Lightning-in-Thunderbird status update

For some time, we (the Thunderbird release-drivers) have been exploring how to best integrate calendar functionality into Thunderbird.  Time for an update.

The current plan is to work with the Lightning Add-on community to make a version of it available as an add-on to Thunderbird 3 after we ship later this year.  This is a change from our initial plan of integrating all of Lightning into Thunderbird by default.  Our thinking has evolved based on both technical and product reasons:

  • the calendar team has had a tough time of figuring out how Lightning needed to change to integrate optimally in Thunderbird, in large part because Thunderbird 3 itself has been somewhat of a moving target — Thunderbird’s interface model is still shifting, which is certainly hard on add-on developers
  • partially as a result, there’s a fair amount of work left to do on Lightning before it’s ready to present as part of the core product.  For example, it’s not yet possible to selectively enable the task management or calendaring features; the account configuration is a bit too hard to get right for novice users; error messages are still too cryptic — that sort of thing.
  • looking at Lightning as an addition to the core project, it would represent a lot of new, complex code, with a lot of implied maintenance — we don’t have enough developers on hand to be able to take on that commitment at this stage.  See Philipp’s post on this topic for more information, especially if you’re keen to help out.
  • we try to avoid feature changes in between major releases, and limit minor updates to security fixes.  This would mean that feature changes to Lightning would have to wait for the next major release of Thunderbird.  That would be a real shame.
  • more generally, we recognize that different users need different kinds of calendaring solutions.  Just as there are more and more messaging systems, there is a growing diversity in calendar usage models, such as web calendars, stand alone clients, and calendar and event applications on social networking platforms.

Given all this, we feel the best plan is to take advantage of our add-on ecosystem, to allow a variety of calendaring features to evolve, and to allow Lightning to evolve at whatever pace is best for it, less tied to Thunderbird’s schedule.  Lightning is by far the most popular and important Thunderbird add-on, and we’re going to see what we can do to make it better and more successful, both on the development side, as well as on the promotion side.  Also, thanks to Thunderbird 3’s new add-on manager, it will be easier for users to find and install, which I expect will lead to even greater adoption.

In short: expect a version of Lightning that will work with Thunderbird 3; expect it to have more frequent releases than Thunderbird major release numbers; talk to philipp if you want to help!


  1. Thats a shame, but the reasoning makes sense.

    The biggest problem I see with this is people saying they can’t move from Outlook to Thunderbird because it doesn’t support a calendar. I appreciate that isn’t true, that can be the impression and the Mozilla websites need to be carefully designed to avoid that.

    I think a single executable that installed Thunderbird and Lightning would give the best of both worlds, has that been considered?


  2. Ian: bundling the two is basically the same as integrating them, with all of the same issues. Of course, it’s fine for someone (e.g. a university or corporate IT person) to put together a version of thunderbird with Lightning and other add-ons, and distribute that — but we don’t have the bandwidth to do that on an internet-scale, and deal with all that that implies in terms of maintenance, updates, etc.

    I don’t think Mozilla sites imply anything they shouldn’t in this regard — if they do, let us know!


  3. Yes…This absolutely right decision. Making use of addon echo system is necessary to give user flexibility. This will allow feature addition much faster to calender.

    Regarding “different kinds of calendaring solutions for different people” Then why you have google calender as default support on Lightening ? Why not others ? Or why not google calender support as separate addon ?


  4. Major move from Thunderbird
    IMHO major downturn

    Since Mozilla Foundation decision to split Firefox and Thunderbird, I worry about my favorite mail client.
    I use Thunderbird in a corporate environment.
    Thunderbird seemed an alternative to Outlook/Exchange environment.
    Without calendar, Thunderbird is an alternative for Outlook Express.

    Calendar was your first feature to add to TB 3 in your initial post on 2/19/08
    So far calendar remains in Thunderbird 3 scope.
    I never understood why Calendar team was not fully integrated in Mozilla Messaging because it was in TB 3 core feature.
    Now that TB 3 reach “money time”, you simply decide to put calendar in a basic extension.
    So you give up calendar as a core TB 3 feature and don’t support one of your best extension team.

    Mozilla Messaging is under Mozilla Foundation full control.
    Mitchell Baker posted on 09/17/07 that beside initial $3 million dollars in seed funding, Mozilla may well invest additional funds.
    Based on Philipp Kewisch posting, calendar need it.
    Calendar team seems in great danger.
    Just do it, request additional funds, integrate Calender project in Mozilla messaging and back-up Thunderbird future.

    Thunderbird without integrated calendar is far from what was committed.
    Corporate won’t trust anymore Mozilla Messaging.
    They’ll look for others software because it does not respect its commitment.
    I doubt that you’ll increase your number of users by changing TB scope at beta stage and giving up #1 requested future.


  5. It’s understandable that you don’t want to wait too long with releasing TB3 while the Lightning integration is fully completed. The wait has been long enough. It is also true that new versions of Lightning has been released MUCH more often than TB’s. It is also the case that the couple of clicks it takes to install the Lightning add-on shouldn’t be that much of a headache. But still, I think integrated calendaring and task management IS important for TB’s future, especially in a business environment (and it seems to me that e-mail is increasingly a business tool while chat is taking over when it comes to private use). And it’s not only the ease of installation: corporate users will undoubtedly have less trust for an add-on than for the core product itself with some kind of a “proper” entity behind it.

    For the immediate future my suggestion would be to feature links to “community build downloads” on the TB site, enabling users to download and install TB with Lightning included. These builds could be updated to include the latest security release of TB and the latest version of Lightning by the user community. Of course it should be made clear that these are not official releases by Mozilla Communications.

    It would get us at least halfway there, without requiring the existing TB team to do extra work…

    Finally, I think the Lightning team would deserve the recognition of somehow becoming part of the core TB team. I understand that it is easier said than done for financial reasons and the likes, but this most important add-on does need the moral (and perhaps financial backing) of the Mozilla group (although this support may already be present in one way or another).


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  7. Keeping Lightning as an add-on is fine with me as long as they get the Calendar team gets the developer support they definitely need. Treat it as an add-on but as a premium add-on.

    Maybe Thunderbird could actively ask during installation if the user wants to download and add Lightning.

    But what currently would keep me from switching from TB2 to TB3 is the lack of the today pane in mail view. It’s an upgrade blocker for me. As long as that does not work, I will stick to TB2 + Lightning 0.9 which actually works fine for me.


  8. Hello,
    I really understand that most user want to have a Lighning FireBird application, which supports all their whiches with one or two clicks.

    But who really needs such a single bloated application anyway?

    I’m very pleased with an application which is small in size, fast in starting and operating and is modular, which means can all be customized by extensions!

    That a true gift!

    I understand (and for me its the same reason) that most user cannot and won’t move from outlook to thunderbird (or sunbird) until the calendar is finally working (and what we see right now, is far away from that, i sadly have to commit) like a somewhat outlook-clone, and i don’t think, it will work in the next 5 years (just by watching the projects over the years…), but i’m looking forward to have a single small and fast application (sunbird/thunderbird/firefox/…) which does all it can to please the users whiches 🙂

    have fun all


  9. I am in the process of swapping from Outlook to Thunderbird. I figured it would be nice to skip Thunderbird 2 and get on board the beta. It all seems to work, except for the lightning-addon. The current nightly does not seem to be compatible with 3.0b1.

    I did some reading but the only solution seems to be to install a nightly of Thunderbird. This is something I’d rather not do.

    What’s the best way here? Will there be a compatible Lightning-addon soon, or should I wait for the final release of 3.0 (which might still be far away)?


  10. Overall the decision makes a lot of sense: +1!

    But it does mean that the software will have far fewer users.

    Mitigating that downside boils down to marketing skills, which hasn’t historically been Thunderbird’s strong suit.

    To illustrate the current state of play, consider a new user who wants calendering and installs Tb3b2.

    First they have to know that it’s available via an addon. Once they find the addon manager they can browse or search.
    Lightning doesn’t appear in the “recommended addons” window so browsing doesn’t help. And a search for “calendar” doesn’t list Lightning at all:

    The other aspect of this decision is that it limits Thunderbird’s ability to promote calendaring to users who aren’t going to go out and look for calendaring but might use it if it’s there. Webmail providers do this very well – cross-promoting features to deepen user engagement.

    So … a sound strategic and technical decision but with some important marketing downsides.


  11. Heribert:
    “Maybe Thunderbird could actively ask during installation if the user wants to download and add Lightning.”

    That’s the best solution in current situation. That’s something that MUST BE DONE to drag as many people from M$ Outlook as possible.


  12. Ugh, that’s bad news. I do understand it’s necessary for technical reasons, but who’s gonna use Thunderbird now?

    Most individuals now use webmails and I can’t think of any feature that would attract them to a desktop MUA.

    Corporate users need a reliable MUA as a collaboration tool — this includes sharing calendars (and PIM sync, but that’s another story). Thunderbird being already more difficult to deploy than Outlook, having Lightning as a separate add-on won’t help.

    Silly question: will Mozilla Messenging support Lightning financially?


  13. This may be a good decision, considering limited finances and the goal to get TB3 out as soon as possible. But I’m just a User, not very well informed, so I hope you don’t mind if I ask if there will be features in TB3 that won’t be in Postbox (other then Add-Ons)?


  14. I am entirely in agreement with commenter Horst Horstens. I do not see any good reason why an email client should also be a PIM, and I value the fact that T’bird is a small lightweight client without the bloat of Outlook or Evolution. If people want an Outlook-clone, Evolution is there.

    All that is needed, it seems to me, is integration between calendar, email MUA and address book. If an MUA can launch a web browser from a simple HTTP URI, and a web browser can launch an email client from a mailto: URI, then all we need is appointment URIs and contact URIs and we can keep all these things as neat little separate apps.

    Monolithic do-it-all apps is the Microsoft way, the Windows way. T’bird and Firefox and Lightning are not Windows apps – they are cross-platform, Windows and OS X and Unix apps. Let us not copy MS’ errors.

    In other words: Keep ’em separated.


  15. This is a shame and I don’t fully agree with the decision. I understand it, but don’t agree with it.

    I don’t know of any popular major webmail provider or service that does not offer a calendar app by default. Consumers expect it now and so do users of Outlook. How can Thunderbird move forward without including a calendar feature and consider it to be new or cutting edge when it doesn’t include such a basic feature?

    I love add-ons, I admit that, I’m an add-on junkie for Firefox and Thunderbird but that’s me. I’m an experienced user who considers himself to be a power user. As always, I’m thinking of the average Internet user who may not be so technically inclined. We’re already fighting hard to get them to install a whole new stand alone app that they do not absolutely need thanks to webmail, but we know that they’d love if they tried it.

    Learning new software is hard enough for many but learning it all in once place in one shot is helpful so we might as well put it all in front of them to begin with and not have them first wonder where the calendar feature is, then, find a link to Lightning, click a link, download it, install it, restart Thunderbird, and then begin to learn it.
    Thunderbird add-ons are still not the easiest to install for many Thunderbird users by the way.

    Some people may not have any experience with installing add-ons. Not all Firefox users use or even knows how to install add-ons and we count on a spill over from Firefox users to try Thunderbird.
    I initially tried Thunderbird 1.0 after installing Firefox 1.0 figuring that Thunderbird is a Mozilla product just as Firefox is (the software that I had just been blown away by)
    so it must be as good as Firefox and I suspect that many people who try Thunderbird have done so and will do so for the same reasoning as that.

    I don’t want my Thunderbird to be a full PIM, if I do, there are plenty of add-ons to do that, but I would expect that my Thunderbird would include the most basic of features (though it’s complicated software) which includes a calendar feature.

    Setting up a new profile for Thunderbird is a lot of work. I wouldn’t mind having a calendar ready to go when I do create one.
    Again though, I can handle installing an add-on, I’ve done so for Lightning for as long as I have been using it, but it isn’t a good idea to not include Lightning by default from a marketing or usability point of view.

    We all know of the quality and awesomeness of Thunderbird. It’s primetime, but we’re keeping Thunderbird small and in the past by not taking some risks and making some investments. Mozilla is committed to Thunderbird, so pull the trigger and put some finances into Lightning. It’s as silly as not including a bookmarks manager in Firefox. Why should there be one? There are hundreds of online services and add-ons that can handle the task.
    I’m tired of Thunderbird being the app that could but only if someone cared enough.
    Well David, you care enough and you do everyday when you wake up and steer the ship.

    I do hope that a better remedy is provided other than just not including Lightning.
    At the very least, a clear and prominent notice should be made available as to the fact that there is a calendar feature available for Thunderbird and there should be a direct and easy way to install it.

    If at this time, we are not focusing on adoption but instead relying on the already established user base than ok, but I suspect that isn’t the case.


  16. I’m an “end user” who’s tried to migrate from Outlook 2002 a few times and gave up each time.
    I finally set up Thunderbird with Lightening, then removed Lightening and set up Sunbird. Using TB and SB as separate programs, I can put them both on screen at the same time and consult the email and calendar without having to toggle back and forth. Contra the popular view about integration, as an unintended result of migrating from outlook, I found out that a separate email and calendar program is better.

    I’d like to see 3 things in Thunderbird: 1) the list of emails doesn’t have a column for “cc” or “bcc” – so when I look at the list, I can’t tell who got the emails unless I highlight each email individually and look at the “preview” pane (that’s outlook talk) below the email list (outlook has a “field chooser” function to customize what properties show up in your list);
    2) Thunderbird does not let me choose on a folder by folder basis to automatically file replies in the folder in which the replied to email is located. In Thunderbird that feature applies to all folders or none. In outlook, you could specify by folder; and 3) migration of data from Outlook was … well, I’ll just say stressful and time consuming. If I recall, it was the address book folders that came over strangely and disorganized. Making migration of PST. data smooth and easy would be the single best way to greatly increase the number of users of TB.

    Other TB annoyances that may just need more time devoted to learning: A) The word wrap seems to vary regardless of where I set it; B) and a good signature feature for multiple signatures would really make TB useful – the add-on Signature Switch (I realize that’s beyond your scope here) is hard for me to figure out

    And re. Lightening/Sunbird: it would be useful to see several months displayed in the “Dates” view (on the left side in Sunbird), not just one month.


  17. In my opinion, another big problem that prevents the introduction of TB in a corporate environment is the poor supprt to ldap:
    1) it is not yet possbile to modify an enter in a shared addressbook (evolution does it)
    2) TB does not recognize “groupofnames”, then it is not possible to use mailing lists of contacts stored on a ldap addressbook (evolution does it).


  18. Looks like almost everybody agrees Lightning is a real asset which should definitely have support from MailCo by assigning one or more people to Lightning development.

    As for Liam: Itip/Imip (invites by mail) is a real-world scenario even though you probably don’t use it. There’s people who want a mail-client with calendaring and there’s people who want a mail-client without calendaring. In order to get/keep marketshare in corporate environments and more-and-more people need calendaring too.

    I think heriberts suggestion is great: ask during installation! As for the today-pane, this error is definitely the blocker for lightning 1.0. This is something both Lightning and TB devs are working on as it affects them both.

    As for Sunbird, let’s hope volunteers can keep up with porting the changes in Lightning to sunbird.

    My personal opinion is TB will be useless (not really useless but less usefull anyway) without Lightning… David, please consider the remarks here and on the lightning blog and support Lightning with manpower!!!


  19. Calendar was the first feature to add to TB 3. IMHO it’s counter-productive not to produce a Calendar feature when TB 3 is released (this being said, I think Calendar should be technically an add-on, but Mozilla should provide 2 distributions: TB or TB+Calendar from download pages).

    Calendar is a feature being developped for such a long, long, time. Not providing Calendar feature with TB 3 release is too much disappointing and like sending a marketing message saying “never” or “please, use webmail instead” or “just wait for 2012 or 2015”. Too bad.

    As Mozilla Messaging is under Mozilla Foundation full control, I see 2 options:

    (1) ask Mozilla Foundation more funding to work more on Calendar.

    (2) call for community funding to speed up Calendar development, and maybe some other “little” features, to look “more corporate business-oriented” and then, for wider community TB adoption.

    I suggest the following for option (2) :

    – publish, on a page, TB development efforts needing more funding (Calendar + maybe few other little things): and say that, without funding, these features are going to come in much more later.

    – create a simple poll in order to let people enter the amount of cash they may give to speed up such developments.

    – spread the news, and after 1 month, if the total amount of cash is big enough, start real donation funding and start to recruit for development 😉


  20. I could add to my previous comment that, if Mozilla Foundation wants to call for community funding for TB, it’s time now or… never.

    It’s time now, because TB needs it and it’s valuable as TB misses important features. In the future, when TB would be more feature complete, it will be less a valuable call.


  21. I am very disappointed by this news.

    I am a big fan of Thunderbird – does exactly what I need in terms of email. However, I am forced to use MS Outlook instead, due to the need of a calendar which will sync with a mobile phone.

    Until I can sync my lightning calendar with my phone, I shall definitely remain an Outlook user.

    Please chuck some cash at it, and get it sorted!


  22. Posted by Liam Proven (2/20/2009 at 5:51 pm): “Monolithic do-it-all apps is the Microsoft way, the Windows way. T’bird and Firefox and Lightning are not Windows apps – they are cross-platform, Windows and OS X and Unix apps. Let us not copy MS’ errors. In other words: Keep ‘em separated.

    Posted by Steven Wolhandler (2/22/2009 at 7:28 am): “Contra the popular view about integration, as an unintended result of migrating from outlook, I found out that a separate email and calendar program is better.

    My full support for these two statements. Netscape was rightly splitted in Firefox and Thunderbird. We should not turn back to such kind of “egg producing wool milk pigs” (german proverb for a kind of all-in-one animal). A good step by step tutorial addressed specially to Outlook users should be sufficient.

    I think the highest barrier concerning switching from Outlook to Sunbird is the transfer of old data via such tools like FreeMiCal. This seems to be much more difficult for unexperienced users than installing a separated Sunbird or an add-on. There should be offered an internal import option.


  23. I have a pocket PC and a smart phone as many people. Without the calendar, I can’t move to Thunderbird and I have to remain with this penny Outlook. It is a bad decision for the future of Thunderbird. Moreover the version 3 of Thunderbird have to wait the outcome of Firefox 3.5: 6 month too much


  24. I like TB3b3 but the lack of Lightning is such a large hole that I am considering abandoning the use of TB entirely. TB is taking a very long time to do what appears to be so little. An email client is not very special in today’s webmail based world. An integrated local email client with calendaring and task management is something different. TB is not that. TB with Lightning is almost that. IMO, This was a wrongheaded marketing decision.


  25. I know this is an old post, but reading the comments I’d just like to say:

    I personally think the _much_ better decision would have been to scrap tabs (frivolous at best) and put all the effort in to lightning and other ‘bridge’ improvements. The more Thunderbird can take over the role of Outlook (including protocols and data sources), the higher the uptake would be from business users.

    Getting people to swap over from microsoft products is hard enough without telling them they have to lose features..

    Just my 2c..


  26. Again, this is why thunderbird is and always will be a joke. It will never get a mainstream following without having some kind of calendar.


  27. What a pity that you didn’t get ready to provide a version of Lightning which is compatible with TB3 in time of the release of TB3. If it doesn’t come soon I might have to set up a standalone version of sunbird. That’s not very good indeed!


  28. Thunderbird 3.0 shouldn’t have been released without a good warning on the download page advising compatibility problems with the current stable lightening. I’ve been left with advising users to download the nightly builds or revert back to TBird 2.


  29. Quant à l’intégration de Lightning en standard dans Thunderbird elle semble désormais écartée comme le confirme David Asher sur son blog.(…)

    C’est très dommage. Je préfère l’ergonomie, l’apparence et le fonctionnement de Thunderbird à Evolution, mais j’ai besoin d’un agenda ! En plus, je souhaiterai qu’il puisse être syncronisé avec mon Palm, ce que je n’arrive pas à faire avec l’actuel Lightning. Dommage.
    Pourtant, je ne reviendrai pas à Outlook.
    Bien cordialement


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