Thunderbird 3 beta 2

On the road to Thunderbird 3, another milestone — this time, Thunderbird 3 beta 2.


Why do beta releases?

Beta releases are funny things. They serve a few purposes. The first is to make sure that we periodically stabilize the code base, as without periodic ‘cooling’, it’s hard to get a handle on the quality of a piece of software. Betas also serve as deadlines, which are magical motivators for some people. Some of us will spend way too many hours staying up late in the night in order to “make a deadline”.

Betas for open source software are even more odd in that people interested in staying very involved with the project can use nightly builds, which are updated every day. I’ve been using nightly builds of Thunderbird for over a year, as have several thousand other users. As a user of nightlies as much as a project coordinator, by the time the beta is released to a wider audience, all the excitement is historical.

Another fascinating aspect of beta releases is that, because we know there will be another release, and because the purpose of the beta is to get a broader set of testers to shake out edge cases, we try to be conservative about slipping in major features at the last minute, as the odds of those features being polished in time are never what we hope they’ll be. So we routinely delay feature additions until the next cycle, to avoid dragging the beta validation process out. It’s an unpleasant, but unavoidable part of optimizing releases.

If we do our job right there, then by the time the beta ships, the features that have landed are free of major bugs. We of course can’t know that until we get feedback from the beta.

What’s in this release?

The most striking part of the release is the sheer volume of bug fixes. It’s not sexy work, it’s often the hardest work, but it’s very important. This list (of bug fixes and feature work, but mostly bug fixes) is impressive.

Of the features that have landed, I want to talk about two that many users could easily ignore: archiving, and the activity manager.

The archive feature is straightforwardly borrowed from GMail’s archive feature, which we think is great. The idea is that figuring out exactly which folder each message should be filed is a process that can take a lot of time and effort — something that wasn’t a real problem in the early days of email, but which becomes a real time sink with thousands of messages. With a good enough search engine, it’s easier for many users to simply “archive” the message (doesn’t really matter where), get it out of the way, and then rely on the search capability to find the message again.

In this beta, we’re half-way there. The archive feature is there if you want it, but you can also use the standard “file in a folder” method. Thanks to work we did before beta2, the archiving is fast, putting messages in per-month folders at the click of a buttton or a keystroke. The new fast global search hasn’t landed yet, but even our “old” cross-folder search mechanism has gotten a lot better.

I already love the feature — being able to select messages I don’t need to worry about anymore, hit ‘A’ and be done with them, saves me a lot of time and mental effort

The second feature worth highlighting is also not fully deployed, but already useful. The Activity Manager was born out of a recognition that Thunderbird 2 is pretty bad at telling you what it’s doing. It says a lot of things, it says them fairly loudly, but they’re rarely the things you want to know. We’re building infrastructure that will let the various bits of Thunderbird be much more helpful in describing what’s going on (through a log of notable events), what went wrong (non-intrusive but notable alerts), and how it’s progressing at long-running tasks (with more context than just a single progress bar). Teaching software that wasn’t designed with a notification mechanism or philosophy in mind how to be polite and informative is a slow and arduous task, but we’re making good progress. In Thunderbird 3b2, there’s an Activity Manager window, which for now will just report on message moves, copies and deletes, and IMAP auto-syncing. Now that the framework is in place, we should be able to have a lot more informative messages when you need them, and reduce the number of dialog boxes (especially the ones you can’t do anything about!).

One of the fascinating aspects of the activity manager is that it’s giving even those of us who know how the software works on a detailed level a better handle on important global aspects. For example, the activity manager showed me that the autosync function can and should be much more aggressive, so that more of your email is already downloaded before you need it.

Other features you may notice:

  • Much more useful Growl notifications on OS X
  • Keyboard shortcuts for quick tab navigation
  • Better looking forwarded mail
  • Fewer dialog boxes

What’s next?

The next beta release is our last scheduled beta. As such, we’re thinking of it as the last milestone to introduce Big New Features. Furthermore, we’re hoping to be even better behaved this cycle and land features as early in the process as possible. Upcoming features which we hope will be available in a nightly build soon include:

  • the new global search function, leveraging tabs
  • cleaning up the message header area further
  • “pop tarts” to complement the activity manager
  • the beginning of some theming work (prettier icons, etc.)

And then, of course, there will be unplanned bright ideas which show up out of nowhere. Life wouldn’t be fun without those.

Try out the beta, file bugs, send feedback!

PS: the illustration at the top is from a brand spankin’ new website for Mozilla Messaging. We’ve changed the site to make it the primary destination for Thunderbird users, riffing on the look of other Mozilla websites, and yet quite distinct. I find the illustrations in particular a lot of fun, and I’m very proud of the team that built it. Rafael Ebron ran the project with the SpreadThunderbird team, with designs from The Royal Order, and implementation from silver orange. A very nice job, thanks to all who contributed!  The new site also allows us to build localized sites, which will be amazing.


  1. Could we have a system where Thunderbird only reports that it has failed to send after several attempts at it? I have a very unreliable connection, and I hit “Send” (error message) “OK” “Send”… etc. maybe five times before it goes. Apple Mail doesn’t report messages ilke this, it just… works, because it tries again and again until the email goes. That is one improvement I would be impressed at most.


  2. Thunderbird 3 is working great for me! Struggle with the fonts, sometimes have to re-set via a) cut, b) paste w/o formatting, and then c) format menu.



  3. When is the planned release date for the final release of Thunderbird V3? I would like to recommend this to a customer, but they are keen to move away from Outlook as soon a possible. It would be easier to wait until after V3 is out, rather than upgrading from V2. The new release looks sensational – what a great product!!


  4. Thunderbird is great, everyone knows that. I don’t know if this is already fixed because I’m still using version 2 but the most annoying thing here is the time format setting. I’m Portuguese but I use a full English desktop (Linux), this doesn’t mean I want 12 hours time format. I think that time format should be decoupled from LC vars or at least an option to set it must be present in the preferences menu.
    Keep make thunderbird great 😉


  5. I worked with eudora for 8 or 10 years. This year i moved to Thunderbird, is great but, i miss how Eudora automatically decode attachments in incoming mails and put them in a specific folder, allways linked to the mail. Personally i thing it is easer to manage attachments on this way.
    Keep working, great job, I am waiting for the final release.


  6. I can’t be sure if this is a bug or not, but I get a ghost or zombie Compose window on my desktop after a successful send. The only way to get rid of it is to open a new Compose message and “X” out of it. Then all returns to normal until the next send. I was experiencing this in TB2 and someone suggested switching to TB3b2 and see if the issue appears. It did… Here are some parameters of my PC.
    Dell D430 laptop
    Windows XP (SP3 I think)

    I’m not sure if it matters, but when I’m not on travel I use a dual monitor setup utilizing a Samsung 244T. It’s a very frustrating problem and I would love to know if it’s my laptop or a TB3b2 issue.


  7. Archive would be pretty useless without tags. I really hope you’ve built *real* tagging into Thunderbird, and not the useless garbage that came with TB 2.


  8. Hope it will be possible to use the Thunderbird adressbook with callto: links from the phone numbers so my softphone can make directly the call out.


  9. When is the final release date again? I’ve been monitoring this page for some time now but I still haven’t seen a single hint as to its launch date. I’m using Outlook now and it’s KILLING me!

    Please! Please! Give us a hint when it’s going to be released.


  10. I would also like to know when the final release of Thunderbird 3 will be available. I’ve just downloaded Thunderbird 3 beta 3 and it’s great so I can’t wait.


  11. I would also like to know when the final release of Thunderbird 3 will be available…. Have the import from Eudora features been fixed…


  12. please, please, please add the function (which has always been native to outlook) of ‘don’t mark mail as read when selection changes’. This has been the single sticking point that has kept me away from Tbird through the years. I like to preview a message in the preview pane and then answer it when i’m ready. I can easily see which emails i need to deal with because they are still bold and not marked as read. Having it timed to be read as in Tbird2 was no good, and having it stay as unread even after i reply to it is no good. i just want it to stay unread until i have either opened it properly, forwarded it, or replied to it. I deal with hundreds of emails/day and this is my system. Surely it’s just a simple boolean switch and would mean i could be rid of outlook forever. I’m not alone in this, plenty of forums are full of people asking for the same.


  13. Please, oh please, oh please tell me that with this archive feature, I can quickly “pull on a thread” for which I have one unarchived message in the inbox, and quickly see the whole thing.

    That’s what makes GMail’s archive so special for me (and if they only gave me a thread tree I’d probably use their web interface).


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