Thunderbird In 2023: The Milestones and The Lessons We Learned
The Thunderbird Project enjoyed a fantastic 2023. From my point of view – as someone who regularly engages with both the community and our team on a daily basis – the past year brought a renewed sense of purpose, sustainability, and excitement to Thunderbird. Let’s talk about a few of the awesome milestones Thunderbird achieved, but let’s also discuss where we stumbled and what lessons we learned along the way.
Our 2023 Milestones
The biggest milestone of 2023 was Thunderbird 115 “Supernova.” This release marked the first step towards a more flexible, reliable, and customizable Thunderbird that will accommodate different needs and workflows. Work has been long underway to modernize huge amounts of old code, with the aim of modernizing Thunderbird to deliver new features even faster. The “Supernova” release represented the first fruits of those efforts, and there’s a lot more in the pipeline!
Alongside Supernova came a brand new Thunderbird logo to signal the revitalization of the project. We finally (even a bit reluctantly) said goodbye to our beloved “wig on an envelope” and ushered in a new era of Thunderbird with a refreshed, redesigned logo. But it was important to honor our roots, which is why we hired Jon Hicks – the designer of the original Firefox and Thunderbird logos – to help us bring it to life. (Now that you’ve all been living with it for the last several months, has it grown on you? Let us know in the comments of this post!)
One 2023 milestone that deserves more attention is that we hired a dedicated User Support Specialist! Roland Tanglao has been working enthusiastically towards removing “documentation debt” and updating the 100s of Thunderbird support articles at support.mozilla.org (which you’ll see us refer to internally as “SUMO”). Beyond that, he keeps a watchful eye on our Matrix community support channel for emerging issues, and is in the forums answering as many help questions as humanly possible, alongside our amazing support volunteers. In a nutshell, Roland is doing everything he can to improve the experience of asking for and receiving support, modernize existing documentation, and create new guides and articles that make using Thunderbird easier.
These are some – not all – of our accomplishments from last year. But it’s time to shift focus to where we stumbled, and how we’ll do better.
The Lessons We Learned In 2023
In 2023, we failed to finish some of the great features we wanted to bring to Thunderbird, including Sync and Account Hub (both of which, however, are still in development). We also missed our target release window for Thunderbird on Android, after deciding it was worth the extra development time to add the kind of functionality and flexibility you expect from Thunderbird software.
Speaking of functionality you expect, we hear you loud and clear: you want Exchange support in Thunderbird. We’ve already done some exploratory work, and have enabled the usage of Rust in Thunderbird. This is a complex topic, but the short version is that this opens the doors for us to start implementing native support for the Exchange protocol. It’s officially on our roadmap!
We also believe our communication with you has fallen short of where it needs to be. There are times when we get so excited about things we’re working on that it seems like marketing hype. In other situations, we have over-promised and under-delivered because these projects haven’t been extensively scoped out.
We’re beginning to solve the latter issue with the recent hiring of Kelly McSweeney, Senior Technical PM. She joined our team late last year and brings 20 years of valuable experience to Thunderbird. In a nutshell, Kelly is building processes and tools to accurately gauge how long development time will realistically take, from extensive projects to the tiniest tasks. Basically, she’s getting us very organized and making things run much more efficiently! This not only means smoother operations across the organization, but also clearer communication with you going forward.
And communication is our biggest area of opportunity right now, specifically with our global Thunderbird community. We haven’t been as transparent as an open source project should be, nor have we discussed our future plans frequently enough. We’ve had several meetings about this over the past few weeks, and we’re taking immediate steps to do better.
To begin with, you’ll start seeing monthly Developer Digests like this one from Alex, aimed at giving you a closer look at the work currently being planned. We’re also increasing our activity on the Thunderbird mailing lists, where you can give us direct feedback about future improvements and features.
In 2024 you can also look forward to monthly community Office Hours sessions. This is where you can get some face time (or just voice time) with our team, and watch presentations about upcoming features and improvements by the developer(s) working on them.
One last thing: In 2023, Thunderbird’s Marketing & Communications team consisted of myself and Wayne Mery. This year Wayne and I are fortunate to be working alongside new team members Heather Ellsworth, Monica Ayhens-Madon, and Natalia Ivanova. Together, we’re going to work diligently to create more tutorials on the blog, more video guides, and more content to help you get the most out of Thunderbird – with a focus on productivity.
How To Stay Updated
Thank you for being on this journey with us! If you want to get more involved and stay in touch, here are the best places to keep up with what’s happening at Thunderbird:
- We will be more active right here on this blog, so come back once or twice per month to see what’s new.
- If you enjoy the technical bits, want to help test Thunderbird, or you’re part of our contributor community, these mailing lists at Topicbox are ideal.
- Follow us on Mastodon or X/Twitter for more frequent – and fun – updates!
- Join our Thunderbird Community Support room on Matrix if you need some help.