it’s not just about Thunderbird

Folks seem to have missed half of Mitchell’s recent email call to action.  It wasn’t only about finding a new home for Thunderbird.

Mitchell also says that “we would also like to find contributors committed to creating and implementing a new vision of mail” and that “Mozilla has a range of resources – funds, code, etc. – that can be applied to this problem. We’re looking for people with expertise, vision and leadership capabilities.”

MoCo’s raison d’être isn’t Firefox, it’s improving the Internet through Firefox and other initiatives.  That’s why it’s investing in the mobile space with projects like Joey, and it’s why Mitchell and others (like me) are interested in mail.

But Thunderbird only has 5-10 million users (including me), while Firefox has 100 million, which means that at least 90% of Firefox users (and many more users of other browsers) are not being helped by Thunderbird.

That’s not because MoCo hasn’t invested enough into Thunderbird, it’s because Thunderbird isn’t the right solution for those users.  And, based on its development trajectory to date, I don’t expect that to change.

But neither do the other extant mail apps serve their users particularly well.  As Mitchell says, we need a new vision for mail, and for me it’s one that combines the portability of webmail with the usability of a desktop app and provides innovative new features for presenting and participating in conversations.

So let’s not only focus on what to do with Thunderbird, let’s also figure out what to do about mail and how to do it.


Myk Melez

Myk is a Principal Software Architect and in-house entrepreneur at Mozilla. A Mozillian since 1999, he's contributed to the Web App Developer Initiative, PluotSorbet, Open Web Apps, Firefox OS Simulator, Jetpack, Raindrop, Snowl, Personas, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Bugzilla. He's just a cook. He's all out of bubblegum.


8 thoughts on “it’s not just about Thunderbird

  1. Hello
    I’m not sure 90% of Firefox users are not interested in Thunderbird as it is now. The marketing effort has not been the same, the development roadmap have not been the same.
    All my friends are fully satisfied with TB and its extensions, once they’re installed on their PC. But whereas they had heard from Firefox before, they did not know anything about Thunderbird before me (even after using FF for a while).

    But I agree that we are at a cross roads : standalone apps vs browser integrated apps ?
    Or BROWSER integrated in standalone apps ? That’s also another noticeable trend : look at Thunderbird and the Thunderbrowse extension, look at Songbird and its browser…
    I’m not sure about what is the right option for the future.
    But I know that for the moment, TB is a GREAT piece of software, that together with the right extensions can compete with MS Outlook and allows more PRODUCTIVITY than Outlook in the entreprise world.
    My 50 cts !!

  2. MOCO hasn’t really invested much at all into Thunderbird. What you write seems like MOCO is just wanting to jettison mscott and bienvenu, like this is some sort of public firing. That’s not right at all.

  3. It’s good to see your post pulling it out, but it wasn’t really half of the post – it was a fifth of the post, and after the other part about dropping support for Thunderbird.

    It’s nice that Mozilla “has a range of resources” to apply to a hypothetical new vision. However, if the new vision doesn’t materialise, I hope that someone out there will at least fix critical bugs in Thunderbird 2 while me and those 5-10 million users find another email client.

    Having said, the same method worked with Seamonkey (not that the project has a new trajectory, but it’s still alive and making progress)…

  4. “But Thunderbird only has 5-10 million users”.

    *Only* 5-10mill. Compared to FF, maybe. Compared to pretty much every other open source desktop app out there… well that’s quite a statement.

  5. As concerns as mail client features, maybe make TB able to leverage some new WebMail is a good try. For example, let Zimbra run in TB?

  6. They have a point – “Only 5-10 million” is a pretty amusing statement on the face of it. On the other hand I don’t think anyone is talking about killing or de-funding the Thunderbird project, more the opposite – they’re trying to find a way for it to prosper more than it is at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if a large corporate sees this as an opportunity for a major PR win by stepping up to support the Thunderbird open source project.

    I have used Thunderbird since pre 1.0, and like it most of the time, but I think you and Mitchell are right about there needing to be something better than the status quo in the email space.

  7. Mark and Seth: “only 5-10 million” wasn’t intended to minimize the significance of that userbase for Thunderbird at all, only to point out that it means at least 90% of Firefox users aren’t using Thunderbird.

    anonymous and rebron: it’s true that Mozilla hasn’t put many resources into Thunderbird, but I don’t think that’s why most browser users don’t use it. Rather, it’s because many of those users use webmail, and although webmail is suboptimal in many ways, most users still prefer it to desktop clients.

    A secondary consideration is that Thunderbird is missing some features that other desktop clients (f.e. Apple Mail, Outlook) have had for years, like good fulltext search and calendaring. Here you could argue that Thunderbird doesn’t have those features because it hasn’t been given the resources to develop them, but I think it’s rather that the Thunderbird team hasn’t prioritized or been particularly interested in those features.

    After all, there’s an entire calendar team which for years included several of the most highly-regarded, long-time Mozilla engineers who were paid to work on calendar full-time, including integrating it into Thunderbird. If the Thunderbird developers had been interested in integrating calendar into their application, it wasn’t a lack of resources that prevented them from doing so.

    20after4: good to hear you’re interested in helping out on the Coop! Since I can’t contact you via blogger, I’ve responded to your post in the Coop forum.

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