I plan to write two more blog posts about the Thunderbird announcement. I would have written them earlier, but have been maxed out with other things. Perhaps leaving time for the situation to settle down is good.
This one is: was the right decision reached? The next one will be: was it reached and communicated the right way?
I think the plan is the right one for Thunderbird and for Mozilla.
There is an open question about whether Mozilla wants to have an impact on the messaging market in the same way we had an impact on the browser market and we want to have an impact on the mobile phone OS market. Arguments for: it’s an “open internet” thing, it fits the mission, and it needs doing. Arguments against: any organization, no matter what size, can execute well on only one thing at once, and that slot is taken. However, wherever you stand on that, I think it’s clear that Thunderbird is not the vehicle for any future messaging innovation.
I am a keen Thunderbird user; I’ve been using it since I switched from Netscape Communicator [Update: Neil suggests I may have gone via Mozilla Suite mail first; that’s probably true, although I did stick with Communicator Mail for a long time], and while it has its long-standing minor quirks and annoyances, it’s a solid desktop email client which deals pretty well with the 35,000 messages I receive and the 5,700 I send each year (not including spam or bugmail).
But we’ve been trying to turn Thunderbird into the “messaging Firefox” for years and, as Mitchell has pointed out, it hasn’t worked. I suggest that future innovation in the messaging space is going to be via something that’s ‘of the web’. We are doing an HTML and JS mail client for B2G. That codebase (which will not carry over much from Thunderbird, I am told) should be a much better platform for trying to, for example, free users from proprietary messaging systems.
And if that’s true, then if we have some of our smart people working full time on Thunderbird, then they aren’t working on either other messaging projects, or something else which has a higher direct impact on the success of our mission. In that light, scaling back MoCo investment in Thunderbird makes good sense.
So, then, the plan as outlined seems to me like a good way to enable those who care about Thunderbird’s future to drive it, while making sure Mozilla as an organization can stay focussed. It opens up opportunities for non-paid Mozillians to take more of a role in Thunderbird’s development, which I think is a a great thing, and may pave the way for a similar trend in other Mozilla projects. And it makes sure the current users can continue to use a great product.