27 July 2007

Thunderbird Is Not Go

Here's a worrying development over in the Mozilla community:

Mozilla has been supporting Thunderbird as a product since the beginning of the Foundation. The result is a good, solid product that provides an open alternative for desktop mail. However, the Thunderbird effort is dwarfed by the enormous energy and community focused on the web, Firefox and the ecosystem around it. As a result, Mozilla doesn't focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future. We are convinced that our current focus - delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services - is the correct priority. At the same time, the Thunderbird team is extremely dedicated and competent, and we all want to see them do as much as possible with Thunderbird.

We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny.

Mozilla is exploring the options for an organization specifically focused on serving Thunderbird users. A separate organization focused on Thunderbird will both be able to move independently and will need to do so to deepen community and user involvement. We're not yet sure what this organization will look like. We've thought about a few different options. I've described them below. If you've got a different idea please let us know.

What's worrying about this is that it seems to demonstrate a tunnel vision, where Firefox (and making money from it) are foregrounded above everything else. The fact is, email is a critical application, even if more and more people use Web-based mail (as I do - but I still use Thunderbird too). Moreover, Mozilla is a foundation, and that implies looking at the bigger picture, not concentrating - as a company might - on the success of its main "product".

The open source world needs Thunderbird - indeed, the wider software community needs it. Although I accept that it lacks the community that Firefox has generated, that is not a reason to jettison it, and hope for the best. On the contrary: the very difficulties that Thunderbird has in firing up a community and in moving forward are precisely why the Mozilla Foundation should keep it under its wing.


The Open Sourcerer said...

Perhaps, freeing Thunderbird from the Mozilla/Firefox conundrum will actually let it breathe and grow?

I am a user of Thunderbird and Lightning (calendar plugin) and share some of your concerns, but, the Mozilla "community" is really hard to get into and doesn't exactly open itself up as much as some others.

It really could be blessing in disguise.

The Open Sourcerer

Glyn Moody said...

Well, yes, that's the theory: I remain unconvinced....