In 2015, Mozilla announced that it would turn Thunderbird — one of the last freestanding, cross-platform email clients — into a freestanding, independent project, and in 2017, Thunderbird became a community-overseen project with institutional backing from Moz.
It was an odd move at the time: the Snowden revelations and the news that Yahoo had provided the NSA with free access to user emails, along with the sputtering out of promising alternatives like Mailpile meant that there was huge, unmet demand for the stable, high-powered email clients that disappeared when Gmail and other webmails started to kill off the Eudoras of the world.
Since then, the Thunderbird team has made real, if incremental progress in stabilizing the old Thunderbird code. I'm a hardcore, daily Thunderbird user, someone who lives in email (if you're thinking of sending me an IM of any kind in the hopes that I'll respond to it, think again: send me an email instead — realtime communications are productivity killers for me), and I've been very glad of this progress (I just donated another $100 to the project).
Now, Thunderbird has laid out its 2019 roadmap, and they're promising more of the same, and better, which is exactly what I was hoping for: more changes to increase the responsiveness of the UI (which has made real progress but has a lot of room for improvement), a UI/UX overhaul, and guidelines to make it easier for lots of people to contribute — Thunderbird's eight full-time, paid contributors will grow to 14 in 2019, with volunteers and other free/open source contributions coming from the wider world.
Thunderbird is a great example of the underfunded and underresourced state of core internet infrastructure (Gnupg/Enigmail, the encryption suite for Thunderbird, is also badly underfunded and this has led to real problems).
The indieweb, if we ever get it, will demand the kinds of tooling that all but died off with the growth of the digital monopolists, and standalone email clients are an excellent place to start. Good luck, Thunderbird team, and godspeed.
We have received considerable feedback asking for UX/UI improvements and, as teased above, we will work on this in 2019. With the addition of new developers we will see some focus on improving the experience for our users across the board in Thunderbird.
For instance, one area of useability that we are planning on addresssing in 2019 is integration improvements in various areas. One of those in better GMail support, as one of the biggest Email providers it makes sense to focus some resources on this area. We are looking at addressing GMail label support and ensuring that other features specific to the GMail experience translate well into Thunderbird.
We are looking at improving notifications in Thunderbird, by better integrating with each operating system's built-in notification system. By working on this feature Thunderbird will feel more "native" on each desktop and will make managing notifications from the app easier.
The UX/UI around encryption and settings will get an overhaul in the coming year, whether or not all this work makes it into the next release is an open question – but as we grow our team this will be a focus. It is our hope to make encrypting Email and ensuring your private communication easier in upcoming releases, we've even hired an engineer who will be focused primarily on security and privacy. Beyond that, Thunderbird can do a lot so we'll be looking into improving the experience around settings so that it is easier to find and manage what you're looking for.
Thunderbird in 2019 [Ryan Sipes/Thunderbird blog]