Thunderbird’s Future: the TL;DR Version

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.

Current Status

  • 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.