Thunderbird's development plan proposes a user interface rebuilt from the ground up


Thunderbird version 115 will be released in July, it will be a complete update with interface and code changes.

The developers of the Thunderbird email client have published a development plan for the next three years and in which Thunderbird's head of product design presents his views about where the Thunderbird email client is headed.

Thunderbird is fast approaching its XNUMXth anniversary as a standalone email client and will launch in July this year version 115 «Supernova". In the development plan, which has a specified time frame, the project intends to achieve three main objectives.

As Thunderbird's product design lead, I have a good overview of what's going on and where things are headed. Consider this article (and accompanying video below) the first painting in a more comprehensive story showing where Thunderbird is headed, and why some of the things we're doing may seem counter-intuitive.

Some of the discussion points below may be divisive. They might strike a chord. But we believe in being transparent and open about our past and our future.

With the release of the Thunderbird 115 “Supernova” this year, we are doing more than just an annual release. It is a modern revision of the software, both visually and technically. Thunderbird is going through a massive overhaul from the ground up to get rid of all the technical and interface debt accumulated over the last 10 years.

It is not an easy task, but it is necessary to guarantee the viability of the project for the next 20 years.

Simply "filling in" crumbling architecture is not sustainable, and we can no longer ignore it.

During the next 3 years, the Thunderbird project will focus on:

  • Redesign the user interface from scratch to create a user interface suitable for different categories of users (beginners and veterans), easily customizable to your own preferences and a consistent design system.
  • Increase the reliability and compactness of the codebase, rewrite outdated code, and get rid of backlogs (get rid of technical debt).
  • Transition to the monthly formation of new releases.

Thunderbird is a monolithic application that has been developed by thousands of people over two decades. Making major changes, like we're doing with Supernova, requires very careful thought.

All these changes will be immediately visible, but they will be better prepared especially in the next three years, as it will be a long-term job to do away with what the team itself calls "an old and fragile Lego tower", in which the novelties are simply placed on a base rickety. 

In addition, it must be taken into account that, despite the important changes mentioned above, the software will remain open source, so all developers will be able to contribute.

Supernova will be the first significant step in this direction, just in time for Mozilla's XNUMXth anniversary and the next ESR version of Firefox. The team had given a preview of the interface type in preparation in November by posting a screenshot of the work in progress in the calendar part.

Thunderbird is literally a set of code that runs on top of Firefox. All the tabs and sections you see in our apps are just browser tabs with a custom user interface.

We like to use Firefox as the base architecture because it takes advantage of all the good things in it. Things like cross-platform support, Gecko web renderer, Spidermonkey JavaScript compiler, etc.

By doing so, Thunderbird can follow Firefox through its release cycle, inherit security patches, gain support for extensions, and more.

This is obviously more complex, as it takes a lot of C++, JS, CSS, and XHTML to make sure everything works correctly. Using a solid base architecture like Firefox is the perfect starting point.

Unfortunately, this approach comes at a high cost.

For those who don't know or don't remember, the first version of Thunderbird was released almost 20 years ago. The email client is derived from Firefox and actually uses the same rendering engines (Gecko) and JavaScript (SpiderMonkey). Mozilla took care of the development of the client until 2012, after which it was left in the hands of the community, a factor that has had a positive influence on several fronts, but has also led to some drawbacks, such as the lack of a roadmap to which continue to continue development.

Finally if you are interested in knowing more about it, you can check the details In the following link.

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