Switching back to Thunderbird in 2023

In 2023, Thunderbird, although considered an older email client, appears to be regaining popularity. If you previously abandoned it in favor of the user-friendly Gmail or the sleek Mail app on Mac, it might be worth giving Thunderbird another chance after all these years.

Why it lost popularity in the first place? As I understand it there are two main reasons for this. The first one is that as an open source project it didn’t have strong leadership with a unified vision, so all kind of features were added to it without too much consideration – which although made it powerful and customizable, also made it hard to maintain and didn’t made it easy to use.

What were the primary factors contributing to its decline in popularity initially? From my understanding, there are two key reasons behind this shift. The first reason is attributed to the absence of strong leadership and a cohesive vision within the open-source project. This resulted in the addition of various features without thorough deliberation. While this approach enhanced its power and customization capabilities, it simultaneously posed challenges in terms of maintenance and user-friendliness.

The other factor is, which does matter a lot is that it didn’t evolve visually like the rest of the world and after a while it could be even called plain just ugly. This matters a lot more than functionality to the average user who turned to something aesthetically more pleasing.

Another significant factor, which holds considerable importance, is the lack of visual evolution in comparison to other software applications. Over time, Thunderbird’s interface could even be described as plain and unattractive. This aesthetic aspect carries greater significance to the average user than functionality alone, leading them to seek alternatives that offer a more visually pleasing experience.

I remember trying Spark and Mailbird for the first time and I was awed by their simplicity and the cleanliness of the UI. I adored them I used them for years even though they too had their limitations.

When I first experimented with Spark and Mailspring, I was genuinely impressed by their simplicity and the sleekness of their user interface. I adored them, and since Spark is still unavailable for Linux, I used Mailspring for years, even though it too had its limitations.

However, every year I made attempts to discover a superior mail client – the one that would be perfect. Unfortunately, each year, all the options I explored fell short on Linux, whether due to aesthetic concerns or usability issues. As a result, I consistently reverted back to using Mailspring… until I came across an interview discussing the possible return of Thunderbird.

The article acknowledged that the new leadership openly recognizes Thunderbird’s unappealing visual design and messy codebase. However, they are actively working behind the scenes to gradually address these issues. It is important to note that this does not imply an instant improvement in the frontend. According to the article, the process of resolving these issues may require years of hard work.

Well, this was almost a year ago, so I thought why not give Thunderbird a try in 2023? To my surprise the user interface wasn’t ugly anymore, actually it looked pretty nice after some adjustments in the settings. I added my 3 email addresses and a tried to make the layout resemble Mailspring as close as possible.

Yes, there is still a lot of work to do on the dev team’s part, but after setting up the message panel on the right column and setting up the message list pane to my liking, I added a few extensions and am happily using it for more than 2 months by now.

Download Thunderbird

You can download Thunderbird from the official website to any operating system: https://www.thunderbird.net/

If you use Ubuntu or any other distribution based on it, you can use the following command to install it if it is not the default email client already:

$ sudo apt install thunderbird

If your distribution supports Flatpak, I highly recommend using it instead of deb files (apt) or snaps. You can add Flatpak support to most Linux distributions following the instructions here: https://flatpak.org/setup/

To install Thunderbird using Flatpak, issue the following command in the terminal:

$ flatpak install thunderbird

However you might run into various problems if Flatpak was not part of your default installation like missing permissions or the inability to access your home folder from within a program installed with Flatpak. To fix these issues install Flatseal and make the necessary adjustments globally or for each program you use:

$ flatpak install flatseal

Recommended extensions

You can install all of these and many other from inside Thunderbird with a few clicks. Just click on the hamburger menu and select Extensions & Themes.

  • Addon Compatibility Check
    Checks all installed add-ons for compatibility with the next version of Thunderbird, so you can decide if you want to upgrade or not if you need all your extensions working perfectly.
  • Hide Local Folders for TB78++
    Removes the ‘Local Folders’ entry from the folder pane. Probably you too are using IMAP insted of POP3, so you really don’t need that unusable trash there.
  • No Message Pane Sort
    It is extremely easy to change the sorting of the message pane, maybe a bit too easy, but after setting up one folder perfectly and copying it’s settings to all other folders, you can lock down the message pane with this extension.
  • Thunderbird Conversations
    If you are used to how other modern email clients display message threads, this is a must for you too…

In coclusion

I think Thunderbird is pretty usable now and is going in the right direction. With the new leadership I’m hoping it will be a strong competitor among the popular email clients and will reaquire it’s lost market share which in turn would further fuel development.

What do you think? Do you have some other useful extensions that make it even more useful? Do you have a theme that makes it look awesome? Please do comment below.

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