Dear ISPs

Dear ISPs,

By far the largest set of support requests that we end up seeing for Thunderbird have to do with being unable to receive or send mail. By far the largest single cause of these failures is some unilateral change by the ISP which cause previously working configurations to stop working. In other words, people come to us for help solving problems we can’t solve. It makes us feel bad, it makes you look uncaring, and it certainly doesn’t help your customers (except for those cases when we go beyond the call of duty and help them as neighbors would, guiding them through the diagnostic & fix).

In our next revisions of Thunderbird, we’ll probably work on making our error dialogs better, so that we transmit whatever wisdom we can to your users to give them a fighting chance. But we can do better for your customers, if you get involved.

Let’s figure out how to work together to provide better experiences for your customers and our users. I’m quite sure that we can come up with solutions which would save you costs compared to having your customers tie up your tech support lines only to be rebuffed by your staff who often don’t understand how email systems work. It might also help you avoid commoditization…

Here are some ideas to start the conversation going:

  • Let’s make sure that our configuration of ISP databases works for as many users as possible. We’ll likely need to evolve the format and protocol over time, but we can only do that with input (some ESPs have already joined the effort, which is great!).
  • Consider making a useful add-on that would let you inform your customers of planned service downtime, configuration changes, etc. (no marketing messages, please, or your customers will not use it).
  • If there are changes we could make in Thunderbird that would help you help your customers, let’s talk!.

Together, we can figure out how to get your customers setup with a Thunderbird that works for them, for us, and for you.

Looking forward to a productive conversation,

— David Ascher
(dascher at mozillamessaging)


  1. David:

    I’ve worked extensively supporting email customers and ISPs in my career. Started at an ISP, moved to a web hosting company, and then worked for an email server software provider.

    From the end-user standpoint, the error messages that are thrown are not usually helpful. I have used Thunderbird for a long time and, while it is better than its competitors, it could do a better job with contextual help.

    Mail delivery failures generate calls for support. Is there a way that delivery errors between T-bird and server can be better explained / finger-pointed in an error dialog?

    Maybe provide some simple troubleshooting tips?



  2. @Simon: I agree, that’s something we need to look at. There are lots of issues there, of course, including the fact that SMTP, POP and IMAP servers don’t have very rich or consistent error messages, and that dealing with these issues in 40 languages is really hard.

    Still, I suspect we should look for opportunities to at least detect common failures, and maybe guide people towards an online troubleshooting guide that we could build (ideally in collaboration with ISPs and l33t users).


  3. I think that one thing that could be added to Thunderbird is an autofix issue trying classic alternatives configurations. My sentence is not very clear so let me give me some example:

    – TB tries to send mail on SMTP port 25 but fails: TB could try on port 587 automatically and inform user that port 587 is working so upon user confirmation, TB could change the setup

    – No login/password given for SMTP server: TB could try to use IMAP/POP login/password and update configuration if this works better

    I am sure there are other standard stuff to do with for users that do not understand all the stuff about SMTP/IMAP/POP and that TB could fix automatically for the user…

    My 2 cents šŸ™‚


  4. I don’t see how ISPs can contribute when their (or their user’s) submissions to the ISP database (including comments on the broken format) end up in the review backlog that is steadily building up. Some submissions are pending review for over 4 months now. It makes no sense. It’s reminiscent of the experience many users had after they’d been carefully filing well documented bugs and feature requests in bugzilla, the mozillazine forums and MozillaWiki over the span of nearly a decade just to see them go by unaddressed (and probably unnoticed).


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