Mozilla's Thunderbird not dead but sort of on life support

The company will maintain and even update its e-mail client but will no longer focus on innovating or enhancing the application.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Reports of the death of Mozilla's Thunderbird may have been greatly exaggerated. But the e-mail program is no longer on the company's priority list.

Responding to news items that his company was dumping Thunderbird, JB Piacentino, managing director of Thunderbird, tried to clarify the future of the software in a Mozilla blog.

Thunderbird users can look forward to upgrades down the road, with versions 14, 15, 16, and 17 on the horizon.

Mozilla also plans to support the application at least until the second half of 2013, according to Piacentino, and is trying to determine how to support it beyond next year. The company will still devote paid staffers to handle the support of Thunderbird, though they may only spend part of their time working on the project.

But beyond support, Mozilla is shifting the hardcore development of Thunderbird from itself to the community.

"To be more specific, Mozilla will no longer focus on developing innovations for Thunderbird but will keep it safe and stable," Piacentino explained. "Mozilla will also provide all the infrastructure required for new, community-developed features to be integrated in upcoming Thunderbird releases."

The application's audience includes a variety of individual and enterprise customers, totaling more than 20 million users, acknowledged Piacentino. The product has gained traction among corporations, governments, and schools, he added.

So why is Mozilla curtailing its development of the software? Tapping into the Web and focusing more on mobile seem to be the core reasons.

"We believe e-mail experience can be improved, for example by leveraging more Web services, as we did for Thunderbird Filelink," Piacentino said. "Mobile ecosystems are pretty much siloed and closed and we think that bringing the Web technologies and values to mobile can make mobile better. Thunderbird remains a very good desktop-only email client but it does not really align with this strategy."

The company is also counting on the open source community to pick up the slack.

"There is also a very strong ecosystem of open source consulting companies dedicated to supporting enterprise deployments," Piacentino added, "and I'm sure they will step up to satisfy their clients, thus improving Thunderbird."