In the next few months I hope to do a series of blog posts that talk about Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client and its future. Here’s the TL;DR version (though still pretty long). These are my personal views, I have no authority to speak for Mozilla or for the Thunderbird project.
- Thunderbird usage is growing, we have a strong core team, and expect to remain relevant to the internet for the foreseeable future. Thunderbird is mission critical to tens of millions of users.
- The last two “community-developed” Thunderbird releases, 24 and 31, while successful as stability releases, had few new features. The enormous effort required to maintain that stability left little time for feature development.
- Thunderbird is an important piece, under the Mozilla Manifesto, of maintaining an open internet. But it is not “The Web” and is outside of the current Mozilla Mission of “Our mission is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web.” Mozilla and the Thunderbird team need to better define the implications of that.
- Mozilla’s strategic focus on a “Web” that excludes Thunderbird has indirectly resulted in dis-empowerment of the Thunderbird team in a variety of ways. This is becoming an existential threat to the product that needs addressing.
Where We Need to Go
- Thunderbird should be a full-featured desktop personal information management system, incorporating messaging, calendar, and contacts. We need to incorporate the calendaring component (Lightning) by default, and drastically improve contact management.
- We should be actively promoting open internet standards in messaging, calendaring, and contacts through product implementations as well as advocacy and standards development.
- Our product should continually adapt to changing internet usage patterns and issues, including messaging security challenges and mobile interoperability.
- We need to focus on the needs of our existing user base through increased reliability and performance, as well as adding long-requested features that are expected of a full-featured application.
How We Get There
- Three full-time developers are needed to ensure a stable core base, and allow forward progress on the minimum feature set expected of us.
- We cannot reasonably expect Firefox and MoCo to subsidize our operations, so we need to raise income independently, through donations directly from our users.
- We are proudly Mozillians and expect to remain under the Mozilla umbrella, but the current governance structure, reporting through a Web-focused corporate management, is dis-empowering and needs conversion to a community-focused model that is focused on the needs of Thunderbird users.
- We should ask MoFo to fund one person on the Thunderbird team to serve as an advocate for open messaging standards, contributing product code as well as participating publicly in standards development and discussions.
The Thunderbird team is currently planning to get together in Toronto in October 2014, and Mozilla staff are trying to plan an all-hands meeting sometimes soon. Let’s discussion the future in conjunction with those events, to make sure that in 2015 we have a sustainable plan for the future.
What will it take to keep Thunderbird stable and vibrant? Although there is a dedicated, hard-working team of volunteers trying hard to keep Thunderbird alive, there has been very little progress on improvements since Mozilla drastically reduced their funding. I’ve been an advocate for some time that Thunderbird needs income to fulfill its potential, and that the best way to generate that income would be to appeal directly to its users for donations.
One internet organization that has done this successfully has been Wikipedia. How much income could Thunderbird generate if they received the same income per user as Wikipedia? [...]
For the first time in a while, the Thunderbird build tree is all green. That means that all platforms are building, and passing all tests:
The Thunderbird build tree is green!
Many thanks to Joshua Cranmer for all of his hard work to make it so!
When I was first getting involved in Thunderbird, I recall reading a post from early leader Scott MacGregor that puzzled me. When the project was essentially a two-person project, he said that the next person they needed was a build engineer. I had always thought of that as a backwater for people who couldn’t do real coding.
How my thinking has changed! As we look to the future of the Thunderbird project, it is clear that the main threat at the moment is losing control of the build process. These days, it takes a PhD candidate in computer science (Joshua [...]
I recently received a review of my ExQuilla addon for Thunderbird with the glowing report “It works well, I’ll give you that. No more, no less”. Should be 5 stars, right? No, the addon got 2.
This is the proxy battle over whether there should be paid addons in the Mozilla ecosystem, fought by trashing the ratings of paid addons. The reviewer gave me 2 stars because he believes “Please find purchasers from paid email software, not in an open source software.” He also complained about my response to an earlier reviewer who gave ExQuilla one star because, even though [...]
Recently we learned that the “Exchange 2007/2010/2013 Provider” addon is no longer being developed, and the final version did not fully support Thunderbird 24 and Exchange Server 2013 & Office365. While eventually we intend to fully integrate Calendar and Task support into ExQuilla, at the moment that support is incomplete and experimental, so many of our customers had relied on the now-abandoned addon. So as a convenience to our customers, we have forked and updated that addon to provide a version that works with current Thunderbird and Microsoft Exchange, as well as includes better compatibility with ExQuilla. We call this [...]
About a year ago, when we on the Thunderbird team were having very active discussions about the future of Thunderbird after Mozilla’s drastic cutback in funding, Axel Grude and myself were minority voices promoting the importance of developing funding sources for Thunderbird if it were to prosper in the future. In contrast, the majority viewpoint, as I understand it, was some combination of 1) We don’t need funding, Thunderbird is fine the way it is, and eager volunteers will move things forward, and 2) Mozilla Messaging tried for years to develop funding and failed, so it is probably impossible to [...]
The second option is somewhat unusual, and represents an attempt to [...]
My EarlyLight addon, which is an unofficial build of the Lightning calendar extension, supporting multiple Thunderbird versions, is now available for Thunderbird 14 – 16. This is based on the current Lightning 1.8a2 source (which is now in the aurora directories). Download here:
I’ll probably stop supporting this once Thunderbird switches to its slower release cycle.
I got tired of waiting for Lightning to fix their aurora build problems so I decided to practice my newly-acquired Mozilla build foo to build my own. In the process, I extended the usual Lightning build so that I have Lightning that can work with current TB release, beta, and aurora versions, that is Thunderbird 13, 14, and 15.
The “source” for this is just a makefile which you can see here. (I added my fix in Mozilla bug 766685 so that I could build this with my VS 2008 on Windows). This will only work in my local build [...]