Mozilla’s New Focus on Thunderbird and Internet Communications

September 17th, 2007

Mozilla has been investing in email since the Foundation was created. We have a good, solid client in Thunderbird, and we have aspirations to do more. We’ve spent the last few months working on how to meet those aspirations. Many thanks to everyone who participated in the discussions.

The result is that Mozilla is launching a new effort to improve email and internet communications. We will increase our investment and focus on our current email client — Thunderbird — and on innovations in the email and communications areas. We are doing so by creating a new organization with this as its sole focus and committing resources to this organization. The new organization doesn’t have a name yet, so I’ll call it MailCo here. MailCo will be part of the Mozilla Foundation and will serve the public benefit mission of the Mozilla Foundation. (Technically, it will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, just like the Mozilla Corporation.)

David Ascher is joining Mozilla to lead MailCo. David has been an active participant in the Mozilla project for many years, both in his role as CTO of ActiveState and personally through participation in our governance discussions. In fact it was one if David’s comments on an early draft of the Mozilla Manifesto that helped crystallize its structure. David also has deep experience in the open source world and is a member of the board of directors of the Python Foundation. David also brings familiarity with Mozilla technology and the Mozilla community through years of using Mozilla technology to build ActiveState products, including the new Open Komodo project. We are very fortunate to have David join us to lead this effort.

Mozilla will provide an initial $3 million dollars in seed funding to launch MailCo. This is expected to be spent mostly on building a small team of people who are passionate about email and Internet communications. As MailCo develops it and the Mozilla Foundation will evaluate what’s the best model for long-term sustainability. Mozilla may well invest additional funds; we also hope that there are other paths for sustainability.

We’ll be setting up MailCo in the coming weeks. Part of this is forming the team of people, part is developing a transition plan to move Thunderbird into MailCo gracefully while supporting the Thunderbird users. That will take some time. We’re on the path now though and that’s a great thing.

The goals for the new company are:

  • Take care of Thunderbird users
  • Move Thunderbird forward to provide better, deeper email solutions
  • Create a better user experience for a range of Internet communications — how does / should email work with IM, RSS, VoIP, SMS, site-specific email, etc?
  • Spark the types of community involvement and innovation that we’ve seen around web “browsing” and Firefox.

One of the things I find most exciting about the Firefox work is the way people use Firefox to dream up what the web could be, and then go out and so something to make it happen.We can spark the same kind of excitement and energy level and innovation in the email/communications space. And when we do, Internet life will get much, much better and much more interesting.

Help us make it happen.

42 comments for “Mozilla’s New Focus on Thunderbird and Internet Communications”

  1. 1

    Asa Dotzler – Firefox and more said on September 17th, 2007 at 7:02 pm:

    mozilla makes major new investment in mail and messaging

    In case you hadn’t read the news, Mozilla’s making a major new investment in email and messaging. If you want to learn more, Mitchell’s blog is a good place to start. If you still have questions, you can join us this Wednesday when Mitchell and David w…

  2. 2

    Jason said on September 17th, 2007 at 7:12 pm:

    It is interesting that this post is really identical to the posts several weeks ago about the future of Thunderbird.

    At the time I opposed some of the suggestions, including this one. I still have reservations, but the approach that this announcement takes is much more positive and sounds better than the first one. Nice job on presenting the positives in a better light. 🙂

  3. 3

    quodlibetor said on September 17th, 2007 at 7:30 pm:

    Just because i can’t resist a chance to suggest names, i think MoCom(munication) has a nice ring to it.

    I know that’s one of the least important things, but it does point out that we’re not just concerned with mail while also fitting into a (fairly awesome) naming scheme 😉

  4. 4

    Alan Pater said on September 17th, 2007 at 7:51 pm:

    Cool! To move Thunderbird forward, I would suggest moving it to the web, making a server based ajax version. Even when the server is on the same computer as the console.

    Incorporate the fantastic ideas from gmail. All messages are part of a conversation. IM, VOIP, SMS are all part of the conversations. No icons, only text links.

  5. 5

    Aus said on September 17th, 2007 at 8:19 pm:

    This is awesome news! I’ve been using Thunderbird for a long time as my email client of choice on Windows and Mac. I was definitely nervous about the product itself being cut from the list of official Mozilla goodies.

    Thanks for listening to the community, again and again. 🙂

  6. 6

    Mitchell Baker said on September 17th, 2007 at 9:32 pm:

    quodlibetor: David Ascher and I had a similar joke:
    Mozilla Communications Corp or MoCoCo. The extra “in” joke there is that Netscape Communications Corp started like as Mosiac — another MoCoCo!


  7. 7

    marcoC (upnorth) said on September 17th, 2007 at 11:42 pm:

    Thank you another great blog.

    Yes this is exciting. I almost suspect that these effort will pass Firefox up, after which both effort may fold into one. Very nice, very nice indeed…

  8. 8

    Gary Kwong said on September 17th, 2007 at 11:47 pm:

    This is great news! The future of Thunderbird looks bright. Let’s hope that Thunderbird becomes just as successful as Firefox!

  9. 9

    MioMio said on September 18th, 2007 at 12:15 am:

    Great! I am happy to hear, that it goes on with thunderbird. So my favorite “blue bird” won’t die.

  10. 10

    Luis Villa said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:15 am:

    Please do use CommCo or something like it- sticking ‘Mail’ in the name virtually dooms it to be mail-centric from day one. 🙂

  11. 11

    BeFox said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:34 am:

    Nouveau tournant pour Thunderbird et les communications sur Internet selon Mozilla

    C’est au mois de juillet que l’avenir de Thunderbird a été remis en question, celui-ci ayant besoin d’un nouveau souffle étant donné qu’il reste dans l’ombre du succès de Firefox. Une discussion publique avait alors …

  12. 12

    Eddy Nigg said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:38 am:

    Mitchell, I think this is great news and sounds really exciting! I couldn’t expect more than that. The organizational change in relation to the plans and commitments announced here make sense and I wish David good luck on the way forward.

  13. 13

    Sinklar said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:50 am:

    It sounds like asymetric when Thunderbird goes its own way while Firefox stays by Mozilla. That’s a strange and bad personal feeling…

    But for sure it’s good news to know that Thunderbird will be better. Wow, it will rise perfection !

  14. 14

    Marko said on September 18th, 2007 at 5:13 am:

    It’s great to see Thunderbird receive the resources and attention that Firefox has received.

    I tend to be minimalist in my approach, so hurrah for not trying to be another Outlook. Some of us just like to carry our “essential” programs around on a USB stick and plug in wherever.

    I like the idea of being able to read and compose email even when not connected to the internet. This is what email clients have traditionally been, and there will always be a core user base for that kind of functionality. I hope that doesn’t go away.

    But so as not to get stuck in the past, a “forward-looking” feature would be to enable, through the traditional email client UI, communication with other web-based apps. I communicate a lot with young people, and they are using regular email less and less (largely because of spam). Myspace, Facebook, etc – these are the communication methods of choice for a new generation. They all have ways of sending and receiving messages. In fact, I’m even seeing the term “email me” being used to mean “send me a message on MySpace.”

    Pidgin and Trillian (to name a couple) are the prime examples of IM integration into one program. The same kind of integration is needed for the more traditional text-based, “non-instant” messaging, which started out as email, but has become so much more.

  15. 15

    Marcos Gonzalez said on September 18th, 2007 at 5:32 am:

    What about making it integrate better with social network sites?

    It would soooo cool!

  16. 16

    Jay Levitt said on September 18th, 2007 at 5:40 am:

    I too am glad to see that Thunderbird will survive; it’s been the neglected stepchild for too long (not to minimize the efforts of Scott and many others).

    One of the problems is this: Do you want a “deeper e-mail solution”, or do you want a communications/conversation client that spans all Internet media? They’re somewhat antithetical.

    It seems like all clients that start out in the mail, USENET or RSS world try to expand into the other two fields. I’m not sure why; maybe because all three look good in a three-pane view. But that’s about all they have in common.

    E-mail is, largely, a highly responsive medium. I reply to many of the messages I get, and most of the time I want to know quickly if I received a message. I archive my e-mail permanently; maybe I tag or folder it. And I need to filter out spam. And it correlates highly to my task lists, calendar, address book, etc. Certain authors are more important than others. I have a dozen or so folders, across a handful of accounts.

    RSS feeds are at the other end of the spectrum. I mostly skim, so features like “summary in the list pane” are important to help me find what’s interesting. I rarely reply (post comments) – but when I do, I want to track those entries separately for updates, something that even specialized sites like can’t always get right. I have hundreds of “folders” (feeds), most of which are empty at any given time.

    Newsgroups are in the middle. Sometimes I reply to a particular thread, or post a new thread with a question, in which case I want to know instantly if there are responses. Other times I’m skimming them like RSS feeds. I need robust threading support, and cross-post detection.

    Mailing lists have the same use cases as newsgroups. So do web forums, but nobody’s ever attempted to write a desktop client for web forums yet.

    Some blogs are really web forums in disguise.

    And IMs are a totally, totally different thing altogether.

    The upshot: I’ve traditionally been happier with three separate clients for mail, USENET, and RSS, because the superficial similarities quickly give way to unusability. If Thunderbird wants to be my be-all “conversations” client, great – but it will take a lot more development resources than any mail, news or RSS client has ever been given. And it’ll need to push hard for microformats that let it detect conversations in any media and context, and easy-to-write crowdsourced interpreters (not XSLT, thank you) to support the hundreds of types of online conversations that don’t yet support that microformat.

    If you can’t do that – and I can’t imagine how you could – I’d rather see it focus on e-mail.

    Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to press “Post” in FeedDemon, which embeds IE7 but with no local javascript, then copy the URL to Firefox, where I can run a bookmarklet that notifies to check this blog entry for new comments, which then adds an entry to my co.mments RSS feed, which I will read again in FeedDemon.

  17. 17

    Thunderbird said on September 18th, 2007 at 5:40 am:

    great news, just after I found out about this I wrote my own post on my blog, thanks!

  18. 18

    Rob said on September 18th, 2007 at 7:08 am:

    This is good news. As a casual contributor to Thunderbird in the past, I’ve been disappointed by the pace of innovation. (Not a knock on the core developers–there just aren’t enough of you!) Hopefully this will inject some new enthusiasm.

  19. 19

    Sam Ruby said on September 18th, 2007 at 7:09 am:


    David Ascher:

  20. 20

    Jenn said on September 18th, 2007 at 7:35 am:

    Will it work with exchange servers as well?

  21. 21

    Simon Faulkner said on September 18th, 2007 at 7:44 am:

    Most excellent news! Thank you.

    I don’t care about the name but I would *LOVE* to see some simple, server based shared contacts and calendars for small organisations.

    Keep up the good work.

  22. 22

    Joe K said on September 18th, 2007 at 8:36 am:

    Fantastic news! Im really looking forward to seeing what mozilla can do in this area. Someone needs to come in and smack the email/IM market with a good dose of mozilla style development.

    It feels so nice, as a user, to be the top priority for a company for once. Thanks as always!

  23. 23

    Aaron Strontsman said on September 18th, 2007 at 10:16 am:

    This sounds good.
    I’d have a different idea for Thunderbird’s future: make it the first social network that is a) entirely open and b) partly accessible offline.
    The only standard you’d still need to set up would be a standard for profile pages like those of Facebook (the Myspace conception that leads to pages that only contain videos and photostreams seems undesirable for me) and a way to leave public comments on those pages. For friend list and IMing there’s Jabber, E-Mail remains the most important part and the already existing Address Book could be refreshed by microformat feeds from profile pages (and is therefore a locally cached version of the friend list).
    Profile pages, however should not be stored on a central server (because that would cost Mozilla a lot of money), but on a custom page, like from a free web space provider.

    Okay, that was my kinda complicated idea that’d also be really hard to design. Hope anyone reads this now that is so much at the bottom of the page.
    (Double Post?)

  24. 24

    Anonymous said on September 18th, 2007 at 10:30 am:

    As soon as fluent Exchange support is in place I’ll surely give it a try!

  25. 25

    David Naylor said on September 18th, 2007 at 10:38 am:

    Sounds good to me! Like many others I was concerned when the first announcements were made – I somehow got the impression that Thunderbird would be axed from MoFo all together. It was probably just the over-protective mozilla fanboy within me that stirred.

  26. 26

    isadrone said on September 18th, 2007 at 10:46 am:

    TBird is my favourite RSS reader even considering its looong-standing trait of suddenly (and inexplicably) failing to read feeds. And resisting attempts to delete and/or re-add feeds. I stick with it because I like how easy it makes accessing and organizing entries. When it works.

    Which is my way of saying, I’m glad Thunderbird will be getting more attention. I look forward to the day when I may *wholeheartedly* embrace TBird as my mail + RSS reader. 🙂

  27. 27

    money maker said on September 18th, 2007 at 11:32 am:

    Another product to manage. Why don’t they devote some of their resources to fixing the many bugs Firefox suffers from? Just because people tolerate it crashing and corrupting doesn’t mean it needs to be that way.

    Mike from

  28. 28

    Saptarshi Purkayasha said on September 18th, 2007 at 11:51 am:

    I have often used Thunderbird to send emails, but the future of emails is web mails or web access to office emails. Most office emails would still require some kind of a client, but then I think the new subsidary should concentrate more on communication platforms. Something like VoIP, IM, SMS is more exciting!!

    I recently made an observation in my blog if Google should take Gmail offline with Google Gears!! Steps like these seem like moving backward in a web world.

  29. 29

    coffeetime said on September 18th, 2007 at 11:56 am:

    That’s fantastic! I’m using Thunderbird for a long time and it’s just a great e-mail client.Please take it forward-it’s worth it! And just one question–>will it work with exchange servers?
    Go, go Thunderbird…

  30. 30

    Amsterdammer said on September 18th, 2007 at 12:29 pm:

    Thank you ! 🙂

  31. 31

    Raffael Luthiger said on September 18th, 2007 at 12:43 pm:

    I would like to know where Penelope (Eudora) will be. Still with Mozilla or in the new company?

    No words about it here:

  32. 32

    Pod said on September 18th, 2007 at 12:54 pm:

    The critical product is Sunbird. With a decent calender it can compete with Outlook.

  33. 33

    Mauro Cicognini said on September 18th, 2007 at 1:55 pm:

    This is just fantastic news. After the previous posts, I feared we devoted TB users were going to be left out in the cold. Instead it turns out *more* resources are being thrown at TB, so I’m just going hooray.
    Kudos to all of you and best wishes to David, from a fellow pythoneer.

  34. 34

    Beth said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:56 pm:

    I’m really happy to read that more’s being put into Thunderbird! I switched from MS Outlook to T’bird a few months ago, and the only thing I miss is the calendar/task functions (actually, I really miss that a lot), which I’ve replaced with Google Calendar. I hope to see those functions developed in T’bird–I personally think use would increase substantially with a few things like this. (Note I am not a MS fangirl; I just liked Outlook.)

    Someone mentioned having web mail; I know I’m specifically using T’bird rather than Gmail because I can’t stand web-based email. I guess it would be nice as an option, though.

    I would love to see a full-functioning threaded email feature as with Gmail. There are extensions (another reason to love Thunderbird!), but they really don’t work well. Hopefully with more work being put into Thunderbird itself, more (and better!) extensions will follow!

  35. 35

    Luc Cardinaels said on September 18th, 2007 at 10:43 pm:

    Great news. I am fully committed to contribute and make this baby the nr.1 e-mail client !



  36. 36

    Tipt said on September 19th, 2007 at 12:33 am:

    Mozilla Thunderbird krijgt een nieuwe impuls

    Het emailprogramma Mozilla Thunderbird krijgt een nieuwe impuls. Er is een paar miljoen dollar vrijgemaakt om Thunderbird verder te ontwikkelen. Mozilla, ook de maker van Firefox, hoopt hiermee meer gebruikers te krijgen en het product te

  37. 37

    Oisin said on September 19th, 2007 at 1:09 am:

    This is very encouraging, Mitchell. I’ve spent many years moving between mail clients and extending them to get a good communications flow going. Things have gone way beyond just email now, and I have IM, feeds, newsgroups, google/yahoo groups, social networking site notifications and calendar notifications to deal with. It’s inordinately difficult to manage merging these into coherent transient streams of communication that can be simple archived and mined. I’ll be watching with interest!

  38. 38

    Prashant said on September 19th, 2007 at 1:35 am:

    I love Thunderbird! It has been much better than the MS Outlook that I had been using. It also integrates the RSS feeds from the sites I love. Great going.

    I only wish that there is a better solution to export the mails and the address book to other e-mail clients. This will help a lot when we wish to switch away to some other machine.

  39. 39

    Chris said on September 19th, 2007 at 1:47 am:

    “The critical product is Sunbird. With a decent calender it can compete with Outlook.”

    And yet there’s been reference to Sunbird in any of this. Everybody’s asking about calendars but nobody seems to want to answer.

    It’s a core piece of functionality and I don’t see people clamouring for VoIP in the same way. Just a few issues that people would like to hear about:

    Has the strategy for calendars, to do lists and so on been decided?
    Or, does Mozilla favour the Apple route of separate Mail and Calendar apps? (I personally prefer the other approach)
    What is the opinion on MAPI support in future?
    Is Sunbird still important to Mozilla?
    Is the Sunbird codebase suitable to be integrated into Thunderbird – is it good enough and portable enough?

  40. 40

    Blog on 27th Floor said on September 19th, 2007 at 2:21 am:



  41. 41

    Vegard Krog Petersen said on September 19th, 2007 at 10:15 am:

    Good news. Perhaps we can see some improvements in the newsgroups/newsreader part also?… Fingers crossed. 🙂

  42. 42

    Baptiste said on September 19th, 2007 at 11:45 am:

    That is great news, really! I hope Mozilla can show the full power of a standards-based approach for email, instant messenging or photo sharing, just like you did for the web!

Skip past the sidebar