Thunderbird Leaves Linux Users Waiting for Much-Hyped Version 115

The Thunderbird team, despite outstanding work overall, is providing a great example of how not to treat Linux users with the 115 release....
Thunderbird Leaves Linux Users Waiting for Much-Hyped Version 115
Written by Staff
  • The Thunderbird team, despite outstanding work overall, is providing a great example of how not to treat Linux users with the 115 release.

    Thunderbird released version 115 of the Thunderbird email client on July 11. At the time, the release was accompanied by the following headline on Thunderbird’s site:

    Our Fastest, Most Beautiful Release Ever: Thunderbird 115 “Supernova” Is Here!

    Interestingly, despite being available for Windows and macOS, the new version of Thunderbird is still MIA for most Linux users. To be clear, I’m not talking about Linux distro repositories not being updated. Rather, I’m talking about the official Flatpak version.

    Flatpak vs Native Packages

    For those new to Linux, it’s important to understand how software on Linux is packaged. For the most part, Linux users don’t go to random websites to download software, as is common on Windows and macOS. Instead, Linux users download software via an app center or the command line, both of which pull from the software that is packaged for that Linux distro.

    In many cases, an app’s developer does not package their software for each an every Linux distro. Instead, the distro maintainers will often package the various apps and make them available in the repos. As a result, depending on a distro’s philosophy — fast-rolling or slow and stable — new versions of software may appear almost immediately or months later. The latter is especially true for distros that emphasize stability and reliability, such as Debian and Ubuntu. Maintainers of those types of distros tend to only patch in security and bug fixes in between major releases of their distro rather than releasing major feature updates. This can help reduce issues with apps installing newer components that may break dependencies with other apps that still rely on older versions of those components.

    This is the issue that Flatpak is trying to solve. Rather than relying on, and tampering with, core system libraries, these formats bundle their own dependencies in a self-contained package. As a result, one of these apps can be installed on any distro that supports Flatpak, regardless of whether the distro is a fast-moving rolling release or a slower-moving stable one. Since all the dependencies are self-contained within the Flatpak, a user can run the latest, greatest version without fear of it conflicting with anything on their system.

    Flatpak and Thunderbird

    The Thunderbird team recently took ownership of Thunderbird on Flathub, the main Flatpak repo. Prior to this, the Flatpak version of Thunderbird was maintained by generous volunteer rather than directly by the Thunderbird team.

    Given the benefits Flatpak provides, Thunderbird team member Jason Evangelho said that Flatpak would be the recommended method for Linux users to install Thunderbird:

    For Linux, we’re going to encourage people to use our Flatpak packages moving forward.

    There’s just one problem: More than a week after Thunderbird 115’s release, the Flatpak version is still 102.13.0.

    Why This Is a Problem

    As stated earlier, Thunderbird has already been released for both Windows and macOS. The app has also made it to Arch, although that’s not surprising since Arch is one of the fastest-moving rolling releases.

    Thunderbird has also made a version for Linux available for download on the official website. As mentioned before, however, this is not the standard way that most Linux users are accustomed to getting new software, nor do most distros and experts recommend this method. Downloading Thunderbird from the main website also requires additional steps to get it to display in one’s app menus, etc.

    That leaves us with Flatpak. Why is the official version of Thunderbird not available in the channel that is being pushed as the best way for Linux users to install Thunderbird? The question is even more apropos, considering there was a spike in downloads of the Flatpak version on July 11, clearly a result of users expecting the latest version.

    Thunderbird Flathub Downloads – Credit Flathub

    To be clear, the Thunderbird team is an amazing group of individuals and developers that create an awesome piece of software. Thunderbird is easily one of the best email/PIM clients in the world and is a testament to open source software.

    Nonetheless, the Thunderbird team really dropped the ball when it came to the 115 release. To release the app for Windows and macOS but not have it available in the recommended channel that most Linux users can access more than a week later is not a good look — especially given Thunderbird’s dominant position among Linux email clients.

    In the future, the Thunderbird team should be more careful to either release a new version simultaneously or delay a release until they can.

    For more info, check out The Linux Cast’s excellent take on YouTube:

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