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Thunderbird in 2019

By Ryan Sipes, Mozilla

Sandra Motley Tapped to Run Nokia Fixed Networks Business Group

January 4, 2019

From the Thunderbird team we wish you a Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019, and in this blog post we’ll look at what we got accomplished in 2018 and look forward to what we’re going to be working on this year.

Looking Back on 2018

More Eggs in the Nest

Our team grew considerably in 2018, to eight staff working full-time on Thunderbird. At the beginning of this year we are going to be adding as many as six new members to our team. Most of these people with the exception of this author (Ryan Sipes, Community Manager) are engineers who will be focused on making Thunderbird more stable, faster, and easier to use (more on this below).

The primary reason we’ve been able to do this is an increase in donors to the project. We hope that anyone reading this will consider giving to Thunderbird as well. Donations from individual contributors are our primary source of funding, and we greatly appreciate all our supporters who made this year so successful!

Thunderbird 60

We released the latest ESR, Thunderbird 60 – which saw many improvements in security, stability, and the app’s interface. Beyond big upgrades to core Thunderbird, Thunderbird’s calendar saw many improvements as well.

For the team this was also a big learning opportunity. We heard from users who upgraded and loved the improvements, and we heard from users who encountered issues with legacy add-ons or other changes that they hurt their workflow.

We listened, and will continue to listen. We’re going to build upon what made Thunderbird 60 a success, and work to address the concerns of those users who experienced issues with the update. Hiring more staff (as mentioned above) will go a long way to having the manpower needed to build even better releases going forward.

A Growing Community

Early in the year, a couple of members of the Thunderbird team visited FOSDEM – from then on we worked hard to ensure our users and contributors that Thunderbird was spreading its wings and flying high again.

That work was rewarded when folks came to help us out. The folks at Ura Design worked on us on a few initiatives, including a style guide and user testing. They’ve also joined us in working on a new UX team, which we very much expect to grow with a dedicated UX designer/developer on staff in the new year. If you are interested in contributing or following along, you can join the UX team mailing list here.

We heard from many users who were excited at the new energy that’s been injected into Thunderbird. I received many Emails detailing what our userbase loved about Thunderbird 60 and what they’d like to see in future releases. Some even said they’d like to get involved, so we made a page with information on how to do that.

We still have some areas to improve on this year, with one of them being onboarding core contributors. Thunderbird is a big, complex project that isn’t easy to jump into. So, as we closed out the year I opened a bug where we can detail what documentation needs to be created or updated for new members of the community – to ensure they can dive into the project.

Plans for 2019

So here we are, in 2019. Looking into the future, this year looks bright for the Thunderbird project. As I pointed out earlier in this post, we start the new year with the hiring of some new staff to the Thunderbird team. Which will put us at as many as 14 full-time members on our staff. This opens up a world of possibilities for what we are able to accomplish, some of those goals I will detail now.

Making Thunderbird Fly Faster

Our hires are already addressing technical debt and doing a fair bit of plumbing when it comes to Thunderbird’s codebase. Our new hires will also be addressing UI-slowness and general performance issues across the application.

This is an area where I think we will see some of the best improvements in Thunderbird for 2019, as we look into methods for testing and measuring slowness – and then put our engineers on architecting solutions to these pain points. Beyond that, we will be looking into leveraging new, faster technologies in rewriting parts of Thunderbird as well as working toward a multi-process Thunderbird.

A More Beautiful (and Useable) Thunderbird

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.

So Much More

There are a still a few things to work out for a 2019 roadmap. But if you’d like to see a technical overview of our plans, take a look at this post on the Thunderbird mailing list.

Support Thunderbird

If you are excited about the direction that Thunderbird is headed and would like to support the project, please consider becoming a donor to the project. We even have a newsletter that donors receive with news and updates about the project (and awesome Thunderbird art). You can even make a recurring monthly gift to Thunderbird, which is much appreciated. It’s the folks that have given of their time or donated that have made 2018 a success, and it’s your support that makes the future look bright for Thunderbird.

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