Mozilla

Email Call to Action

July 25th, 2007

Do you think email is important part of Internet life? Are you interested in seeing something interesting and exciting happen in the mail space? Believe that Thunderbird provides a much-needed option for open source email alternatives and want to see it get more attention on its own? Long to see something more innovative than Thunderbird in the mail space happen?

So does Mozilla.

Are you someone who could contribute to such an effort? Do you have expertise and a desire to be involved in an innovative mail effort and/or a focused Thunderbird effort? If so, Mozilla would like to hear from you.

Thunderbird

Mozilla has been supporting Thunderbird as a product since the beginning of the Foundation. The result is a good, solid product that provides an open alternative for desktop mail. However, the Thunderbird effort is dwarfed by the enormous energy and community focused on the web, Firefox and the ecosystem around it. As a result, Mozilla doesn’t focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don’t expect this to change in the foreseeable future. We are convinced that our current focus — delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services — is the correct priority. At the same time, the Thunderbird team is extremely dedicated and competent, and we all want to see them do as much as possible 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 is exploring the options for an organization specifically focused on serving Thunderbird users. A separate organization focused on Thunderbird will both be able to move independently and will need to do so to deepen community and user involvement. We’re not yet sure what this organization will look like. We’ve thought about a few different options. I’ve described them below. If you’ve got a different idea please let us know.

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.

This model probably offers the maximum independence for Thunderbird. But it is also the most organizationally complex. There is lots of overhead to create a new foundation, find good board members, recreate the administrative load. When we started the Mozilla Foundation Mitch Kapor, our-then business development lead and I spent a bunch of time on this work. The current Thunderbird developers don’t have this level of business assistance. If there is revenue that requires a subsidiary then the overhead goes up even further. There is serious concern that this will detract from serving Thunderbird users, since the core Thunderbird team is small and developer-focused.

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?

We don’t know the best answer yet. And we don’t expect to without a broad public discussion and involvement, which we hope this message will trigger. Today someone suggested to me that perhaps there is another foundation that might be a good home for Thunderbird. I hadn’t thought of this; it’s a creative idea.

If you’ve got thoughts or — even better — want to get involved, please let us know. Some suggestions for making sure Mozilla is aware of your comments are at the end of this post.

Broader Mail Initiative

We would also like to find contributors committed to creating and implementing a new vision of mail. We would like to have a roadmap that brings wild innovation, increasing richness and fundamental improvements to mail. And equally importantly, we would like to find people with relevant expertise who would join with Mozilla to make something happen.

If we can see a path to an innovative mail initiative in addition to supporting existing Thunderbird users, then we are interested in doing so. If we find the best way to improve mail is incremental development of Thunderbird as already planned, then we’ve learned something extremely valuable as well.

Mozilla has a range of resources — funds, code, etc. — that can be applied to this problem. We’re looking for people with expertise, vision and leadership capabilities. If you are such a person, or know of such people, please let us know.

Discussion

If you’re interested in these topics, let us know. The web is great at distributed discussions, let’s see what we think about mail. I’ll moderate comments and trackbacks here quickly. If you want to make absolutely sure that Mozilla can find your thoughts easily, feel free to leave a pointer to them here. There’s also a page for each discussion on the Mozillla wiki, although they require you to log-in to edit. So if you have a Mozilla wiki account or are willing to create one, you can find these pages at the locations below. Go to the “Discussion” tab at the top to add your thoughts or pointers back to your posts.

Thunderbird
Mail Initiative

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