When I worked in Best Buy as a Chromebook expert, I had several customers over the years ask me if I could help them install Mozilla Thunderbird on their new laptops so they could keep the familiar feel and interface as well as features unique to the open source email client. However, this software has always been primarily available on Windows and Linux, and no web app or Android app existed.
I tried a few workaround solutions, and even got it up and running for some users back in the day using Codeweaver’s Crossover compatibility layer, but the experience was never truly the same as it was on desktop. That’s not to mention that it was severely unstable and crashed constantly.
That may all be changing soon as Thunderbird loyalists have a mobile app on the way! While this may not seem significant at first, do keep in mind that ChromeOS runs Google Play apps, and should it release on the store, it could be just a few clicks away from giving Chromebook owners a new (or rather old) way of experiencing their email. The only thing that could stifle this future is if the developers choose to restrict laptops from running the app – something they have every right to do for compatibility. With that being said though, I think this would be a big mistake.
According to Ryan Lee Sipes on Twitter, the Product and Business Development Manager for Mozilla Thunderbird, the “mobile app is coming soon.” He does, however, state that it’s their number two priority just behind a major UI update for the software, but it’s on its way for sure.
For anyone hoping to avoid the Google Play Store though, as many open source advocates do, Ryan agreed to provide a standalone APK when asked by one commenter on his thread. This means that anyone interested can install it from a source outside of the Play Store, like APK Mirror or the developer’s site directly.
To be honest, even though I had a handful of Chromebook owners clawing for Thunderbird, the idea of using it never really took flight across the board, and most users still prefer web clients like Gmail or Outlook. Despite this, it’s nice to have options, and when it comes to open source, I’m all for empowering people to have independence, even on a corporate-owned operating system like ChromeOS.