Is Thunderbird, Desktop Email Dying Out?

Is Thunderbird, Desktop Email Dying Out?

There was a time when Mozilla’s email client, Thunderbird, was just as exciting a game-changer as Firefox. These days, we can’t help but wonder if Thunderbird—and most desktop email, for that matter—is doomed.

Web site ComputerworldUK discusses the decline of Thunderbird, whose adoption rates “are an order of magnitude lower” than Firefox. They assign the blame to a couple of things: First, that Thunderbird add-ons are nowhere close to as game-changing as Firefox add-ons, so no one is talking about how they couldn’t live without Thunderbird and extension X. More importantly, however, the author claims that email itself is dying—and that more and more, people are turning to relatively spam-free forms of opt-in communication like Facebook and Twitter.

You’d have to pry Gmail from my cold, dead hands before I’d move all of my internet communication to Facebook or Twitter, but the fact remains: Thunderbird has lost its luster. But so has desktop email in general, especially as sophisticated web-based email like Gmail offers its own killer add-ons via Gmail Labs—including offline Gmail, which delivers a deathblow to one of desktop email’s greatest features: offline access. More often than not, the only people I know that use Thunderbird do so only to regularly backup their email—which they access over the web.

Many readers have agreed with this point of view, but we’d like to hear more about what you think. Is Thunderbird, and desktop email in general, going the way of the dodo? What would it take to get you using Thunderbird as your primary email client? Whether you agree or disagree completely, we want to hear more about your relationship with desktop email in the comments.

How Can We Save Thunderbird Now Email is Dying? [ComputerworldUK via open…]


  • I don’t think the Desktop Client is dead, its such a shame that Thunderbird just doesn’t have the functionality that I need (built in tasks, calendar, meeting management etc) – I guess similar to Outlook had.

    In corporate environments where email is more managed, Web mail is unlikely to take off. Aside from the traffic implications (here in Australia internet bandwidth is extremely expensive) there are the security and privacy implications (most businesses would NOT want their email hosted “in the cloud” accessible by other governments without their knowledge and permission). In some organisations this would actually break laws or regulations.

    At the personal level, I use Gmail (its an excellent spam filter) with IMAP to Gives me the best of both worlds – instant access to email when I’m offline (e.g. travelling) and synchronised everywhere. Web access for emergencies (e.g. stolen laptop). But I am concerned about Google, Microsoft, or whoever using my email contents/habits to build up a profile for marketing or advertising.

  • I am proud to say I am still using Thunderbird as my default email client (using Gmail’s IMAP). And while I do occasionally dip into the web interface to tweak some settings, I rarely touch it. Perhaps the need for a useful desktop interface has kept it on my computer for so long. And of course the addons…

  • I agree that Thunderbird really needs to get some features that almost every other email client has like Tasks/Reminders, Calendar, etc.. but saying that people prefer to use things like Facebook,etc. just shows that people dont realise that if they cannot access those sites (which are commonly blocked in business environments) it means that they cannot communicate.

    what is going to happen if sites like facebook suddenly drop off (loss of financial backing for example), no way to get your personal stuff back, no way to get your contacts back, etc…Which is something that people need to consider with the current financial climate.

    Personally I will never give up on my email address with the ISP, besides like a lot of things like this, just because you can communicate like this doesnt mean that you communications remain private. Places like facebook arent really a goverment regulated area and can do what they wish with what ever you post there regardless of their privacy policy.

  • I do not think email or desktop based email clients are going anywhere soon. In addition to the good points given by pingudownunder I would add that though Twitter and Facebook are great tools, I don’t think many people trust them for any truly private communication. I would add that I feel the majority of those who do are not aware of how accessible that information is to others. To reiterate a point from Pingupowder, email is essential for any business.

    I think It has a fair bit to do with Mozilla’s efforts seeming to be so focused on Firefox. Admittedly I haven’t tried the latest beta but it doesn’t seem to have the same level of innovation as Firefox 3 did. I do not think this is due to a lack of potential for innovation in the area but rather a lack of applied effort. This is not because Mozilla are under valuing TB. I think this is because of the recent leap in Firefox’s adoption.

    Still I hope after the buzz around 3.5 that Mozilla will start pumping their considerable brain power into into introducing innovations and improvements into Thunderbird.

  • I use a desktop email client instead of Gmail for a number of reasons:

    – Gmail’s JavaScript-enhanced interface slows down my browsing experience. It’s not just on the tab containing the Gmail page, but on the other tabs as well. This happens even with the newest JavaScript engine features enabled in about:config on the latest beta of Firefox 3.5.

    – I have several email addresses that I use independently. Gmail will retrieve email from other POP3 accounts, but it doesn’t support IMAP and it’s limited to only 5 accounts.

    – There’s no easy send/receive functionality for POP3 accounts. This means a frustrating delay when I’m waiting for an important email.

    – Although I can send an email from another account via the Gmail interface, my Gmail account is still identified in the header of the sent email. I think that some email clients display this along with the default view of the email (“sent by [email protected] on behalf of Ghodmode”). Professionally, this is unacceptable.

    – Gmail groups messages by subject and doesn’t have any way of disabling this feature. This makes chronological sorting of messages useless and sometimes it even groups unrelated messages.

    – Gmail doesn’t provide a clear way to filter messages based on arbitrary parts of the header.

    Only a few of these issues exist with other desktop email clients, but I use Thunderbird because it seems to have a lot of potential and a relatively strong community. Of course Thunderbird’s community is pitiful when compared to Firefox’s, but every software support community is pitiful when compared to Firefox’s. When compared to the community behind Kmail or Evolution, for example, Thunderbird seems to have more buzz and more potential.

    — Ghodmode

  • I have Thunderbird happily talking to Google Calendar for full Outlook like functionality. It took all of 3 mins. As for email on the desktop – for eprsonal use it may be declining but in the corporate world it is a neccesity.

  • Desktop email is not dead by any stretch of the imagination. Facebook, Twitter, etc are all fads of the last couple of years, and will surely fade in the next few years, but email has been with us since the beginning of the net as we know it.

    I’m really not sure why you lot are so besotted with GMail – it has MANY faults and foibles. I use a POP email service for family and friends, on a privately-hosted domain. I also use Fastmail, as a MUCH better webmail service than GMail, for the main email to the rest of the world out there. Check out for examples.

    Twitter is pure inane waffle – who the hell wants to know what I’m doing right now? I certainly don’t want to know what anyone else is doing….

    Facebook is a surrogate for interfacing with real people in the real world. Sure it can be useful for those stuck at home, with no phone (or email…) but tends to become addictive and more socially disruptive than LAN Gaming parties! The exact opposite of what it is alleged to do, in fact.

    Nope – email will be with us till the net is dead. And preferably plain text email….

    And yes – I use Mac Mail to access all my POP and IMAP webmail into the one inbox, but Thunderbird is on my wife’s computer, with several extensions including the Contacts Sidebar and the Lightning Calendar.

  • A little late to comment, but I have just switched from using GMail with offline access to Thunderbird with the Lightning extension.

    I’m a netbook user, and I actually find that running Thunderbird with an extension is so much faster than having a tab each for gmail, google calendar, and remember the milk. To boot, I can’t add these extras into gmail as a lot of users would because I don’t have the desktop real-estate to spare.

    I think that its not just the environment (ie. corporate vs personal), but also its functionality in relation to what you are using. Honestly, the inconvenience of multiple tabs is far outweighed by the convenience of the all purpose app.

  • I use thunderbird, firstly because its free and it is available in Windows as well as Ubuntu. Also i have multiple email ids, so i just can keep track and maintain all of them in one application. I have also set my google calender on it so i can synchronize the my calender everywhere i go. I am waiting for a killer task application on Thunderbird which can put my Gmail tasks in there. I love thunderbird, because now i get less distracted, like earlier i used to open gmail and see everytime whether there were any emails or not. But now i can let thunderbird run in background and be informed when any email has arrived or not.
    So i would say that i would still prefer thunderbird and will use it day in and day out. 🙂

  • Well, reading a lot of technology articles got me interested in both Firefox & Thunderbird at around the same time. While my fascination with Firefox has grown manifold, I gave up using Thunderbird long time back. There were a number of reasons behind that –
    – I can’t afford to download all my messages because bandwidth up here in India is expensive. And I just can’t trust my machine to backup my emails. Also, if your webmail account doesn’t have IMAP (ancient Yahoo mail for example!), Thunderbird is not that great to use.
    – Extensions. I unfortunately couldn’t find any ‘killer’ extensions.
    – The only place where I would love to use Thunderbird is my office (I use Outlook there which does serve me really well though). But damn the TechSupport guys and their loyalty to Microsoft. They wouldn’t ever let me run Thunderbird.

    Keeping my fingers crossed to see if Thunderbird survives the tough times. 🙂

  • Greetings – and Thunderbird rules for the following, 1) open source, 2) I’m extremely mistrustful and cynical about potential abuse of data mining and having some huge corporate pencil-necks looking over my emails, possibly looking for key words to profile me by, 3) and people actually tolerate advertising keyed to their email content? I’m not sure about Gmail or that other shibe, but I can get very strong encryption and and privacy keys too.

    Finally, Webmail, and that other crap . . . what did one person call it “Twitter is pure inane waffle . . . and is for . . . ” . . . . .” Well, I better not say that word. My comment may be sluiced to /dev/null.

    My wife uses webmail because . . . beep, I don’t know . . . she’s brain-dead when it comes to computers and she’s familiar with clicking on buttons ’cause she spends hours and hours shopping on the Internet, lol.

    I find it ironic that in a comment above, a person said his IT people love Microsoft. Crap, at the University of Washington Medical Center, the IT people hated Microsoft $oftware with a passion seldom seen in this world. And the MicroSuck Corporate headquarters are just across a lake in Redmond, WA.

    They all were Unix lovers big time.

    The last and best reason I love Thunderbird is that it is NOT a product from MicroSuck$.

    One last thing . . . I’ve read a lot about you Aussies and Australia rules big time. Love ya.

    Regards, Doug Johnson, Az, USA

    PS – May the Criminal President Bush and his lackey Donald Henry Rumsfeld be indicted for crimes against humanity ASAP, and tried in Australia.

  • I first used Netscape, then moved to Thunderbird. Frankly, I like and use Thunderbird just the way it is. I will never be using facebook, twitter etc as I consider them frivolous for how I use the internet and interact with friends.

    mark bower

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!