New Thunderbird 115 interface with three columns (Screenshot taken from Thunderbird-Blog)

The rejuvenation of the email client Thunderbird, unbundled from the Firefox browser, which started in 2019, has reached its temporary climax. Version 115 of the well-known program, released on July 11, 2023, not only relies on a renewed code base that should allow for faster development in the future, but also features a new user interface called ” Supernova”, which the developers have given a modernized “card layout”, a three-column view, which is also known from webmailers.

This is well-intentioned, but whether Thunderbird will indeed become the new star in the e-mail sky is still in the same proverbial stars. Users on the web are already complaining about the new look, which is not entirely surprising in the age of smartphones and social media, since desktop email clients are increasingly a matter for traditionalists – who like things more traditional. Fortunately, however, the Thunderbird layout is customizable, so you can also set up the classic interface – with the folder structure on the left, the list in the main column at the top and the open mail at the bottom-  in the menu via View > Layout.

The old-school program menu is replaced by a “Dynamic Unified Toolbar” at the top of the screen, which can display suitable options and/or a search form depending on the context. What exactly the toolbar holds can be customized by right-clicking on it; the old program menu may also be displayed again in this way. Otherwise, Thunderbird has a contemporary app menu, which can be opened via a “hamburger” icon. The individual contexts – mail, address book, calendar, tasks and chat – can be selected via a new vertical menu on the left edge of the screen.

On Ubuntu’s standard Gnome desktop, the new layout looks anything but airy, but rather unattractively squashed. However, this impression can be easily remedied: The menu item “Density” allows adjusting the spacing in three steps; furthermore, the default font size can be configured.

The Thunderbird project explicitly does not deliver the new version as an upgrade. So you should make a backup of your profile folder (usually found under ~/.thunderbird) before installing. However, unlike years ago when upgrading to Thunderbird 60, there are no wildfires caused by outdated extensions to worry about this time. Nevertheless, Ubuntu is not expected to ship the new Thunderbird version in its official repositories until October 2023, when a new Ubuntu release is also due, and will stay with Thunderbird 102 for the time being. If you don’t want to wait that long, it’s best to download the official Thunderbird flatpak.