Thunderbird 102 gets a major facelift, Matrix chat support

Mozilla's messaging client appears to have benefited from sponsor shakeup


Open-source cross-platform email and messaging client Thunderbird has hit version 102, with a new look and improved functionality, including Matrix chat support.

The latest release is the first major upgrade since version 91, which The Reg looked at last August. This is normal for the app – it follows the same approximately annual release cycle as Firefox's Extended Support Releases, the most recent of which was also version 91. From now until the next major release, Thunderbird 102 will get a regular stream of minor updates and bug fixes.

102 has a modernized look and feel. There's a new "Spaces" toolbar, which appears vertically on the left of the app window and lets users quickly flip between inbox, address book, calendar, task list, and chat tabs. All of these are built-in features – the former Lightning calendar add-on is now an integral part of the app, as is PGP support, which used to be an add-on called Enigmail. Thunderbird can talk to various groupware calendar and contact servers, including both private and corporate Google Mail accounts, Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, and others.

(This does depend on the configuration of the Exchange Server instance. If your company's sysadmins have not enabled internet standards support, such as IMAP or EWS, you might need the paid Owl plugin.)

The Address Book functionality has also been updated and now runs as a tab in the main window, rather than in its own window. It has gained the ability to import addresses in vCard format. There's also a new Import/Export tool, replacing several third-party add-ons, and this includes the ability to import a whole Thunderbird profile into another profile. The add-on manager won't show incompatible add-ons – a welcome change since, like the change in Firefox Quantum, a large number of old XUL add-ons are no longer supported.

Thunderbird isn't just an email client, it's a more general messaging client. It can also handle RSS feeds, Usenet news (yes, it still exists), and various chat protocols. A fairly major new feature is the addition of Matrix support to the chat module. Thunderbird has had integrated chat support for years now, but the selection of protocols was fairly narrow: XMPP, a special Google Talk option (which does still work for now), and IRC.

Now it also supports VK's Odnoklassniki (a major Russian social network), and Matrix. This is an open-source chat protocol that aims to bridge different systems: for instance, it offers a bridge to WhatsApp, another to Signal, and a commercially hosted service.

Thunderbird also has multiple plugins and add-ons so you can have tabs with Google's Keep, or the whole Google Apps Suite, or the Telegram chat app. If you prefer the Gmail-style view of email threads in one continuous scrolling page, then the Conversations add-on provides that.

The app supports the OAuth protocol for signing in so you don't need to use Google App Passwords.

In our testing, we found that changing existing accounts to use OAuth didn't work, nor could we force re-authentication: we needed to remove an account that wouldn't authenticate, then re-add it, but no data was lost. The client happily automated connecting to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL Mail, and pulled in Google Calendars and Google Contacts address books without a problem.

Version 102 comes soon after the announcement that the app will soon get an Android edition. It looks like its new corporate sponsorship is working out, and the download stats look healthy.

Windows and macOS users can download the app directly. We found that version 91 wouldn't yet self-update to the new release, but a fresh download worked fine and picked up our existing profile.

For Linux users, it is (as ever) a little more complicated. The Thunderbird site offers only a tarball, which is not very helpful in 2022. One option is just to wait for your distro to pick up the new version, but if you're too impatient for that, there are a couple of alternatives. Version 102 is on Snapcraft if you pick latest/candidate from the dropdown at top left.

However, we found that Snap isolation worked against us here, and this wouldn't pick up the profiles of our existing version. If you want a more a ready-to-go solution, we suggest using this AppImage. It worked for us, with only cosmetic glitches. ®


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