22 September 2020

Thunderbird Reborn!So there I was, reading my e-mail the other day, when I received an upgrade notice from Thunderbird.

Great! Maybe they’ll fix things… So I upgraded.

Welcome to Thunderbird 78, where everything has changed!

Well, sort of…

My add-ons no longer worked, the folder pane was hideously black and white, I lost my CompactHeaders, and my message pane buttons were all screwed up. SIGH…

But, not to worry… Big things are in store for good old Tbird, and many of the annoying changes are easy to fix!

What happened to versions 69-77?

There aren’t any.

You see, in our modern era of a “new version” of software every 3 days, Mozilla decided to just skip from 68 directly to 78.

Why? God only knows. But don’t you feel better knowing that Thunderbird is now TEN versions newer?! 😛

What’s new?

Actually, a lot… You can read the Thunderbird 78 changelog here.

You really should check it out… There are a lot of new little features, as well as a few big ones – like:

  • Settings is now it’s own searchable tab, like Firefox
  • The Compose window is re-jiggered
  • New address bar
  • Support for end-to-end e-mail encryption

Okay, but what’s BAD about Thunderbird 78?

Oh, there are a few annoying changes. For example, look at how colorful things are now:

Thunderbird BLACK!
This is what it used to look like in v68:

Thunderbird 68 - with COLOR!
Yeah, that new black-n-white look is hideous. What’s worse, all your old add-ons don’t work any more.

That’s right! Mozilla is changing add-ons in Tbird AGAIN…

You can read more about Thunderbird add-ons here.

In short: We’ve gone from Overlay Extensions to Bootstrap Extensions to WebExtensions… and now (hopefully finally) we’re at MailExtensions.

Most likely, that means you’re favorite add-ons are hosed! Again.

Fortunately, as you’ll see below, the Tbird community is rapidly cranking out replacements – and in many cases, they work better than the old ones.

So all is not lost…

Whatever! How do I get my colored folder icons back?

Easy! You can now customize the color of each folder icon – one by one. It’s tedious, but it works.

First, pick the folder icon whose color you want to change – like the Junk folder.

Right-click the folder, and choose Properties. You’ll see this:

Change Folder Color
Click the colored box after Icon Color, and you’ll get a color picker:

Colored Folders - Color Picker
Note that if you want to make multiple folders the same color, you can choose a color and then click the Add to Custom Colors button to make your life easier!

After colorizing, my folder pane now looks like this:

Colorized Thunderbird 78 folder pane
AH! That’s better!

Oh no! My Message Pane is ugly and huge again!

If the info bar in your message pane looks like this now:

Message Pane - Thunderbird 78
You can fix it. I prefer a compact header, and buttons that have no text. I also insert spaces between the Junk and Delete buttons to prevent clicking the wrong one.

First, to fix the buttons, install the add-on Message Header Toolbar Customize.

With a little tweaking, your header bar in the Message Pane will look like this:

Message Pane - Thunderbird 78 - Fixed
Almost there! Now, I was using the old add-on CompactHeader, but it’s no longer supported in Thunderbird 78.

Fortunately, just a few days ago, I discovered Compact Headers. Install that, and BOOM:

Message Pane - Thunderbird 78 - Fixed AND Compact
MUCH better!

But, but… What about my other add-ons?

Be patient!

Many of them are already almost compatible with the new MailExtension add-on.

I’m guessing that many of the most popular add-ons will see new versions released quite soon.

So, keep an eye out, and don’t fret!

And finally… Thunderbird is gonna get WAY better!

Don’t faint!

If you’re a Thunderbird fan and you’ve been lamenting the slow development pace, hold on to your hat!

You might want to check out the Thunderbird 78+ Roadmap.

Some REALLY cool things are in the works…

  • An all-new, modern Address Book
  • Tons of speed improvements
  • Switch from mbox -> maildir for storing e-mails (YAY!)
  • Better message indexing + search
  • Responsive Layout
  • Folder Pane improvements
  • Calendar improvements
  • Better support for mailing lists
  • And much more!

So, while change may be painful, it appears that Thunderbird isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – despite everyone else’s love of webmail.

In fact, this is all part of big changes with the Thunderbird development team, as well:

There was a time when Thunderbird’s future was uncertain, and it was unclear what was going to happen to the project after it was decided Mozilla Corporation would no longer support it. But in recent years donations from Thunderbird users have allowed the project to grow and flourish organically within the Mozilla Foundation. Now, to ensure future operational success, following months of planning, we are forging a new path forward. Moving to MZLA Technologies Corporation will not only allow the Thunderbird project more flexibility and agility, but will also allow us to explore offering our users products and services that were not possible under the Mozilla Foundation. The move will allow the project to collect revenue through partnerships and non-charitable donations, which in turn can be used to cover the costs of new products and services.

Thunderbird’s focus isn’t going to change. We remain committed to creating amazing, open source technology focused on open standards, user privacy, and productive communication. The Thunderbird Council continues to  steward the project, and the team guiding Thunderbird’s development remains the same.

And that IS good news for those of us who prefer not to store our e-mail in Google’s all-seeing eye…

Stay tuned for more Thunderbird news!

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Thunderbird 78: Change is in the air, but don’t panic!
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21 thoughts on “Thunderbird 78: Change is in the air, but don’t panic!

  • 25 September 2020 at 15:54

    Really getting frustrated with Thunderbird. The new folder icons are junkyard dog ugly, don’t care if you /can/ color them. Previous icons were easy to spot.

    The constant breaking of plug-ins is maddening.

    It’s great that the foundation is fixing things under the hood that need updating and adding features, but the messing with the UI seems gratuitous — let’s change it for change sake. I know a certain Redmond WA company guilty of that and it’s alienating people massively.

    • 25 September 2020 at 17:15

      I know, it’s seriously annoying. On the other hand, I’m amazed (and quite happy) that at least SOMEBODY is trying to make a better mail client. Everyone and their dog uses Gmail via the web. So, good mail clients are a dying breed.

      Well, I guess we’ll see where they take Tbird in the months to come…

  • 20 October 2020 at 02:52

    I just spent an hour trying to make layout vertical again. so message preview is on right, not bottom. Did not find how… Any ideas???

    • 20 October 2020 at 09:26

      Press the Alt key. In the titlebar at the top of the Tbird window, click: View -> Layout -> Vertical view.
      That worked for me!

  • 31 October 2020 at 15:16

    Thanks, Scottie, for the tips and workarounds. I updated to 78 to save me having to look at the flashing icon in the toolbar making me always think something detrimental has happened. I really appreciate all the work is being done under the bonnet. And I’ve finally sorted out all my Yahoo accounts so they play nicely. But, the UI is dire – it’s the equivalent of the dreaded brown envelope that drops though your letterbox – you don’t wanna see it, hide it, put off opening it for as long as possible. Maybe some kind soul will create a nice colourful theme add-on.

  • 4 November 2020 at 00:22

    Yeap, agree: I don’t see how it could be any uglier, and *every* one of my add-ons is broken. What was wrong with the old way of doing add-ons? I tried to revert to 68, but 78 had already munged my profile, so I was Out Of Luck. (Why don’t they back up your profile before changing it?)

    I tried the Compact Headers plugin, but I’ve toggled it on and off, and afaict it makes no difference (I have TB 78.4.0).

    • 4 November 2020 at 10:59

      For Compact Headers, if you click the downward pointing >, it should shrink the headers. That’s what it does for me anyway – also on Tbird latest.

  • 5 November 2020 at 18:55

    How did it decide what colors to use for my huge array of folders? They’re all either white or light blue on a black background. (I’m using dark theme.) But I don’t see a pattern to the choice. Account names are also randomly blue or white. What does that mean? I create new folders all the time. (Like separate folders for each sender.) How does it decide what color a new folder should be?

  • 5 November 2020 at 19:26

    Ok, it gets weirder. If I browse from folder to folder by clicking on the various blue and white folder names, they switch to white. So I think the blue mean unread mail, but it’s not consistent. And I think the blue actually means unread mail and unvisited folder. If I click on a blue folder and view the list of unread messages, then click on another folder, the first folder turns white. I think the intent is that blue is a highlight color (in dark theme) to indicate unread mail but googling suggests that there are some unpleasant interactions between the Win10 system dark mode and Tbird’s dark mode. The complaints involve the compose window’s background color but perhaps something similar is going on with the folder highlighting code.

  • 11 November 2020 at 01:29

    Thunderbird needs to go back to a SOLID folder Icon, Instead of just the outline of a folder, or at least give the option to have a SOLID folder icon!

  • 11 November 2020 at 07:59

    The new look is hideous. The color outlines are much harder to spot than the solid colored folder. One site said they needed to switch to SVG files for scalability, however, couldn’t they have just used a gilden outline with a gilden fill, so it doesn’t screw everybody up? Or if they are obsessed with change, give the users a choice. Just because some guys likes black and white, doesn’t mean everyone else does. People are very particular, and different about the colors they like. Messing with that just shows they don’t understand human nature (so maybe they shouldn’t mess with it).
    Bottom line: we just reverted back to version 68, and we are staying there until they get some common sense and either put the default folders colors and look back, or at least let each user customize them the way they want – color is very important to each of us, and most people don’t appreciate being dictated to.

    • 12 November 2020 at 07:31

      I stopped updating TB when they started messing with the addons etc. years ago.

      If I find another half decent (non MS) client, I shall be changing to it.

  • 16 November 2020 at 17:00

    I Changed colours on folders exactly as you explained
    but they keep going back to default after starting a new session.

  • 27 November 2020 at 17:39

    Modify the text size in Thunderbird. From the top you go to Tools> Options> scroll all the way down on the right side and click on “Config Editor”

    File name is the same too: userChrome.css
    C:\Users\ “your name” \AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\”Your profile name” 736m2uer.default-release\Chrome

    You create a folder and call it Chrome and copy the userChrome.css file to it.
    In the search box above the list, type or paste:

    Double-click the: toolkit.legacyUserProfileCustomizations.stylesheets
    Change preference from false to true. Close Thunderbird then re-open.
    Here is the userChrome.css contents:

    @namespace url(“http://www.mozilla.org/keymaster/gatekeeper/there.is.only.xul”);
    /* set default namespace to XUL */
    /* horizontal grid lines */

    threadTree treechildren::-moz-tree-row() {

    border-bottom: 1px dotted grey !important;
    /* vertical grid lines */

    threadTree treechildren::-moz-tree-column() {

    border-right: 1px dotted grey !important;

    Make all the default font sizes 15px:


    { font-size: 15px !important; }

  • 6 December 2020 at 19:48

    In addition to the number of new/unread messages I have (Love that feature) how can I also see how many messages are in a folder?

  • 7 December 2020 at 18:27

    They removed the option to add message counts to the folder pane from the “pretty” Options tab. So you have to use the config editor (bottom right of General options) to enable it. Search for mail.folderpane.showColumns and set the boolean to true. This adds a small control at the right of the folder pane header to select which headers to show.

  • 18 December 2020 at 00:17

    By updating to TB78 ALL my mail and ALL the adress book were lost.
    Also, you cant use multiple cc and bcc sending.
    I had to reinstall TB 68, minus the whole mail store…….

    • 18 December 2020 at 12:07

      Your mail is probably still there… For some reason, TB most likely decided to create a new profile instead of keeping the one you had.

      The simple method to fix it is:
      1. Close Thunderbird
      2. Hold down Shift key on keyboard, and click Thunderbird icon to load it again
      3. You should get ‘Safe Mode’ Tbird, which should give you a popup window that lets you choose a different profile
      4. If you see a 2nd profile, click that and start Tbird with that profile
      5. If your mail is back, repeat the process and tell it to use that other profile as the default one

      If that doesn’t work, then you have to investigate… Your profiles are stored in:


      Note that in order to see the AppData folder and its subfolders, you need to click ‘Hidden items’ in the ‘View’ tab in Windows’ file Explorer.

      In the above folder, you should see a Profiles folder and a file called profiles.ini.

      Inside the Profiles folder, you’ll see 1 or more folders with a name like ‘sidfhoehwe.default’ or ‘fei3hsjas’. Those are the profiles.

      The file profiles.ini contains a pointer to which profile to use.

      You can figure out which folder in Profiles contains all your mail by right-clicking each one, and choosing properties. The hugemongous one is probably the profile where all your mail is hiding.

      Take note of that profile name, and edit the profiles.ini file with a text editor (make sure Tbird is closed).

      Under the profile that has ‘Default=1’, change the Path= variable to be the full path to your old profile, like so:


      Save the profiles.ini and close it. Then try to fire up Tbird again, and it should have all your mail and settings back.


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