Thunderbird's new home is.. The Mozilla Foundation

Martin Brinkmann
May 9, 2017
Updated • May 22, 2018
Email, Thunderbird

What's going to happen to the Thunderbird email client? This was one question that most users of the desktop program asked themselves when it was revealed that Mozilla wanted to drop the program.

Mozilla's intention in cutting the ties to Thunderbird were mostly caused by a desire to free up resources, and to avoid having to make sure Firefox changes don't impact Thunderbird in a problematic way.

Thunderbird's future was cloudy back then when the Thunderbird Council began talks with various organizations that could become the new home for the project.

Among the candidates were the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), the Document Foundation (TDF), and also a new deal with Mozilla Foundation. The council rejected the idea to establish an independent Thunderbird Foundation at the time as the first step.

thunderbird new home

The reason why SFC and TDF were not picked as Thunderbird's new home is pointed out in the official blog post:

Legally our existence is still under the Mozilla Foundation through their ownership of the trademark, and their control of the update path and websites that we use. This arrangement has been working well from Thunderbird’s point of view. But there are still pain points – build/release, localization, and divergent plans with respect to add-ons, to name a few. These are pain points for both Thunderbird and Firefox, and we obviously want them resolved. However, the Council feels these pain points would not be addressed by moving to TDF or SFC.

The Council managed to generate revenue by collecting donations, and has also made the first steps to migrate the infrastructure. This lead to an interesting revelation: while Mozilla wants to cut the ties to Thunderbird to improve and focus on Firefox development, it also wants the email client to do well, and does not really mind keeping it close under its own umbrella.

While Mozilla wants to be laser-focused on the success of Firefox, in recent discussions it was clear that they continue to have a strong desire to see Thunderbird succeed. In many ways, there is more need for independent and secure email than ever. As long as Thunderbird doesn’t slow down the progress of Firefox, there seems to be no significant obstacles for continued co-existence.

Philipp Kewisch announced today on the official Mozilla Thunderbird website that the new home of the Thunderbird project is its old home. While that sounds like a surprising turn of events at first, things won't be as they were when Mitchell Baker made the announcement back in 2015.

To continue being Thunderbird's home for the foreseeable future, the following is required of the Thunderbird Council:

  1. The Thunderbird Council and Mozilla Foundation "maintain a good working relationship and make decisions in a timely manner".
  2. The Thunderbird team makes "meaningful progress in short order on operational and technical independence from Mozilla Corporation".

Both sides are allowed to give the other a six months notice if they wish "to discontinue the Mozilla Foundation's role as the legal and fiscal host of the Thunderbird project".

Basically, what this means is that Mozilla is giving the Thunderbird project team time to become fully independent. This means, among other things, that the Thunderbird Council is responsible for all operations and the infrastructure.

As far as the future of Thunderbird is concerned, the following was noted:

  1. Thunderbird will continue to rely on the Gecko engine in midterm.
  2. The long term plan is to migrate the code to web technologies.

Now You: What's your take on this development?

Thunderbird's new home is.. The Mozilla Foundation
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Thunderbird's new home is.. The Mozilla Foundation
The Thunderbird Council just announced on the official blog that the new home for the project will be its old at the Mozilla Foundation.
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  1. anonymous said on May 10, 2017 at 1:43 am

    If possible, the Thunderbird team should try to become compatible with the new Firefox changes on their own apart from Mozilla since they want to focus on Firefox. That way, in the future Mozilla may fully take over again without having to split too much resources again for Thunderbird to catch up.

    1. said on May 10, 2017 at 6:25 am

      The most sensible post here yet. Thank you.

  2. Pastabene said on May 9, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Got a good laugh, thank you rant&rave. I understand what you are trying to say and completely agree.

  3. Anonymous said on May 9, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Web Technologies? Ugh!

  4. Rant&Rave said on May 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    What is Thunderbird ? An email program plus addons. When I look at this silly theatric back and forth developement and all the involved (wannabe) important people, I can only shake my head and take my dog for a walk. Lately, poor doggie is walking a lot.

    Seems we are living in a time where there is a plethora of idle talk and committees plus lawyers, and their only goal is to mess up things as much as possible and give it a pompous name. Of course their solution does not work at all so they have to get together again to start their maundering. The beautiful outgrowth is they are getting paid for their moronic results.

    Do they take the users needs into consideration ? Well, to figure this one out they may need at least 47 more committees plus some rainmakers and 19 clairvoyants. A few (27) rainforest magicians may also stand by, just for those tricky fatal moments in decision finding.

    In the end, I am confident, they will get to a conclusion. To meet again, and again and confuse, conceal, intricate, do some fine dining and getting paid very well. And this method does not only apply to the Thunderbird development, indeed it seems to be very typical for this kind of industry. What a time. Thank you and my deepest sympathy for undergoing my midday rant and rave. It came from the heart. :)

    1. Wayne said on May 9, 2017 at 8:46 pm

      Your heart seems to wandered into the weeds. In fact there were no lawyers, multiple committees, etc involved here. And the people who made the decisions on behalf of Thunderbird are long time (think decades), heavily engaged volunteers – no pay involved.

  5. redfern said on May 9, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Could some one please explain what is going on?
    When trying to get my e-mails, I am asked if I want a new e-mail address! No.
    I just want to get to my e-mails which I now can not get in to.

    1. Wayne said on May 9, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      @redfern, this blog is not is not a support site. Problems should be posted to

  6. VinceJ3 said on May 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I will not be happy to witness the slow death of Thunderbird, I have 5 email accounts, so using Thunderbird to aggregate them on the PC desktop (instead of logging into multiple webmail accounts) is a far more efficient way to manage.

    I can’t help but feel T’Bird users are tech dinosaurs. Millennials are dropping email, frequently moving to clear text SMS/MMS on mobile devices. Encrypted email (GnuPG) is a relic, with a dwindling user base. Privacy is becoming old fashioned.

    Modern Times.

    1. Morgano said on May 24, 2017 at 2:50 am

      So rectal palpation is the new hype?
      I’ll keep old fashioned.

    2. Clairvaux said on May 9, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      I disagree completely. Concern for privacy is exploding. The mass-media now carry articles about VPNs, which only a tiny group of weirdos knew about a few years ago. People do rely more on messaging and less on email, but they tend to do it through strongly encrypted services such as Signal, Telegram or WhatsApp.

      Email is still necessary and will probably remain so for a long time, despite its privacy flaws. If only to register with other services and supply some forme of identification…

      PGP has naver taken off, and arguably will never do. Even seasoned cryptography researchers have given up on it, given how unwieldy it is for communication among the general public.

      1. Jody Thornton said on June 10, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        No, I’m afraid that your first sentence is incorrect. You happen to think that privacy concerns are mounting because your tech peers (who also are likely tech enthusiasts, no?) are also voicing concerns about privacy. but shift over to the mobile world – where it’s really at, and no one in that realm give a hooey about privacy. They adore Google and its ecosystem – but most of all: its convenience, and whatever telemetry or information gathering is needed to make it happen then so be it.

      2. b said on May 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

        wonder whether the majority is aware of the fact, that facebook owns WhatsApp. I doubt it. apart from that: luckily you are right. privacy, lawsuits and general information about internet related stuff lands on mainstream front pages increasingly

  7. Appster said on May 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    If you want to continue using an E-Mail client that relies on Thunderbird code have a look at this one:

    1. Fx0 said on May 9, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      Postbox is based on really old Thunderbird code, not really a great alternative.

      1. said on May 14, 2017 at 9:57 am

        @Appster says…

        > However, I am much more relaxed about it than you are, because if the Pale Moon project is to fail indeed, I will still have the option to use something like Vivaldi or even Chrome.

        Chrome isn’t even up for consideration. I’m just as hostile to it as the Pale Moon folks are. On that particular point, I agree with them. And I’m a little sad about one more email client biting the dust since webmail sucks royally. And I’m getting ready to dump Outlook and Hotmail since you can’t even access those accounts it if you’re using a VPN.

        > Still, I agree with you that there is a high probability of failure. Have a look at this post which summarizes there problems accordingly:

        And that’s where my hostility lies. Reading @half-moon’s response is typical of letting dogma get in the way of practical considerations. Due to this ridiculous attitude, they are doomed to fail.

        And unless Waterfox goes the WebExtensions route, I’m afraid it too is doomed in spite of what the guy says.

      2. Jody Thornton said on May 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

        Ewww Boy! I should watch what I write. One of the Pale Moon fanboys is private messaging me repeatedly, lecturing me for my posts here. I just can’t seem to kick him from my leg. And now he’s calling me “unreasonable”, saying “why didn’t I help Moonchild instead of flaming him here”?. But that’s just it. The Moon-Matt clowns won’t park their egos at the door and accept help when it’s offered. They need everyone to bow to them. Sheesh!

      3. Jody Thornton said on May 12, 2017 at 1:09 am


        Yes, I think those points (in addition to those written by RichVideo about Netflix issues) were all well written and presented. But no one wants to ensure compatibility with major sites there. I really liked the Pale Moon community initially, until I realized there was such a huge “fanboy” segment present there. They will defend Moon-Matt to the death on whatever they espouse there. Just sad really. They are fine with their browser not being compatible with certain sites. They preach that web developers should be platform-agnostic, but that’s not in the interests of the social media giants. These companies will not bow down to the interests of lil’ ol’ Pale Moon.

      4. Appster said on May 10, 2017 at 4:27 pm
        Reply I basically agree with your past and present sentiments about Pale Moon. It has only a small team of developers and it often struggles to keep up. In the past this was not much of a concern, since there always was the possibility to rebase their browser on a new Gecko version.

        With the changes Mozilla is planning to introduce this will no longer be possible – exposing a problem. However, I am much more relaxed about it than you are, because if the Pale Moon project is to fail indeed, I will still have the option to use something like Vivaldi or even Chrome. So what? All I am doing is giving them a chance, which is fair IMHO.

        Still, I agree with you that there is a high probability of failure. Have a look at this post which summarizes there problems accordingly:

        Their reaction speaks volumes about them.

      5. said on May 10, 2017 at 6:28 am

        > I would have proposed FossaMail, but the Pale Moon team has killed it off last month or so.

        Gee, I wonder why… /s


        If anything, I would’ve used that before using Pale Moon.

      6. Appster said on May 9, 2017 at 7:15 pm

        Well, it does have a great amount of features included right away, for which you would need add-ons when using Thunderbird. The program does not state which Gecko version it uses specifically, yet as far as I’m aware the team does fix any vulnerabilities found. Not once has it failed to display an E-Mail correctly, so I suppose whichever Gecko version it uses is sufficient for displaying mails.

        I would have proposed FossaMail, but the Pale Moon team has killed it off last month or so.

  8. Maelish said on May 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Now they need to fix that weird bug where `reply` to groups doesn’t reply to the group but to the original poster’s email.

  9. Ben said on May 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    > While Mozilla wants to be laser-focused on the success of Firefox
    Oh? You learn something new every day.

    1. Earl said on May 9, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      It used to be a success… before they became “laser-focused”. Apparently they became blinded regarding what Firefox users actually wanted, I mean, those users who really cared which browser they used and how it worked. Now, it’s becoming a browser for users who feel they might as well be using Chrome anyway.

      1. said on May 14, 2017 at 10:28 am

        Well @John C., if you’re so unhappy about it, then switch to Edge and give Micro$oft that chance to keylog your every move. Wouldn’t you like that? Become their marketing tool? Have them totally own you?

        Because that’s the alternative…

      2. John C. said on May 10, 2017 at 10:33 am

        “Juniper” is INDEED attempting to start an argument, knows that a direct reply to his-her remarks is impossible. Earl, I totally agree with your remarks. Mozilla ruined Firefox with Australis, continues on the direct path towards it becoming a complete Chrome-clone. I’ve already stopped updating it on one of my computers and am on the lookout for alternatives.

        Perhaps somebody will start up something which isn’t based on Chromium and which doesn’t suck badly.

      3. insanelyapple said on May 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm

        They started to fuck up Firefox for good once they get rid of Eich. That was the breakthrough moment for Mozilla, the moment when they decided that they won’t listen to users any more, that corporative goals of bunch of skewed devs enlightened by gender propaganda are more important.

      4. Juniper said on May 9, 2017 at 4:54 pm

        Not starting an argument, just leaving a statement that your summary is definitely not describing anything close to reality as far as I’m concerned. Stating your own need is one thing, dressing it up as broad conclusions another. Firefox is stepping up its game and heating up the coal IMHO, no way I’d use any other browser, let alone Chrome, why on Earth would I do that. I’ll have my cake and eat it without putting a foot outside of the Firefox ecosystem.

        My use case is customisation, privacy and add-ons.

  10. kalmly said on May 9, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I’ve used Thunderbird since forever. I don’t want to see it die, but I don’t want to see it changed to something unrecognizable either. With what they are doing to the browser, I worry about the future of Thunderbird more than ever.

    I use Softmaker’s version of TB so I can have a more classic look and a colorful toolbar, not the ugly, bland Win 10 UI. I don’t use or need add-ons. Please, Mozilla, leave Thunderbird alone.

  11. Johnny said on May 9, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Good decision, cause in the future thunderbird will be Mozilla’s flagship product as firefox is currently going down in flames…

    1. Juniper said on May 9, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      It’s doing the exact opposite from where I stand. The most controversial bit was the steep timeline, which is becoming more acceptable as more is known: Significant Servo components such as webRender, Stylo and another big one I forgot should all be in Firefox 57. Remains to be confirmed whether the Toolbar API or something similar will be implemented by then and it will be a success.

      That’s my viewpoint, I’m not here to start a debate since it’s been discussed a thousand times already.

      And indeed, they’re doing it right for Thunderbird.

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