Thunderbird is a free and open-source cross-platform email client developed by the Mozilla Foundation and operated by subsidiary MZLA Technologies Corporation. Many DCT readers use Thunderbird as their default email program. Betterbird is a fork of Thunderbird that the project refers to as a “fine-tuned” version of Thunderbird, and “Thunderbird on steroids”. The project’s goals are to make Betterbird better than Thunderbird in three ways: First, by having new features exclusive to Betterbird. Second, by containing bug fixes exclusive to Betterbird. And third, by containing fixes that Thunderbird may ship at a later stage.
Soft vs Hard Forks
Betterbird is a “soft” fork of Mozilla Thunderbird. A “hard” fork is a copy of a project at a point in time, Changes are then made to the fork. Both the old version and new fork exist but they drift further and further apart over time. An example of this is the Pale Moon browser, which is a fork of Firefox version 52, while Firefox is currently at version 106.0.2. In contrast, a “soft” fork is a split from the original project, but it is still dependent on the original project. Betterbird, being a “soft” fork, follows the Thunderbird Extended Support Releases (ESR) and, therefore, stays in sync with Thunderbird’s updates and security improvements. Additionally, Betterbird is 100% compatible with Thunderbird and follows the same dot release of Thunderbird.
Betterbird is headed by Jörg Knobloch, Thunderbird’s first employee, and Thunderbird’s former maintainer. When the Thunderbird project switched from a non-profit to the for-profit MZLA Technologies Corporation, Jörg voiced his concerns with some of the new policies, MZLA ousted him from the Thunderbird Council and banned him for life from the entire Mozilla community. Detailed information is located in this PDF. Jörg then started the Betterbird project.
Thunderbird stores all personal data, messages, address books, and configuration settings in a folder called a profile or the profile folder. You can switch between using Betterbird and Thunderbird on the same profile without problems. I have both Betterbird, and Thunderbird loaded on my computer; I can open either program. Since they both read the same profile, all the data is the same, the settings are the same, and even any loaded add-ons are the same. Only one program can open a profile at a time. In fact, the programs look so similar that it is hard to tell which one is open.
Neither Thunderbird nor Betterbird is designed for portable use. The profile contains absolute path names. Moving the profile causes issues. Thunderbird does not offer an official portable version. Betterbird has a portable version, but, since it uses the Thunderbird profile, Betterbird uses a special launcher program. If using the portable version, Betterbird recommends setting preference “extensions.startupScanScopes” to “5” in the Config Editor to maintain compatibility with add-ons and themes.
Feature Enhancements Of Betterbird
Betterbird offers a list of feature enhancements compared to Thunderbird which can be seen in the following table:
Some of the more significant features Betterbird offers over Thunderbird are:
- Multi-line View, a view- similar to what Outlook offers. From the menu, the multi-line view is turned on by selecting View / Layout / Multi-line view on all folders
Here, we see an example of the standard single-line view:
And here is an example of Betterbird’s multi-line view:
- Complex Search Terms offer searching with complex searches. While Thunderbird is limited to one set of search terms, Betterbird allows multiple groups of search terms. From the menu, a complex search is performed by selecting Edit / Find / Search Messages
Thunderbird is limited to a single group of search terms:
But, in Betterbird, multiple groups of search terms can be used:
- Quick Filter Untagged Messages. In the Quick Filter widget, turn on tags by selecting the Tags icon
An additional tags toolbar will display. From this toolbar, messages to display with all tags, individual tags, or a combination of tags can be selected. As in Thunderbird, tagged messages can be selected:
But, in Betterbird, you can select untagged messages:
- File Attachments. When composing a message and attaching files to it, Betterbird allows the option to choose from the last five recently accessed files. Note: I looked but did not see a method of changing this to a different number
Betterbird has fixed many bugs in Thunderbird. Here is the current list of bugs fixed in Betterbird but not currently in Thunderbird. Since these projects are open source, Betterbird’s bug fixes and enhancements are available for Thunderbird to incorporate. Here is the list of changes that Thunderbird has accepted. And here is the list of changes that are pending acceptance by Thunderbird.
Unlike Thunderbird, Betterbird will not automatically update itself. If there is a new version, a notification is displayed and the upgrade needs to be downloaded and installed. The notification is in the About box (Settings / Help / About Betterbird).
Also, the update notification is on the start page if the standard start page is set to be used in the settings.
The Betterbird project is a small group, but I sent two questions to the support email address. Both times, within a short amount of time, I received replies from Jörg.
Should you use Betterbird instead of Thunderbird? Betterbird fixes many bugs and offers some enhancements while still staying 100% compatible with Thunderbird. If you will use any of the enhancements or benefit from the additional bugs that have been fixed, then yes, give Betterbird a try. If you need an email client that auto-updates itself, then stick with Thunderbird.