Thunderbird and the Mozilla Mission

July 27th, 2007

There has been some interpretation of my Thunderbird /mail post as saying that Thunderbird doesn’t fit into the mission of the Mozilla Foundation. This is not my view at all. If Thunderbird didn’t fit into the mission, then we would be having a very different discussion. For example, Option 2 of my original post — a separate organization inside the Mozilla Foundation — would not be possible if Thunderbird didn’t fit within the mission.

The Mozilla mission is very broad; broad enough to encompass many aspects of human interaction with the Internet. This includes the work we’ve always done and the long-time Mozilla projects and products. It also includes a range of new activities that could be undertaken.

The question is: How does the Mozilla Foundation best serve its mission? Where does it focus? How do we develop maximum participation in our software development and in improving the quality of Internet life?

Until now the guidance of both browsing and desktop email related work has been in a single organization which today is the Mozilla Corporation. Most of those closely involved in the daily development believe this is not the best solution. (The question of why we believe this is another broad theme, which I’ll address in a separate post.)

The “Call to Action” is a public call to help figure out a good solution. It might well be that we end up with Option 2, in which Thunderbird efforts remain completely within the Mozilla world. Currently the two lead developers are currently leaning toward Option 3 which I believe is due to the desire for simplicity in getting started. The other options are on the table precisely because Thunderbird is indeed within the Mozilla mission and none of us wants to see it decline.

The Call to Action is also a request that those people interested in committing time and energy to developing Thunderbird step forward. The Thunderbird community is currently small. We’re trying to find out who is ready and able to contribute. Community vitality is a fundamental part of Mozilla’s mission. So please do speak up if you are interested and able to be a part of Thunderbird development going forward.

Similarly, the Call to Action for a broader mail initiative is to see if there are people interested, competent and ready to get involved in a serious way. This is not walking away from mail, it is an invitation for those interested in such a project to step forward so we can evaluate what is possible.

Mozilla has resources to apply to these efforts, including funds. We are trying to figure out the best way to use resources effectively. This includes Thunderbird, this includes a potential new approach to mail, and it includes new ideas that may emerge over time.

10 comments for “Thunderbird and the Mozilla Mission”

  1. 1

    Ethan Wiener said on July 27th, 2007 at 8:42 am:

    Hey Mitch,

    I thought you might be interested in this:

    I would love to share a new tool with your readers. BigString is a free email service that allows a user to easily send, recall, erase, self-destruct and modify an email after it has been sent. BigString users have unprecedented control over all of their email, whether they choose to send it through the website or even Microsoft Outlook.

    It is inevitable. At one point or another in your life, you

  2. 2

    wintogreen said on July 27th, 2007 at 11:23 am:

    Even mscott, in his July 25 blog post (which you’ve surely read), seems to be under the impression that Thunderbird doesn’t fit into the Mozilla mission, which he says has evolved to emphasize “open web through browsing and related activities”. Indeed, one of the reasons he says he is leaning toward your Option 3 is that Option 2 (a Thunderbird subsidiary) would “not further the Foundation’s mission to advance the open web”.

    Perhaps it would help clear up some of the confusion if you stated, in plain terms, your understanding of the de facto Mozilla mission as it stands today and how you think Thunderbird does in fact contribute to it. What you wrote above (“the Mozilla mission is very broad; broad enough to encompass many aspects of human interaction with the Internet”) is so broad as to be almost meaningless.

  3. 3

    Jeremy Morton said on July 27th, 2007 at 1:49 pm:

    You asked for people who thought they could contribute to Thunderbird development to respond, so I am responding. I know something of the Mozilla source, having dabbled with it for a few years, and am currently implementing a patch to Thunderbird that will create a new ‘Received date’ column, something more reliable than the current ‘Date’ column, for IMAP and POP e-mails.

    I believe I could help in the future development of Thunderbird. I’d like to see it incorporate some of Outlook Express’s nicer features that it lacks, and eventually integrate calendaring functionality (Sunbird) – I think it has great potential to be an Outlook killer.

    For my part, I wouldn’t like to see a ‘Thunderbird Corporation’ spinoff (what I perceive Option 3 to be). I don’t think Thunderbird, in its current form, could earn its keep as a separate organization. That shouldn’t relegate it to being dumped, though; it’s a useful piece of software for the community, and profit shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all of development. Cross-subsidize Thunderbird development with some of Firefox’s (large) resources. If Google won’t have it, tell them where to jump.

  4. 4

    Eddy Nigg said on July 27th, 2007 at 2:20 pm:

    Thank you for clarifying the initial statement which was broadly misunderstood by most.

    I think that generally Thunderbird has taken an interesting and perhaps correct course during the last years, otherwise critics of what has been done so far would have been much greater. But this isn

  5. 5

    Dan Veditz said on July 27th, 2007 at 4:49 pm: is available both as a newsgroup and a mailing list (and if you must, using a browser via Google Groups).

  6. 6

    Majken said on July 27th, 2007 at 6:40 pm:

    “We are convinced that our current focus – delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services – is the correct priority.”

    I think this is the part that people are getting that impression from. If nothing else, this is sitting just poorly enough to put people on edge. I think the public were assuming that a benefit of the corporation would be that this would become Moco’s territory, freeing the foundation to explore other less cared for aspects of the internet.

    People don’t know what has or hasn’t been done already behind the scenes that has led up to option 3 being what seems like a first line option. I think people were prepared to hear about another subsidiary or foundation for Thunderbird, but the idea that cutting TB lose is already an option… it makes it very hard for people who don’t know how the foundation and corporation really work to accept that this isn’t just a polite way of showing the project to the door.

    If this is how the foundation really feels, then option 3 should be off the table for now, unless efforts have already been made to try options 1 and 2 that we just don’t know about. If option 3 is on the table because it’s what the Thunderbird devs want, then why is this all being framed in terms of what the foundation is focused on? Also, why aren’t they making the call to action?

    I think this will all be a lot easier to understand and accept as you make more posts about all the aspects involved. I also agree that Thunderbird should have it’s own organizational structure, but then I already know about the resources that Moco has for Firefox, and why simply hiring more people won’t help much. I think once those topics are explored more in public then others will find it harder to misunderstand the intentions here.

  7. 7

    terry said on July 27th, 2007 at 9:17 pm:

    For some reason MoFo/MoCo seems intent on refighting the last war. Please stop. Why should MoFo care (or spend more resources) on the “Open Web” than the Apache Foundation, or dozens of other organizations? I’d suggest if you care about that so much, quit your day job as head of MoCo and become the house lawyer of the EFF, FSF, etc. Seriously, why do you think that this is the number one goal of MoFo. I was at Mozilla presentations at this year’s OSCON and ETech and both you and Brendian (?) seemed almost embarassed in talking about anything technical? Why? Given that Mozilla does seem to putting some resources in keeping the code base up to date, why not shout it out to the world, instead of these non-technical talks?

    If y’all are really interested in keeping the web open then focus on innovating faster, not worrying whether or not somebody needs to use a computer to be a productive member of society. The hubris of your presentation this week was rather annoying.
    I’d rather see MoFo compete against Silverlight, JavaFX, and AIR with something more than mostly empty rhetoric.

    I’d suggest, as others have, renaming MoCo to FirefoxCo and then having MoFo focus on the mozilla platform. If you need any help, I’d suggest looking at the BoF ran by your former OSAF org which, when I passed by it last night consisted of maybe four people and Ted Leung. I remember not so long ago where there were easily a half dozen OSAF folks at OSCON bof with maybe fifty people in the crowd total, while there might be just five of us with a Netscape employee at the Mozilla one. It wouldn’t take long to have Mozilla get back to that size if you’re not more focused.
    How much time and energy does Mitch Kapor spend on OSAF anymore?

    As for Thunderbird, if might make sense to form a TBCo since there are more than a few large companies and enterprises that use it. But there really isn’t a lot of innovation with email clients, so it’s not clear how much of market there is. Given that Apache, Eclipse, etc Foundations don’t seem to have these issues, I’d suggest you drop-kick your “Manifesto” into the dust bin and get back to engineering.

  8. 8

    Michael Smith said on July 29th, 2007 at 9:07 am:

    A new vision and roadmap for Thunderbrid.

    1. adding sunbird lightning calendar to Thunderbird installer by default
    2. Integrating serverless Instant Messenger to Thunderbird
    3. Creating a adress book in Thunderbird, which has: emailadress, retroshare-key fields for each contact (copy out line).
    4. creating the online-contact box in the left menue as a contact list for Thunderbrid email, users are offline or online and can be messaged or emailed. So there is no need for a buddylist, it is just the contacts adressbook of Thunderbird, which appears in the write Window and under teh folders in the main window left.
    5. Make a Thunderbird wizard, which picks up email-pop, retroshare cert_user.pem file OR creats an account for retroshare serverless IM.

    These five steps to a new Thunderbird future combine both:
    – online and offline communication
    – Instant Messaging and Email
    – serverless (new jabber-retroshare) and serverbased protocols (email)
    – a new general interface to internet communication on the desktop.

    If no new roadmap is done for Mozilla, let

  9. 9

    Baptiste said on July 30th, 2007 at 10:25 am:

    Whatever you say here, it seems that many people in the MoFo think: webmail is good enough for the (lowly?) home users. This is a treason of your users. Webmail is poison with a nice wrapping. It will bring email back to the kind of ininteroperable mess that we have with instant messenging. I’m not giving my private data to Google anytime soon, sorry.

  10. 10

    Asa Dotzler said on July 31st, 2007 at 9:36 pm:

    Baptiste, no one is saying that webmail is good enough for the home users.

    It is worth noting, however, that webmail clients are available for pretty much every single ISP that provides email so you don’t have to put any private data on Google’s servers. Ultimately, your mail has to go to some server though and where ever that is, there’s probably a webmail client.

    I don’t use Gmail regularly. My mail goes to a Mozilla server. I access it via both Thunderbird and the Zimbra web interface.

    I don’t see how this leads to interoperability problems, though. It’s still IMAP, POP, and SMTP, regardless of whether I’m accessing it from Thunderbird or a webmail app. Can you explain further what you mean here?

    – A

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