Mozilla

Thunderbird: Stability and Community Innovation

July 6th, 2012

Thunderbird provides an open-source, cross-platform email alternative for those of us who still use stand-alone email clients (and I am one).  It’s trust-worthy, it’s under your control, and it’s built to reflect the Mozilla mission. Once again we’ve been asking the question:  is Thunderbird a likely source of innovation and of leadership in today’s Internet life?  Or is Thunderbird already pretty much what its users want and mostly needs some on-going maintenance?

Much of Mozilla’s leadership — including that of the Thunderbird team — has come to the conclusion that on-going stability is the most important thing, and that continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla’s product efforts. (For more information about the path to this conclusion, see the “Background Information” section below.) As a result, the Thunderbird team has developed a plan that provides both stability for Thunderbird’s current state and allows the Thunderbird community to innovate if it chooses.

In this plan, Mozilla will provide security updates through an Extended Support Release process. We will also maintain mechanisms for the Thunderbird community to organize for ongoing development. Here are additional details about this plan. If you are a Thunderbird user and are interested in more details, please follow the discussion at the two URLs above or in the Thunderbird online channels. If you are a Thunderbird developer, join the discussion in the Thunderbird development forums.

Thunderbird is an important product for many people — I am one of them.  If you’re one of us and want to get involved in building Thunderbird, now is the time. For Thunderbird users, the Extended Support Release process will provide security maintenance updates.

Background Information

We’ve asked the question about Thunderbird and ongoing innovation a number of times.  We’ve tried for years to build Thunderbird as a highly innovative offering, where it plays a role in moving modern Internet messaging to a more open, innovative space, and where there is a growing, more active contributor base.  To date, we haven’t achieved this.  The exception to this statement is the Mozilla localization communities, which contributes immense effort into localizing Thunderbird into many languages.  However, the dedicated efforts of these groups have not been supported by an active contributor base in other areas.    This puts great stress on a number of our localization communities.

The Thunderbird team has successfully updated the product and has built infrastructure for innovation in Thunderbird.  It has ideas and projects under way.  It tries to develop and welcome and nurture new contributors.   Over the years we’ve tried a variety of things to encourage community development and innovation in the Thunderbird world.  In the early days of the Foundation in 2003 the same team was developing Firefox and Thunderbird; then we created Mozilla Messaging for a focused development; and today the Thunderbird team is back in the main Mozilla product organization.

Most Thunderbird users seem happy with the basic email feature set.  In parallel, we have seen the rising popularity of Web-based forms of communications representing email alternatives to a desktop solution.  Given this, focusing on stability for Thunderbird and driving innovation through other offerings seems a natural choice.

 

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