Archive for July 28th, 2007

Thunderbird — Why Change Things?

July 28th, 2007

One large them of responses to the Thunderbird post is the question: Why can’t Thunderbird and Firefox both prosper in the same development organization? Since there is money, what’s the problem?

The problem is trying to do two different types of things exceptionally well at the same time. This is extraordinarily difficult. (I’ll describe why we’ve found Thunderbird and Firefox are different enough to make this so in a separate post.) Trying to do two different things requires a constant balancing of the needs of each. In many cases it results in an inability to optimize for either one and both projects suffering. In our case it also results in a constant need to prioritize between the two. And in this prioritization Firefox is getting and will continue to get the vast bulk of resources.

This is because the impact of the two products is wildly different. Thunderbird is a solid product that provides an open source alternative in an important area for a set of users. That’s important and worthy of attention.

Firefox is important in moving an entire segment of the Internet industry towards a more open, more innovative place. We’re not the only factor of course, there are lots of other critical people and organizations involved. But modern, innovative browsing and web development as displayed through Firefox is part of what moves the Web landscape now.

Firefox effects are felt by people who use other products. Its effects are felt by people using other browsers (even IE has a development team again!). Its effects are felt in the standards world, where Firefox’s footprint strengthens our efforts to move web standards forward. Its effects are felt by web developers who have made Firefox their development tool of choice. The effects of Firefox go far beyond the daily user experience of its userbase.

This difference between Thunderbird and Firefox is profound. Each day the development team can work on Thunderbird, which serves its users well. Or they can work on Firefox, which affects a giant swath of the web industry, and serves a userbase that is at least an order of magnitude larger.

In this setting it does not make sense for a development group to give Thunderbird equal focus. Counting just the userbase, Firefox is 10 or 20 times bigger, so maybe one would say it should get 10 or 20 times the attention. If one adds in Firefox’s effect on the web industry the focus on browsing related activities goes way, way up until it dwarfs Thunderbird even more completely. One might then adjust these numbers in favor of Thunderbird because of a desire for diversity, a desire to continue to serve Thunderbird users, because we’ve always had mail, or for any number of other reasons.

But the point is that this is not a good setting for Thunderbird to get sustained attention and focus. Hiring more people doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t change the equation for determining relative attention.

This is our setting. This is why I say that I do not see the existing Mozilla development organization increasing its focus on Thunderbird in the forseeable future. Every time we look at it we are convinced that the current prioritization is correct.

We want Thunderbird to thrive as an open alternative for email. Thus the current effort to find a structure where Thunderbird and email can be the focus. We can imagine this happening within the Mozilla umbrella if there are separate development organizations — thus Option 2. We can imagine other possibilities — thus the other options. But the current setting needs change.

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