It would be incorrect to say that Thunderbird is dead. Rather, Mozilla appears to have moved the desktop email client from the hospital to hospice, and it's now up to the community to decide just how development on the app should continue – if it's to continue at all.
In a recent post on Mozilla chair Mitchell Baker's blog, Baker makes the grim announcement that, "continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla's product efforts."
Mozilla is instead using the resources it would otherwise spend on Thunderbird development to refocus on "on-going security and stability," according to Thunderbird managing director Jb Piacentino in a leaked email.
"We're not 'stopping' Thunderbird, but proposing we adapt the Thunderbird release and governance model in a way that allows both ongoing security and stability maintenance, as well as community-driven innovation and development for the product," Piacentino writes. "This will mean an eventual shift in how we staff Thunderbird at Mozilla Corporation – we are still working out details, but some people will likely end up on other Mozilla projects."
According to Baker, the current plan for Thunderbird involves Mozilla switching to an "Extended Support Release" cycle – after one final update brings all the current features of Thunderbird to this second version of the app and vice versa. From there, Mozilla's planning to update the Thunderbird ESR release every six weeks for approximately one year before the app reaches its official "end-of-life" phase. Thunderbird will receive the same updates along the same scheduling, but Mozilla notes that its features might begin to differ as a result of community contributions.
"Most Thunderbird users seem happy with the basic email feature set," Baker writes. "In parallel, we have seen the rising popularity of web-based forms of communications representing email alternatives to a desktop solution. Given this, focusing on stability for Thunderbird and driving innovation through other offerings seems a natural choice."
Mozilla just launched Thunderbird (version 13) in early June, which integrated a new feature that allows users to register for a domain name and generate a customised email address all through the app itself (with some assistance from domain and email hosting services Hover and Gandi).
Thunderbird also unveiled its partnership with YouSendIt in that release, which gives users the ability to integrate a YouSendIt account directly within Thunderbird to more easily email files that exceed a particular attachment size.