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Tips & tricks: Thunderbird

A new path for Thunderbird

Retrospect

When SoftMaker released SoftMaker Office 2016 five years ago, the e-mail program Thunderbird was included in a version enhanced by SoftMaker. We took advantage of the opportunity to make Thunderbird more powerful and user-friendly with SoftMaker's ideas.

We added features to Thunderbird that allowed you to quickly move messages and navigate in the mail-folder structure, a "theme" to change the Thunderbird look to the SoftMaker style and a number of functions that optimized the Thunderbird user interface.

All these enhancements were realized in the form of add-ons. This had the distinct advantage that we did not have to create a SoftMaker-specific version (a "fork") of Thunderbird. Thunderbird itself remained unchanged and could always be updated by automatic updates. The add-ons simply continued to work.

Current situation

This worked very well – until Thunderbird 60 was released. Starting with Thunderbird 60, it was becoming clear that the Thunderbird developers would eventually abandon all classic add-ons. This started with the removal of "themes". All themes that do more than just set a different background color no longer work in Thunderbird 60 and higher. This includes the SoftMaker theme.

In the current version, Thunderbird 68, support for add-ons has been further reduced so that even our add-on for quickly moving messages does not work anymore. And the version following that will burn the bridges to the past completely: It will no longer support classic add-ons at all.

Now if you ask why the Thunderbird developers do this: There is no way around it. Thunderbird is largely based on the source code of Mozilla Firefox and depends on integrating the latest HTML engine from Firefox.

Firefox has broken away from the classic add-ons a long time ago: Firefox 57 was released at the beginning of 2018 and dropped support for old Firefox add-ons. Only so-called WebExtensions continue to be supported, but they offer only a fraction of the possibilities.

The Thunderbird developers have tried to postpone the same break for as long as possible. But now there's simply no other way, as the Firefox developers are removing more and more features from the source code that Thunderbird needs for its classic add-ons.

The result: The next version of Thunderbird will no longer support classic add-ons. This does not only apply to the SoftMaker add-ons, but to all add-ons. The only exception is Lightning, the calendar in Thunderbird. Lightning was considered so important that it will no longer be an add-on, but integrated directly into Thunderbird.

What does SoftMaker do?

For us, Thunderbird is still the e-mail client and calendar of choice. Almost all SoftMaker employees use it.

However, we can no longer support Thunderbird in the same way as before, since the add-on infrastructure will be gone. So you no longer have an advantage with a "SoftMaker" Thunderbird compared to a "normal" Thunderbird.

Therefore, SoftMaker Office 2018 was the last version that we shipped with Thunderbird.

In the following we describe the best strategy for your future with Thunderbird. In addition, we will give you tips how to customize Thunderbird so that you can continue to use the additional features you have already used.

What does SoftMaker recommend?

In general, we recommend that you always use the latest version of Thunderbird to be best protected against security risks. Whether this is possible in your case depends on your use of Thunderbird add-ons.

First determine which version of Thunderbird you are currently using. To do this, start Thunderbird and go to Help > About Thunderbird. The following major versions may be displayed in this dialog box:

Version 68

You are already using the current version of Thunderbird. There is nothing you need to do at this time.

Version 60, 52 or even older

These versions are no longer current. You may incur a security risk if you continue to use them.

Please check if you have installed add-ons that you still need and for which there is no replacement in Thunderbird 68. This will determine whether you can upgrade to Thunderbird 68.

To do this, go to Tools > Add-ons in Thunderbird and click on Extensions on the left. Please check if add-ons are listed here that are essential for your work.

You do not need to worry about the following add-ons:

  • The "Lightning" add-on, which implements a calendar, is already integrated in Thunderbird 68. This does not prevent you from switching.
  • For the "SoftMaker Enhanced UI" add-on, there is an almost identical replacement add-on that is compatible with Thunderbird 68. Its developer is working on a WebExtension version that will also run with future versions of Thunderbird.

For all other add-ons, you should determine if you still need them. If so, you should check if there are new versions that are compatible with Thunderbird 68. To do this, please research the add-on website of the Thunderbird project.

Based on the results, please decide whether you can upgrade to Thunderbird 68.

Switching to Thunderbird 68

Switching to Thunderbird 68 is easy:

  1. Start Thunderbird and select Help > About Thunderbird. If you do not have version 68 installed, the download of the new version will start automatically. Follow the instructions on the screen.
  2. After restarting Thunderbird as required by the update, you should be at version 68.x. You can check this by selecting Help > About Thunderbird again.
  3. Next, you should remove the SoftMaker add-ons. These were automatically deactivated, so you can just as well completely remove them. Go to Tools > Add-ons, click on Add-ons on the left and remove all add-ons that have "SoftMaker" in their name.

Improving Thunderbird 68

If you are upgrading from an older version to Thunderbird 68, you may want to keep some of your favorite settings.

Do you miss the SoftMaker add-on that allowed you to quickly store e-mails and navigate folders by typing a few letters? Here you will find an almost identical replacement.

Do you wish you had the SoftMaker user interface back with colored icons? Unfortunately, this is no longer possible; the theming capability has been radically curtailed.

Would you like to have a menu bar at the top of the window again? In Thunderbird, click the "Hamburger" icon (the icon with the three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner, select the "Options" menu item and place a check mark in front of "Menu bar".

Would you like to have an independent title bar, without integrated menu bar? Go to Tools > Options, switch to Advanced in the left-hand list, then click on General in the upper tab bar and finally click on the Config editor button at the bottom right. A dialog box opens; type drawInTitlebar in its Search field. One hit will be found. If you double click on the hit, Thunderbird switches to a regular Windows title bar.

We wish you continued success with Thunderbird!

Thank you.

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