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The Future of Thunderbird?

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The Future of Thunderbird?

David E. Ross-3
Mozilla is making a number of changes to Firefox and its internals that
adversely concern some end users.

Will Thunderbird continue to support old extensions?  Or will only
Webextensions be supported?

Will Thunderbird continute to support plugins?

Will Thunderbird support existing themes or only "light" themes?

--
David E. Ross
<http://www.rossde.com/>

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, who was quoting someone else:
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and
alternative truths.
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Re: The Future of Thunderbird?

Jim Porter
On 03/14/2017 05:39 PM, David E. Ross wrote:
> Will Thunderbird continue to support old extensions?  Or will only
> Webextensions be supported?

All signs point to the former (although I'd be interested to see what we
could do with WebExtensions in Thunderbird).

> Will Thunderbird continute to support plugins?

I sure hope not, although I'm not the one making the decision. I'm not
sure there's much value in plugins anymore given all the stuff you can
do in JS now (including calling out to native code via js-ctypes).

> Will Thunderbird support existing themes or only "light" themes?

Since those are just a kind of XUL extension, probably. It might be
worth taking a look at what the Firefox team does with the next
iteration of their theming though. If it's sufficiently-flexible and
could be ported to Thunderbird, it might be a marked improvement in the
maintainability of third-party themes.

- Jim

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Re: The Future of Thunderbird?

Philipp Kewisch-2
On 3/15/17 12:23 AM, Jim Porter wrote:
> On 03/14/2017 05:39 PM, David E. Ross wrote:
>> Will Thunderbird continue to support old extensions?  Or will only
>> Webextensions be supported?
>
> All signs point to the former (although I'd be interested to see what we
> could do with WebExtensions in Thunderbird).
We haven't made any decisions (nor started discussion) to not support
legacy extensions, so for the time being they will stay. Note however
that since Firefox and their Platform team will likely be making more
drastic changes once legacy add-ons are no longer supported (Firefox 57)
and Thunderbird relies on the Mozilla Platform, the day will come where
we cannot reasonably support legacy add-ons.

Coincidentally I have started to experiment with WebExtensions in
Thunderbird this week actually and it was fairly successful and easy to
work with. I will continue these experiments as time permits.

I think there could be some great wins in providing WebExtension APIs
for Thunderbird functionality, making a lot of the interaction easier.

Before we make any decision on future support there will certainly be
some discussion on the topic and we will work with add-on authors to
transition, so there is no reason for concern at the moment.



>
>> Will Thunderbird continute to support plugins?
>
> I sure hope not, although I'm not the one making the decision. I'm not
> sure there's much value in plugins anymore given all the stuff you can
> do in JS now (including calling out to native code via js-ctypes).
If with plugins you mean NPAPI plugins, I'm pretty sure support will go
away. I don't believe we have made any special settings here and once it
is gone in the Mozilla Platform, it will also be the case for Thunderbird.

>
>> Will Thunderbird support existing themes or only "light" themes?
>
> Since those are just a kind of XUL extension, probably. It might be
> worth taking a look at what the Firefox team does with the next
> iteration of their theming though. If it's sufficiently-flexible and
> could be ported to Thunderbird, it might be a marked improvement in the
> maintainability of third-party themes.

I agree with Jim here. The Mozilla Platform is making some theming API
changes so that classic "complete themes" will have the same eventual
fate as legacy extensions. We can continue to support this slightly
longer than Firefox, but authors are encouraged to play with the new
theming APIs and file bugs for support in Thunderbird if it doesn't work
out of the box.


Philipp
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WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Jörg Knobloch
On 18/03/2017 18:19, Philipp Kewisch wrote:
> Coincidentally I have started to experiment with WebExtensions in
> Thunderbird this week actually and it was fairly successful and easy to
> work with. I will continue these experiments as time permits.

That's interesting. Are there any samples to look at?

Are WebExtension working fully in TB? I see more and more
WebExtension-related Xpcshell tests in TB being switched off:
https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1346918

I'd be interested to know why they are failing and what would be
required to make those test pass and potentially make future tests pass
as well. When we switched to cache2, all cache-related tests started
passing in TB and I haven't seen a failure in that area since. It would
be great if we could find the missing piece to get up-to-speed with
WebExtensions.

Jörg.


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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Philipp Kewisch-2
In reply to this post by Philipp Kewisch-2
On 3/18/17 10:54 PM, Jörg Knobloch wrote:

> On 18/03/2017 18:19, Philipp Kewisch wrote:
>> Coincidentally I have started to experiment with WebExtensions in
>> Thunderbird this week actually and it was fairly successful and easy to
>> work with. I will continue these experiments as time permits.
>
> That's interesting. Are there any samples to look at?
>
> Are WebExtension working fully in TB? I see more and more
> WebExtension-related Xpcshell tests in TB being switched off:
> https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1346918
>
> I'd be interested to know why they are failing and what would be
> required to make those test pass and potentially make future tests pass
> as well. When we switched to cache2, all cache-related tests started
> passing in TB and I haven't seen a failure in that area since. It would
> be great if we could find the missing piece to get up-to-speed with
> WebExtensions.
>
> Jörg.
>
>
I don't have anything ready for consumption yet. What I have working now
is background pages running correctly and I've tested a few simple
WebExtensions APIs added from toolkit/ (browser.runtime mostly)

One of the most notable changes needed was fixing nsMsgContentPolicy to
not block moz-extension:// urls. This could actually fix some tests
related to WebExtensions.

I hope to push forward on my patches soon and provide a more complete
experience.

Philipp
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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Jörg Knobloch
On 18/03/2017 23:02, Philipp Kewisch wrote:
I don't have anything ready for consumption yet. What I have working now
is background pages running correctly and I've tested a few simple
WebExtensions APIs added from toolkit/ (browser.runtime mostly)

When it comes to WebExtensions I'm guided by: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1267612#c8 (quote):

BWinton long ago advised us that web extensions made little sense for Thunderbird, and even if they did the web extensions group would be unlikely to accept patches for Thunderbird functionality. So we pretty much stopped looking further at any role web extensions might have with Thunderbird.

If I understand it correctly, WebExtensions offer a fixed API to "extension authors", and this API doesn't and won't include functions to manipulate e-mail. However, even in this case it would be good to have WebExtensions work in Thunderbird.

One of the most notable changes needed was fixing nsMsgContentPolicy to
not block <a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="moz-extension://" moz-do-not-send="true">moz-extension:// urls. This could actually fix some tests
related to WebExtensions.

That would be nice to see.

Jörg.



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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Philipp Kewisch-2
In reply to this post by Philipp Kewisch-2
On 3/19/17 9:28 AM, Jörg Knobloch wrote:

> On 18/03/2017 23:02, Philipp Kewisch wrote:
>> I don't have anything ready for consumption yet. What I have working now
>> is background pages running correctly and I've tested a few simple
>> WebExtensions APIs added from toolkit/ (browser.runtime mostly)
>
> When it comes to WebExtensions I'm guided by:
> https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1267612#c8 (quote):
>
> /BWinton long ago advised us that web extensions made little sense for
> Thunderbird, and even if they did the web extensions group would be
> unlikely to accept patches for *Thunderbird functionality*. So we pretty
> much stopped looking further at any role web extensions might have with
> Thunderbird./
>
> If I understand it correctly, WebExtensions offer a fixed API to
> "extension authors", and this API doesn't and won't include functions to
> manipulate e-mail. However, even in this case it would be good to have
> WebExtensions work in Thunderbird.

From what I have seen it is fairly easy to extend the WebExtensions API
without making any changes to m-c, so we may be lucky. It is just a
matter of a category manager entry to load the right scripts.

We should even be able to provide the "WebExtension Experiments" so
add-on authors can test new API and propose it to be added to
Thunderbird. Obviously we should be making sure that the APIs added are
not too broad.

Keep your fingers crossed :)

Philipp
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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Disaster Master
On Sun Mar 19 2017 12:46:47 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time), Philipp
Kewisch <[hidden email]> wrote:
> From what I have seen it is fairly easy to extend the WebExtensions API
> without making any changes to m-c, so we may be lucky. It is just a
> matter of a category manager entry to load the right scripts.

Very interesting! Is this something that the Waterfox dev could do as
well? If so, another reason for us to try to pool efforts with others
impacted by this to provide a 'fork' of sorts that will allow us to
continue.

Consider the impact to Mozilla if Waterfox all of a sudden zoomed past
Firefox in terms of usage, because their WebExtensions APIs provided the
hooks needed by Classic Theme Restorer, etc...

> We should even be able to provide the "WebExtension Experiments" so
> add-on authors can test new API and propose it to be added to
> Thunderbird. Obviously we should be making sure that the APIs added are
> not too broad.

Why?

> Keep your fingers crossed :)

I have been for a long time. I even tried my toes, but I kept tripping.
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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Philipp Kewisch-2
In reply to this post by Philipp Kewisch-2
On 3/20/17 2:40 PM, Disaster Master wrote:

> On Sun Mar 19 2017 12:46:47 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time), Philipp
> Kewisch <[hidden email]> wrote:
>> From what I have seen it is fairly easy to extend the WebExtensions API
>> without making any changes to m-c, so we may be lucky. It is just a
>> matter of a category manager entry to load the right scripts.
>
> Very interesting! Is this something that the Waterfox dev could do as
> well? If so, another reason for us to try to pool efforts with others
> impacted by this to provide a 'fork' of sorts that will allow us to
> continue.
>
> Consider the impact to Mozilla if Waterfox all of a sudden zoomed past
> Firefox in terms of usage, because their WebExtensions APIs provided the
> hooks needed by Classic Theme Restorer, etc...

If Waterfox is keeping up with Firefox Trunk, then they can also provide
new APIs. The APIs needed for Thunderbird will likely be different from
what Waterfox would need, so I am not yet sure what we could share. If
there is something beneficial for both then sure, no harm in borrowing code.

In addition, WebExtension Experiments allow for easily adding new APIs
even without Waterfox. They only work on DevEdition and Nightly, but
they would allow certain add-ons to test new APIs even if Firefox
doesn't support them yet.

>
>> We should even be able to provide the "WebExtension Experiments" so
>> add-on authors can test new API and propose it to be added to
>> Thunderbird. Obviously we should be making sure that the APIs added are
>> not too broad.
>
> Why?

Mostly because of the maintenance burden. If for example we create an
API that would allow any XUL overlay to be loaded, then people will rely
on this API, and we could not migrate away from XUL without breaking
add-ons.

Using that example, it would also defeat the purpose of a WebExtension
API. If we basically provide a way to escape the whole WebExtension API
through an API, developers could just as well not use the API. The
WebExtensions API is meant to be stable and not change in every release,
so careful consideration has to be applied when adding new APIs.

Generally, we have a bit more flexibility with Thunderbird w.r.t.
providing a way out or continuing to support legacy add-ons. The number
of add-ons are substantially lower than for Firefox, and the number of
users is also a lot lower. Developers have been used to the fact that
they need to care about API changes themselves, but APIs also don't
change as much given our speed of development is different.

The risk is that without a well communicated deadline, developers would
be scrambling to get their add-ons updated if something major breaks in
the Platform that the Thunderbird Team cannot fix. The transition
between broken add-on and migrating to new APIs would not be instant, so
users would be without certain add-ons for a while, and some developers
might not update at all.

This is getting into the whole discussion on what policies to apply on
WebExtensions and we are not even at a stage where they would reliably
work, so I don't want to get into this too deeply. We should continue
this when I have had time to make a proposal for Thunderbird and
add-ons, part of which includes checking what our add-ons do and what
APIs would make sense.

Regardless of what direction we go, we'll make sure to discuss this as
early as possible and also involve add-on developers.


Philipp
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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Disaster Master
On Mon Mar 20 2017 10:40:38 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time), Philipp
Kewisch <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 3/20/17 2:40 PM, Disaster Master wrote:
>> On Sun Mar 19 2017 12:46:47 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time), Philipp
>> Kewisch <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>> From what I have seen it is fairly easy to extend the WebExtensions API
>>> without making any changes to m-c, so we may be lucky. It is just a
>>> matter of a category manager entry to load the right scripts.
>> Very interesting! Is this something that the Waterfox dev could do as
>> well? If so, another reason for us to try to pool efforts with others
>> impacted by this to provide a 'fork' of sorts that will allow us to
>> continue.
>>
>> Consider the impact to Mozilla if Waterfox all of a sudden zoomed past
>> Firefox in terms of usage, because their WebExtensions APIs provided the
>> hooks needed by Classic Theme Restorer, etc...
> If Waterfox is keeping up with Firefox Trunk, then they can also provide
> new APIs. The APIs needed for Thunderbird will likely be different from
> what Waterfox would need, so I am not yet sure what we could share.

I was thinking about whatever the effort was to provide this capability
- but if it trivial, then I guess maybe there isn't anything to share.

> If there is something beneficial for both then sure, no harm in borrowing code.
>
> In addition, WebExtension Experiments allow for easily adding new APIs
> even without Waterfox. They only work on DevEdition and Nightly, but
> they would allow certain add-ons to test new APIs even if Firefox
> doesn't support them yet.

I still don't have a clue, but I really like the idea of being able to
add additional APIs outside Mozilla's control. But I'm also thinking
that I must be missing something big. If this is even possible, let
alone as (relatively) easy as it is sounding, then why wouldn't the
Waterfox Dev, and the CyberFox dev, and some of the major Addon devs who
are the most deeply affected (full themes, CTR, TST) be considering this
as a viable option/path.

>>> We should even be able to provide the "WebExtension Experiments" so
>>> add-on authors can test new API and propose it to be added to
>>> Thunderbird. Obviously we should be making sure that the APIs added are
>>> not too broad.
>> Why?
> Mostly because of the maintenance burden. If for example we create an
> API that would allow any XUL overlay to be loaded, then people will rely
> on this API, and we could not migrate away from XUL without breaking
> add-ons.

Ok, so, we (you) simply don't provide an API for that.

On that note - I have no clue - how difficult is it to provide these
APIs? Would it be feasible for, say, the Waterfox dev, to provide the
APIs to allow Classic Theme Restorer and/or Tree Style Tabs (full
functionality) to be rewritten as WebExtensions? Or would/could Mozilla
shut that down if they wanted?

Could additional APIs like this be maintained completely out of
Mozilla's tree, preventing them from shutting down this kind of
bypassing of their minimalist APIs?

> This is getting into the whole discussion on what policies to apply on
> WebExtensions and we are not even at a stage where they would reliably
> work, so I don't want to get into this too deeply. We should continue
> this when I have had time to make a proposal for Thunderbird and
> add-ons, part of which includes checking what our add-ons do and what
> APIs would make sense.
>
> Regardless of what direction we go, we'll make sure to discuss this as
> early as possible and also involve add-on developers.

Thanks for your efforts Phillip! I'm really happy that you were one of
the ones elected!
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Re: WebExtensions in TB, was: The Future of Thunderbird?

Philipp Kewisch-2
In reply to this post by Philipp Kewisch-2
On 3/20/17 4:01 PM, Disaster Master wrote:
> On Mon Mar 20 2017 10:40:38 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time), Philipp
> Kewisch <[hidden email]> wrote:
>> On 3/20/17 2:40 PM, Disaster Master wrote:
>> If Waterfox is keeping up with Firefox Trunk, then they can also provide
>> new APIs. The APIs needed for Thunderbird will likely be different from
>> what Waterfox would need, so I am not yet sure what we could share.
>
> I was thinking about whatever the effort was to provide this capability
> - but if it trivial, then I guess maybe there isn't anything to share.

The effort is pretty much trivial. One issue was Thunderbird specific,
the remaining work is really just mechanical and also specific to
Thunderbird.


> I still don't have a clue, but I really like the idea of being able to
> add additional APIs outside Mozilla's control. But I'm also thinking
> that I must be missing something big. If this is even possible, let
> alone as (relatively) easy as it is sounding, then why wouldn't the
> Waterfox Dev, and the CyberFox dev, and some of the major Addon devs who
> are the most deeply affected (full themes, CTR, TST) be considering this
> as a viable option/path.
> [...]> On that note - I have no clue - how difficult is it to provide
these
> APIs? Would it be feasible for, say, the Waterfox dev, to provide the
> APIs to allow Classic Theme Restorer and/or Tree Style Tabs (full
> functionality) to be rewritten as WebExtensions? Or would/could Mozilla
> shut that down if they wanted?

This is getting a bit off topic for the Thunderbird list, but there is
nothing keeping those developers from doing so from a technical perspective.

Mozilla has no interest in shutting forks down, it is usually rather a
matter of Firefox moving forward and the forks not having enough
manpower to adapt to the changes.

If you want to read how easy it is to create new APIs check out
https://webextensions-experiments.readthedocs.io/


> Thanks for your efforts Phillip! I'm really happy that you were one of
> the ones elected!

Thank you, very much appreciated! I'm glad to be part of the council and
help move things forward.


Philipp

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