Thunderbird’s Future

Granted I don’t talk as much about Thunderbird in here as I do Firefox. Part of that is because their isn’t as much news or anything to talk about with Thunderbird. On Wednesday Mozilla’s, Chief Lizard Wrangler (CEO) Mitchell Baker posted in her blog that Mozilla has come to a point where they to decided what they want to do with Thunderbird.

We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny.”

Mozilla has come up with three possible options:

Option 1. Create a new non-profit organization analogous to the Mozilla Foundation – a Thunderbird foundation. If it turns out Thunderbird generates a revenue model from the product as Firefox does, then a Thunderbird foundation could follow the Mozilla Foundation model and create a subsidiary.

Option 2. Create a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation for Thunderbird. This has less overhead, although it still requires a new company that serves the mission of the Mozilla Foundation. In this case the Mozilla Foundation board and personnel would remain involved in Thunderbird. Thunderbird would continue to need to be balanced and prioritized with Mozilla’s focus on delivering the web through Firefox, its ecosystem and the Open Web as the platform. The Thunderbird effort may therefore still end up with less focus and less flexibility.

Option 3. Thunderbird is released as a community project much like SeaMonkey, and a small independent services and consulting company is formed by the Thunderbird developers to continue development and care for Thunderbird users. Many open source projects use this model, it could be simpler and more effective than a Mozilla Foundation subsidiary. However, creating this as a non-profit would be extremely difficult. Running a services company as an independent taxable company is the simplest operational answer. We would need to figure out how such a company relates to the Thunderbird product itself. What’s the best way for such a company to release a product? How does that relate to the community project that stays within Mozilla?

At this point Mozilla is not sure what they want to do with Thunderbird, but they know they to do something to keep Thunderbird growing. Time and time again, I hear the biggest hurdle to corporate use of Thunderbird is it does not have a built-in/integrated calendar as does Outlook. They have tried to overcome this hurdle with the introduction of the Lightning Extension but even that doesn’t have the same functionality as found in Outlook. Then there is the Sunbird project which is a standalone calendar program. Sadly neither of these have been successful for me as they either don’t work (Lightning) or won’t run (Sunbird).

Percy at Mozilla Links has taken a much deeper look into this and how this fits (or doesn’t fit) within the Mozilla Manifesto. Most of the comments on Mozilla Links seem to point towards Mozilla basically abandoning Thunderbird. One comment goes as far as to say Mozilla is doing this because of their ties with Google (GMail).

While we don’t use Outlook at my current job, we don’t use Thunderbird either. We have our own propitiatory web-based e-mail client. While it is better than Outlook I don’t like it because it keeps everything on the server. There is come a point where I will need to start deleting and purging messages so that I can still accept incoming mail. I suppose the removal of the ‘Get Mail’ Button from Firefox 2 was a sign of what was to come with Thunderbird/Mozilla.

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