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Archive for July 30th, 2007

Thunderbird — Revenue

July 30th, 2007

Some people have wondered if revenue is the reason we’re looking at making some changes in our approach to Thunderbird. The answer is no. No, no, no. The reasons for looking at a change are articulated in the last 5 or 6 posts:

  • The impact of browsing and the Web, as delivered through Firefox, dwarfs Thunderbird
  • Thunderbird is a different enough product and audience that the focus on browsing and the web doesn’t automatically bring Thunderbird what it needs
  • Thunderbird — both its strengths and its weaknesses — are overshadowed by the giant footprint of Firefox.

These issues would concern us whether or not Thunderbird generates revenue. Mozilla is not aimed at maximizing revenue. And Firefox revenue is funding a range of activities beyond Firefox, from infrastructure to Thunderbird employees, to documentation for web services.

Once we figure out what kind of organization makes sense then we can look at what funds it would need. Then we can figure out what combination of money from Firefox and what from Thunderbird activities would make sense. We don’t plan to leave Thunderbird high and dry without funds.

I know from previous comments that some people will never believe this. But repeating myself won’t change that, so I’ll stop here.

Thunderbird — Differences

July 30th, 2007

In my last post I described the profound difference in impact between the Thunderbird and Firefox projects. This goes beyond the 10 or 20 to 1 difference in size of userbase. It also includes Firefox’s effect on openness and innovation in general. I described how this causes the relative prioritization between Thunderbird and Firefox to be severely skewed towards Firefox and why I believe it will remain that way.

This could perhaps be OK if the two products were very similar, so that work on one was intimately related to the other. We have found this not to be the case.

The two are complementary products for a set of users, but much less so in development. There are a number of reasons. The products are different, the userbase is different, the international aspects are different. Tristan described this nicely already, so I’ll be brief.

The products have large areas that are not as similar as one might think. Thunderbird uses the underlying Mozilla platform of course. So do many other products. But Thunderbird is intimately tied to IMAP and POP, specialized areas fundamentally different from the core of the web. So the technical relationship between Thunderbird and browsing is actually less obvious than the overlap between Firefox and all sorts of other products that are fundamentally about the web — video viewers, web based music programs, to name a few. Testing and QA are also different.

Perhaps even more fundamental, the world is still moving new things into the browser platform, but many consumers are moving away, have already moved away or may never use stand-alone desktop email.

  • Web mail usage grows. Younger generations in particular use other techniques.
  • There are many parts of the world where email is less common than in the US, Western Europe or Japan. For example, in parts of the world where Internet caf├ęs are a major way of accessing the Internet desktop email is not the norm. There is a serious question of whether these folks will ever move to mail, or if other options, either web and / or mobile based will always supplant email as we know it.
  • Thunderbird is much closer to an enterprise product. Development may still focus on what’s useful to an individual. But given the consumer adoption of webmail, enterprises are a significant source of interest in desktop email. Yet there remains debate about the Thunderbird roadmap, which does not include calendar as the key feature. I’d like to see a structure that promotes maximal feedback between the Thunderbird team and the userbase, and believe a focused organization focused is a better place.

This doesn’t make mail unimportant. It does reduce the degree to which the same development organization can excel at both products.

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