Posts Tagged with “Thunderbird”

Thunderbird 3 Released

December 8th, 2009

Email on the desktop just got a lot better. Mozilla Thunderbird 3 is here.

Thunderbird 3 is a vastly improved email client. More powerful — check out the new search capabilities and the new tabbed functionality, similar to tabs in browsers. More polished — many UI improvements that make life much more pleasant. More extensible. So extensible that an extension like Personas, which was conceived for Firefox, now works in Thunderbird

The extensibility is an important part of the future roadmap as well. It’s clear that for many people “email” as a category is changing to a broader “messaging” category that includes tweets, RSS, IM, etc. The Thunderbird extension mechanism allows a massive increase in exploration as a complement to the exploration underway in the Raindrop project.

I’ve also found that the update mechanism for Thunderbird 3 — beta to RC to final — has been great. In other words, painless, including my extensions. This makes using a separate client a lot easier.

I’ve been using Thunderbird 3 beta builds for some time now, and it’s been great. Get it here:

Welcome Mozilla Messaging

February 19th, 2008

Mozilla’s revitalized focus on mail and Internet communications takes flight today with the launch of Mozilla Messaging, Inc. Mozilla Messaging is a new Mozilla organization focused on email and Internet communications. Its first area of focus is Mozilla Thunderbird, bringing new features such as integrated calendaring as well as new attention to community development and involvement. We expect Mozilla Messaging to develop a broader scope as well, providing experimentation, innovation and improvements in various forms of Internet-based communications.

Mozilla Messaging grows out of Mozilla’s long involvement with email. It is firmly rooted in the traits which make Mozilla unusual and effective. Mozilla Messaging lives within the umbrella of the Mozilla Foundation. (Technically, it is a wholly owned subsidiary, a sister organization to the Mozilla Corporation.) It exists to advance the Mozilla Foundation’s public-benefit mission and promote the Mozilla Manifesto. It’s an open source organization that uses the organizational principles and tools of the Mozilla project.

The decision to create a separate organization for Thunderbird and messaging was made last fall. During the summer we had a vigorous public discussion about how to make Thunderbird and Mozilla’s messaging efforts stronger, more innovative and involve more people. As a result of these discussions we found an excellent organizational leader for these efforts in David Ascher. In September we announced the decision to form a new Mozilla organization to focus on these goals.

Today the organization comes to life. Mozilla Messaging has a small set of employees, both to do great things themselves and to serve as catalysts and scaffolding for a broad-based community effort. It has a high level roadmap for Thunderbird. It’s got an organizational leader with a long background in both mail and Mozilla technologies. It’s got millions of users who care vigorously about Thunderbird and mail. It’s looking at an enormous and fundamental aspect of our online lives. It’s got great challenges, great responsibility and even greater potential.

I’m personally thrilled to see this happen. I am exceedingly eager to stop thinking so much about how to organize the Thunderbird / mail effort and to start seeing all that energy go to improving our product. That day has come. We have the tools to make email much, much better. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating. And then join the Mozilla Messaging effort and help make interesting things happen.

Thunderbird Proces of Change, Part 2

October 8th, 2007

As I noted in my last post, in late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers.

In early to mid 2007 the Foundation board designated two members (in addition to the work I was doing) to meet with the key Thunderbird developers to work on developing a plan together. In a series of meetings it was determined that a new Thunderbird organization would need an organizational leader — the developers couldn’t both develop and lead an organization. And as I have mentioned, there was a very strong interest in seeing Thunderbird vision expand and that clearly required additional people. A set of questions were raised but few answers were developed.

These meetings were not public for a couple of reasons. There are some key personal and personnel issues. I wanted to make sure that everyone already involved had a good opportunity to express their thoughts quietly, in a safe setting first. Second, we didn’t yet know what we were likely to do. I didn’t want people to worry we were adrift. I know people worried about this when we did start the public discussion. So either I was wrong to not start the public discussion much earlier, OR I was right to do a lot of ground work first and have an outline of how we would proceed before opening the discussion. Or I was *both* right and wrong, and there is no perfect solution.

We then spent some time thinking about who might be a good organizational leader for Thunderbird. The Thunderbird developers and I also spent time trying to think through how to create a new organization. By June or so it was clear that it was time to begin a public discussion about our goals for Thunderbird and desire to create a new home for it. I started working on this. Around the same time the Thunderbird developers came up with the suggestion that they create an independent company and we move Thunderbird development to it. The company would be interested in promoting the Mozilla mission, but would be outside of the Mozilla umbrella of organizations; a private company owned and run by the developers. We spent some time thinking through the pros and cons of this possibility, how the developers and a new company like this would interact with the source code and with the Thunderbird product. This became the third option included in my post opening the Thunderbird discussion. This option had the advantage of exciting the developers.

When we considered the idea of Thunderbird moving to a private independent company, a number of significant disadvantages emerged. First, this would mean that Mozilla as an organization was leaving the mail/ communications space and hoping that space would be filled by another organization. We weren’t ready to do that. Second, it felt like this would be moving Thunderbird to a more private space. We’re eager to see Thunderbird become an even more public project, with more contributors with greater authority. This concern is not remotely a reflection on the motivations of Scott and David. They have been devoted Mozilla participants for many years. This is a *structural* concern. It reflects the desire that Thunderbird — the product as well as the code — remain dedicated to the public benefit through the Foundation.

As is the Mozilla way, the public discussion of Thunderbird allowed us to move forward. Through this process we realized that David Ascher, long a part of the Mozilla project, was an excellent candidate for a Thunderbird / mail organization. I talk to David periodically about many Mozilla topics, and I think perhaps I realized he might be interested in leading the new organization even before he did :-) After this, the first step was to have David come to Mountain View (he lives in Vancouver) and meet the Thunderbird developers, followed by a bunch of other folks. I became convinced that David could lead the organization, and had the personality and technical chops to work with the Thunderbird developers. In particular to navigate between their phenomenal commitment to continuing to serve existing Thunderbird users and the Foundation’s goal of broadening the product vision.

I outlined my view of the future to David and Scott, the Thunderbird developers — David Ascher joins Mozilla to lead the new organizaton, David Bienvenu and Scott McGregor join the new organization, they continue to work on Thunderbird as they have been and participate in the efforts to broaden Thunderbird. David and Scott reiterated their interest in forming a private company but agreed that David seemed a good person to run an organization and a reasonable person to work with. We (meaning the Thunderbird developers and I) then spent time talking through how this arrangement could work.

These discusions involve nitty-gritty details like the status of the build system, ensuring that different versions of a product based on the Thunderbird code could be built. They also involve discussions of how modules owners like Scott and David would work within the new structure. Module ownership isn’t related to employment; it’s related to activity and the ability to lead and draw others to one’s work. So we expect the current developers to remain module owners for as long as they are active, interested, and leading a healthy community. We expect someone from Mozilla (eventually at MailCo) to make the final decision about when that code is ready to have the official Thunderbird name and be released as a product. There’s nothing new in this, but it’s always good to reiterate a shared understanding in a time of change.

In September I announced Mozilla’s plans for a new Thunderbird / mail organization. David Ascher is already at work getting to know the community, find out who is interested and able to help, and working through the details of setting up an effective organization. Scott and David are working on their plans as well. One of the fundamental aspects of Mozilla is that participation is not dependent on employment. Mozilla has phenomenal contributors who have never been employed to work on Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and remain equally involved with Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and later change their involvement with Mozilla, based on their preferences and their ability to lead others. Both Scott and David have stated their plans to continue their involvement with Thunderbird. It’s an unusual setting, and extremely powerful.

In the coming months a large set of Mozilla folks with be working on getting the new Thunderbird / mail organization organized and running, as well as serving Thunderbird users. We are also very eager to see Thunderbird become a broader product vision and to see a community with greater distributed authority. More people with the expertise and ability to authority to work deeply in the code will lead to a better product faster, and will spur the development of new experiments to improve mail. If you are driven to see Internet communications improve and can assist, please get in touch with David.

Thunderbird Process of Change Part 1

October 8th, 2007

In the coming months there will be a lot of discussion about how mail and Thunderbird will evolve. There will also be more detailed discussions about the new organizational home as we move from plans to concreteness. This seems a good time to describe how we got to where we are today.

Thunderbird has been a part of the Mozilla Foundation since the Foundation was created in 2003. Initially the developers did all the work, including build, release and QA. After a while I arranged for the organization to provide the full range of resources to Thunderbird as well, meaning build, release, QA and marketing. We did not make separate groups to support Thunderbird (other than the actual application developers, where we had one Firefox developer and two Thunderbird developers).

That setting remained unchanged but started to grow uncomfortable as the web started exploding in 2005 and 2006. Not only did Firefox marketshare and mindshare explode, but the web (and the browser) as a delivery platform for new applications also came of age. Firefox was at the center of a new wave of activity and a giant ecosystem. Through this Mozilla acquired a stronger voice for openness, innovation and participation on the web.

Thunderbird remained an important product with a significant and dedicated userbase. But Thunderbird diverged from our browser based efforts in a number of ways. One is the scope and vision of the product. Thunderbird is an email client. IT has some RSS and newsgroup capability, but it is primarily an email client. Increasingly other forms of web communications are developing. And Thunderbird the email client is not the complete answer to email needs. A complete solution might have other functionality (for example, calendar is a highly desired feature). A complete solution might include some server aspects, it might include a strategy for webmail, etc.

Second, email is a decreasing percentage of Internet communications. It’s still critically important to those of us who live in it of course. But even those who live in email often also use instant messaging, SMS, and other new ways of staying updated. Thunderbird is an excellent basis for thinking about these topics and improving Internet and web-based communications as a whole. But this wasn’t happening. And third, we weren’t seeing Thunderbird develop the kind of community or influence in the industry that Firefox has.

Two things became clear. We had the team for developing to develop a stand-alone desktop email application. But we didn’t have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern. The second thing that became clear was that we weren’t likely to build a mail / communications team we need inside the Mozilla Corporation.

Why not? Sometimes diversification can be a good strategy. Some companies do quite well with wildly different product lines, different operating groups responsible for them, all connected in one organization. But doing this well requires a certain type of management, and that is not the type we have at Mozilla. If an organization has different product lines and different development organizations, there must be a set of people in the organization who are thinking about all of them. At a minimum, that set includes whoever is making (or in our case guiding) strategy decisions, whoever is making decisions about how much money to spend where, whoever makes decisions about hiring and job responsibilities.

We could have a layer of decision-making that balances these two. But that involves more management, both in people and in process. Mozilla is about empowering as many people as possible to do, to make decisions and take action. We have managers and management in the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation, but generally we have as little as possible to get the job done.

So in late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers.

In my next post I’ll describe how we went from this realization to our current plan.

Thunderbird Update – Brief

August 5th, 2007

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my mail/Thunderbird posts. (Well, to almost everyone anyway.) We’re assimilating those comments now. After speaking at some length with the lead Thunderbird developers (Scott and David) here’s what we’ve assimilated so far.

  1. Great interest in seeing Thunderbird move forward. Both in terms of a healthy existence, and in terms of development of new features.
  2. Option 1 of my initial post — a separate Thunderbird and /or mail Foundation didn’t generate much interest. This option requires a significant number of people deeply interested in the organization and administration of the effort; running a Foundation is work. This option is at the end of the list now.
  3. There’s a fair amount of desire for things to stay the same. That desire is not shared by Scott, David, the Foundation or the Corporation.
  4. There is some interest in Option 3, where the developers would form a independent company themselves to make the Thunderbird product based on the code in the Mozilla mail project.
  5. There’s also a lot of interest in seeing Thunderbird remain part of the Mozilla Foundation as a product. It will stay as a Foundation project whether we take Option 2 or Option 3. In either case the code stays in the Mozilla world under Mozilla policies. The open question is what group takes that code, makes the Thunderbird product from it, releases and supports that product.

Next Steps:

Scott, David and I are working on describing in more detail what Options 2 and 3 would look like; what would be needed, but the unresolved issues are, etc. We hope to get some more information posted shortly.

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.

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.

Thunderbird — Features Discussion

July 27th, 2007

Many of the comments to the Thunderbird / mail post include suggestions about features for Thunderbird. These range from topics like adding visualization to adding calendaring functionality.

I encourage people to take these topic to the Thunderbird development and discussion areas. I would say the same thing if the topic was Firefox. Feature and product planning happens within the project group. For example, there are many comments about calendar functionality, and there is an active calendar project underway. The Thunderbird discussion areas are the right place to ask about the roadmap for integrating Lightning into Thunderbird, to note the degree of need and to look for a timeframe. Better yet, that’s the place to get involved in making things happen. Mozilla is successful when we are rooted in active, distributed involvement and contribution.

If it turns out that there is some barrier to getting involved, or if there is some other problem for contributors, then we’re in a different place and I definitely want to know about that.

I suspect most of us agree there is a lot of exciting potential improvements for Thunderbird and for mail in general. The point is how best to get sustained, focused attention and real movement to addressing these.

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.

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