. Thunderbird will look at your operating system settings to see if you have enabled dark mode OS-wide and respect those settings. Here are the instructions for setting dark mode in Mac, and setting dark mode in Windows.

Calendar and Tasks Integrated

Thunderbird’s Lightning calendar and tasks add-on is now a part of the application itself, which means everyone now has access to these features the moment they install Thunderbird. This change also sets the stage for a number of future improvements the Thunderbird team will make in the calendar. Much of this will be focused on improved interoperability with the mail part of Thunderbird, as well as improving the user experience of the calendar.

Account Setup & Account Central Updated

Account Setup and Account Central Updated, comparison between 68 and 78

The Account Setup window and the Account Central tab, which appears when you do not have an account setup or when you select an existing account in the folder tree, have both been updated. The layout and dialogues have been improved in order to make it easier to understand the information displayed and to find relevant settings. The Account Central tab also has new information about the Thunderbird project and displays the version you are using.

Folder Icons and Colors Update

New Folder Icons and Colors for Thunderbird 78

Folder icons have been replaced and modernized with a new vector style. This will ensure better compatibility with HiDPI monitors and dark mode. Vector icons also means you will be able to customize their default colors to better distinguish and categorize your folders list.

Minimize to Tray

Windows users have reason to rejoice, as Thunderbird 78 can now be minimized to tray. This has been a repeatedly requested feature that has been available through many popular add-ons, but it is now part of Thunderbird core – no add-on needed! This feature has been a long time coming and we hope to bring more operating-system specific features for each platform to Thunderbird in the coming releases.

End-to-End Encrypted Email Support

New end-to-end encryption preferences tab.

Thunderbird 78.2.1, due out in the coming months, will offer a new feature that allows you to end-to-end encrypt your email messages via OpenPGP. In the past this feature was achieved in Thunderbird primarily with the Enigmail add-on, however, in this release we have brought this functionality into core Thunderbird. We’d like to offer a special thanks to Patrick Brunschwig for his years of work on Enigmail, which laid the groundwork for this integrated feature, and for his assistance throughout its development. The new feature is also enabled by the RNP library, and we’d like to thank the project’s developers for their close collaboration and hard work addressing our needs.

End-to-end encryption for email can be used to ensure that only the sender and the recipients of a message can read the contents. Without this protection it is easy for network administrators, email providers and government agencies to read your messages. If you would like to learn more about how end-to-end encryption in Thunderbird works, check out our article on Introduction to End-to-end encryption in Thunderbird. If you would like to learn more about the development of this feature or participate in testing, check out the OpenPGP Thunderbird wiki page.

About Add-ons

As with previous major releases, it may take time for authors of legacy extensions to update their add-ons to support the new release. So if you are using add-ons we recommend you not update manually to 78.0, and instead wait for Thunderbird to automatically update to 78. We encourage users to reach out to their add-on’s author to let them know that you are interested in using it in 78.

Learn More

If we listed all the improvements in Thunderbird 78 in this blog post, you’d be stuck reading this for the whole day. So we will save you from that, and let you know that if you want to see a longer list of changes for the new release – check the release notes on our website.

Great Release, Bright Future

The past year has been an amazing year for Thunderbird. We had an incredible release in version 68 that was popular with our users, and laid the groundwork for much of what we did in 78. On top of great improvements in the product, we moved into a new financial and legal home, and we grew our team to thirteen people (soon to be even more)!

We’re so grateful to all our users and contributors who have stuck with us all these years, and we hope to earn your dedication for the years to come. Thunderbird 78 is the beginning of a new era for the project, as we attempt to bring our users the features that they want and need to be productive in the 2020s – while also maintaining what has made Thunderbird so great all these years.

Thank you to our wonderful community, please enjoy Thunderbird 78.

Download the newest release from our website.

Thunderbird’s New Home

As of today, the Thunderbird project will be operating from a new wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, MZLA Technologies Corporation. This move has been in the works for a while as Thunderbird has grown in donations, staff, and aspirations. This will not impact Thunderbird’s day-to-day activities or mission: Thunderbird will still remain free and open source, with the same release schedule and people driving the project.

There was a time when Thunderbird’s future was uncertain, and it was unclear what was going to happen to the project after it was decided Mozilla Corporation would no longer support it. But in recent years donations from Thunderbird users have allowed the project to grow and flourish organically within the Mozilla Foundation. Now, to ensure future operational success, following months of planning, we are forging a new path forward. Moving to MZLA Technologies Corporation will not only allow the Thunderbird project more flexibility and agility, but will also allow us to explore offering our users products and services that were not possible under the Mozilla Foundation. The move will allow the project to collect revenue through partnerships and non-charitable donations, which in turn can be used to cover the costs of new products and services.

Thunderbird’s focus isn’t going to change. We remain committed to creating amazing, open source technology focused on open standards, user privacy, and productive communication. The Thunderbird Council continues to  steward the project, and the team guiding Thunderbird’s development remains the same.

Ultimately, this move to MZLA Technologies Corporation allows the Thunderbird project to hire more easily, act more swiftly, and pursue ideas that were previously not possible. More information about the future direction of Thunderbird will be shared in the coming months.

Update: A few of you have asked how to make a contribution to Thunderbird under the new corporation, especially when using the monthly option. Please check out our updated site at give.thunderbird.net!

Thunderbird, Enigmail and OpenPGP

Today the Thunderbird project is happy to announce that for the future Thunderbird 78 release, planned for summer 2020, we will add built-in functionality for email encryption and digital signatures using the OpenPGP standard. This new functionality will replace the Enigmail add-on, which will continue to be supported until Thunderbird 68 end of life, in the Fall of 2020.

For some background on encrypted email in Thunderbird: Two popular technologies exist that add support for end-to-end encryption and digital signatures to email. Thunderbird has been offering built-in support for S/MIME for many years and will continue to do so.

The Enigmail Add-on has made it possible to use Thunderbird with external GnuPG software for OpenPGP messaging. Because the types of add-ons supported in Thunderbird will change with version 78, the current Thunderbird 68.x branch (maintained until Fall 2020) will be the last that can be used with Enigmail.

For users of Enigmail, Thunderbird 78 will offer assistance to migrate existing keys and settings. We are happy that Patrick Brunschwig, the long-time developer of Enigmail, has offered to work with the Thunderbird team on OpenPGP going forward. About this change, Patrick had this to say:

“It has always been my goal to have OpenPGP support included in the core Thunderbird product. Even though it will mark an end to a long story, after working on Enigmail for 17 years, I’m very happy with this outcome.”

Users who haven’t used Enigmail previously will need to opt in to use OpenPGP messaging, as encryption will not be enabled automatically. However, Thunderbird 78 will help users discover the new functionality.

To promote secure communication, Thunderbird 78 will encourage the user to perform ownership confirmation of keys used by correspondents, notify the user if the correspondent’s keys change unexpectedly, and, if there is an issue, offer assistance to resolve the situation.

It’s undecided whether Thunderbird 78 will support the indirect key ownership confirmations used in the Web of Trust (WoT) model, or to what extent. However, sharing of key ownership confirmations made by the user (key signatures), and interaction with OpenPGP key servers shall be possible.

If you have an interest in seeing more detailed plans on what is in store for OpenPGP in Thunderbird, check out our wiki page with more information.

What’s New in Thunderbird 68

Our newest release, Thunderbird version 68 is now available! Users on version 60, the last major release, will not be immediately updated – but will receive the update in the coming weeks. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the features that are most noteworthy in the newest version. If you’d like to see all the changes in version 68, you can check out the release notes.

Thunderbird 68 focuses on polish and setting the stage for future releases. There was a lot of work that we had to do below the surface that has made Thunderbird more future-proof and has made it a solid base to continue to build upon. But we also managed to create some great features you can touch today.

New App Menu

Thunderbird 68 features a big update to the App Menu. The new menu is single pane with icons and separators that make it easier to navigate and reduce clutter. Animation when cycling through menu items produces a more engaging experience and results in the menu feeling more responsive and modern.

New Thunderbird Menu

Thunderbird’s New App Menu

Options/Preferences in a Tab

Thunderbird’s Options/Preferences have been converted from a dialog window to its own dedicated tab. The new Preferences tab provides more space which allows for better organized content and is more consistent with the look and feel of the rest of Thunderbird. The new Preferences tab also makes it easier to multitask without the problem of losing track of where your preferences are when switching between windows.

Preferences in a Tab

Preferences in a Tab

Full Color Support

Thunderbird now features full color support across the app. This means changing the color of the text of your email to any color you want or setting tags to any shade your heart desires.

New Full Color Picker

Full Color Support

Better Dark Theme

The dark theme available in Thunderbird has been enhanced with a dark message thread pane as well as many other small improvements.

Thunderbird Dark Theme

Thunderbird Dark Theme

Attachment Management

There are now more options available for managing attachments. You can “detach” an attachment to store it in a different folder while maintaining a link from the email to the new location. You can also open the folder containing a detached file via the “Open Containing Folder” option.

Attachment options for detached files.

Attachment options for detached files.

Filelink Improved

Filelink attachments that have already been uploaded can now be linked to again instead of having to re-upload them. Also, an account is no longer required to use the default Filelink provider – WeTransfer.

Other Filelink providers like Box and Dropbox are not included by default but can be added by grabbing the Dropbox and Box add-ons.

Other Notable Changes

There are many other smaller changes that make Thunderbird 68 feel polished and powerful including an updated To/CC/BCC selector in the compose window, filters can now be set to run periodically, and feed articles now show external attachments as links.

There are many other updates in this release, you can see a list of all of them in the Thunderbird 68 release notes. If you would like to try the newest Thunderbird, head to our website and download it today!

WeTransfer File Transfer Now Available in Thunderbird

WeTransfer’s file-sharing service is now available within Thunderbird for sending large files (up to 2GB) for free, without signing up for an account.

Even better, sharing large files can be done without leaving the composer. While writing an email, just attach a large file and you will be prompted to choose whether you want to use file link, which will allow you to share a large file with a link to download it. Via this prompt you can select to use WeTransfer.

Filelink prompt in Thunderbird

Filelink prompt in Thunderbird

You can also enable File Link through the Preferences menu, under the attachments tab and the Outgoing page. Click “Add…” and choose “WeTransfer” from the drop down menu.

WeTransfer in Preferences

Once WeTransfer is set up in Thunderbird it will be the default method of linking for files over the size that you have specified (you can see that is set to 5MB in the screenshot above).

WeTransfer and Thunderbird are both excited to be able to work together on this great feature for our users. The Thunderbird team thinks that this will really improve the experience of collaboration and and sharing for our users.

WeTransfer is also proud of this feature. Travis Brown, WeTransfer VP of Business Development says about the collaboration:

“Mozilla and WeTransfer share similar values. We’re focused on the user and on maintaining our user’s privacy and an open internet. We’ll continue to work with their team across multiple areas and put privacy at the front of those initiatives.”

We hope that all our users will give this feature a try and enjoy being able to share the files they want with co-workers, friends, and family – easily.

All Thunderbird Bugs Have Been Fixed!

April Fools!

We still have open bugs, but we’d like your help to close them!

We are grateful to have a very active set of users who generate a lot of bug reports and we are requesting your help in sorting them, an activity called bug triage. We’re holding “Bug Days” on April 8th (all day, EU and US timezones) and April 13th (EU and US timezones until 4pm EDT). During these bug days we will log on and work as a community to triage as many bugs as possible. All you’ll need is a Bugzilla account, Thunderbird Daily, and we’ll teach you the rest! With several of us working at the same time we can help each other in real time – answering questions, sharing ideas ideas, and enjoying being with like-minded people.

No coding or special skills are required, and you don’t need to be an expert or long term user of Thunderbird.

Some things you’ll be doing if you participate:

  • Help other users by checking their bug reports to see if you can reproduce the behavior of their reported problem.
  • Get advice about your own bug report(s).
  • Learn the basics about Thunderbird troubleshooting and how to contribute.

We’re calling this the “Game of Bugs”, named after the popular show Game of Thrones – where we will try to “slay” all the bugs. Those who participate fully in the event will get a Thunderbird Game of Bugs t-shirt for their participation (with the design below).

Thunderbird: Game of Bugs T-shirt design

Thunderbird: Game of Bugs

Sorry for the joke! But we hope you’ll join us on the 8th or the 13th via #tb-qa on Mozilla’s IRC so that we can put these bugs in their place which helps make Thunderbird even better. If you have any questions feel free to email ryan@thunderbird.net.

P.S. If you are unable to participate in bug day you can still help by checking out our Get Involved page on the website and contributing in the way you’d like!

FOSDEM 2019 and DeltaChat

During the last month we attended two events: FOSDEM, Europe’s premier free software event, and a meetup with the folks behind DeltaChat. At both events we met great people, had interesting conversations, and talked through potential future collaboration with Thunderbird. This post details some of our conversations and insights gather from those events.

FOSDEM 2019

Magnus (Thunderbird Technical Manager), Kai (Thunderbird Security Engineer), and I (Ryan, Community Manager) arrived in Brussels for Europe’s premier free software event (free as in freedom, not beer): FOSDEM. I was excited to meet many of our contributors in-person who I’d only met online. It’s exhilarating to be looking someone in the eye and having a truly human interaction around something that you’re passionate about – this is what makes FOSDEM a blast.

There are too many conversations that we had to detail in their entirety in this blog post, but below are some highlights.

Chat over IMAP/Email

One thing we discussed at FOSDEM was Chat over IMAP with the people from Open-Xchange. Robert even gave a talk called “Break the Messaging Silos with COI”. They made a compelling case as to why email is a great medium for chat, and the idea of using a chat that lets you select the provider that stores your data – genius! We followed on FOSDEM with a meetup with the DeltaChat folks in Freiburg, Germany where we discussed encryption and Chat over Email.

Encryption, Encryption, Encryption

We discussed encryption a lot, primarily because we have been thinking about it a lot as a project. With the rising awareness of users about privacy concerns in tech, services like Protonmail getting a lot of attention, and in acknowledgement that many Thunderbird users rely on encrypted Email for their security – it was important that we use this opportunity to talk with our sister projects, contributors, and users about how we can do better.

Sequoia-PGP

We were very grateful that the Sequoia-PGP team took the time to sit down with us and listen to our ideas and concerns surrounding improving encrypted Email support in Thunderbird. Sequoia-PGP is an OpenPGP library, written in Rust that appears to be pretty solid. There is a potential barrier to incorporating their work into Thunderbird, in license compatibility (we use MPL and they use GPL). But we discussed a wide range of topics and have continued talking through what is possible following the event, it is my hope that we will find some way to collaborate going forward.

One thing that stood out to me about the Sequoia team was their true interest in seeing Thunderbird be the best that it can be, and they seemed to genuinely want to help us. I’m grateful to them for the time that they spent and look forward to getting another opportunity to sit with them and chat.

pEp

Following our discussion with the Sequoia team, we spoke to Volker of the pEp Foundation. Over dinner we discussed Volker’s vision of privacy by default and lowering the barrier of using encryption for all communication. We had spoken to Volker in the past, but it was great to sit around a table, enjoy a meal, and talk about the ways in which we could collaborate. pEp’s approach centers around key management and improved user experience to make encryption more understandable and easier to manage for all users (this is a simplified explanation, see pEp’s website for more information). I very much appreciated Volker taking the time to walk us through their approach, and sharing ideas as to how Thunderbird might move forward. Volker’s passion is infectious and I was happy to get to spend time with him discussing the pEp project.

EteSync

People close to me know that I have a strong desire to see encrypted calendar and contact sync become a standard (I’ve even grabbed the domains cryptdav.com and cryptdav.org). So when I heard that Tom of EteSync was at FOSDEM, I emailed him to set up a time to talk. EteSync is secure, end-to-end encrypted and privacy respecting sync for your contacts, calendars and tasks. That hit the mark!

In our conversation we discussed potential ways to work together, and I encouraged him to try and make this into a standard. He was quite interested and we talked through who we should pull into the conversation to move this forward. I’m happy to say that we’ve managed to get Thunderbird Council Chairman and Lightning Calendar author Philipp Kewisch in on the conversation – so I hope to see us move this along. I’m so glad that Tom created an implementation that will help people maintain their privacy online. We so often focus on securing our communication, but what about the data that is produced from those conversations? He’s doing important work and I’m glad that I was able to find ways to support his vision. Tom also gave a talk at FOSDEM this year, called “Challenges With Building End-to-End Encrypted Applications – Learnings From Etesync”.

Autocrypt on the Train

During FOSDEM we attended a talk about Autocrypt by Vincent Breitmoser. As we headed to the city Freiburg, for our meetup with the people behind DeltaChat, we realized Vincent was on our train and managed to sit with him on the ride over. Vincent was going to the same meetup that we were so it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was great to get an opportunity to sit down with him and discuss how the Autocrypt project was doing and the state of email encryption, in general.

Vincent reiterated Autocrypt’s focus on raising the floor on encryption, getting as many people using encryption keys as possible and handling some of the complexity around the exchange of keys. We had concerns around the potential for man-in-the-middle attacks when using Autocrypt and Vincent was upfront about that and we had a useful discussion about balancing the risks and ease of use of email security. Vincent’s sincerity and humble nature made the conversation an enjoyable one, and I came away having made a new friend. Vincent is a good guy, and following our meetup in Freiburg we have discussed other ways in which we could collaborate.

Other FOSDEM Conversations

Of course, I will inevitably leave out someone in recounting who we talked to as FOSDEM. I had many conversations with old friends, met new people, and shared ideas. I got to meet Elio Qoshi of Ura Design face-to-face for the first time, which was really awesome (they did a style guide and usability study for Thunderbird, and have contributed in a number of other ways). I spoke to the creators of Mailfence, a privacy-focused email provider.

I attended a lot of talks and had my head filled with new perspectives, had preconceived notions challenged, and learned a lot. I hope that we’ll get to return next year and share some of the work that we’re doing now!

DeltaChat in Freiburg

A while before finishing our FOSDEM planning, we were invited by Holger Krekel to come to Freiburg, Germany following FOSDEM and learn more about Chat over Email (as their group calls it), and their implementation – DeltaChat. They use Autocrypt in DeltaChat, so there were conversations about that as well. Patrick Brunschwig, the author of the  Enigmail add-on was also present, and had interesting insights to add to the encryption conversation.

Hanging at a flat in Freiburg we spent two days talking through Chat over Email support in Thunderbird, how we might improve encryption in Thunderbird core, and thought through how Thunderbird can enhance its user experience around chat and encryption. Friedel, the author of rpgp, a rust implementation of OpenPGP, showed up at the event and shared his insights – which we appreciated.

I also got an opportunity to talk with the core maintainer of DeltaChat, Björn Petersen, about the state of chat generally. He started DeltaChat in order to offer an alternative to these chat silos, with a focus on an experience that would be on par with the likes of Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp.

Following more general conversations, I spoke with Björn, Janka, and Xenia about the chat experience in DeltaChat. We discussed what a Chat over Email implementation in Thunderbird might look like, and more broadly talked through other potential UX improvements in the app. Xenia described the process their team went through when polling DeltaChat users about potential improvements and what insights they gained in doing that. We chatted about how what they have learned might apply to Thunderbird and it was very enlightening.

At one point Holger took us to Freiburg’s Chaos Computer Club, and there we got to hang out and talk about a wide range of topics – mostly centered around open source software and privacy. I thought it was fascinating and I got to learn about new projects that are up and coming. I hope to be able to collaborate with some of them to improve Thunderbird. In the end I was grateful that Holger and the rest of the DeltaChat contributors encouraged us to join them for their meetup, and opened up their space for us so that we could spend time with them and learn from them.

Thanks for reading this post! I know it was long, but I hope you found it interesting and learned something from it.