I note several comments in Mitchell’s post saying “Well, hire more developers”. It seems to me from what she’s saying that money is not the problem – management overhead is. (Of course, “Thunderbird takes up too much management time worrying about what to do with it; what do we do?” is a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Anyway, throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. Having said that, if more money would help whatever the new plan is, I see no reason the Mozilla Project should not provide it.
Commenters have also brought up the Mozilla Manifesto. The key thing to note here is that we can’t do every activity which is compatible with or furthers the goals of the Manifesto. For example, it’s important for internet openness that the SIP open standard wins the VoIP protocol battle. But that doesn’t mean we should be writing a VoIP client. Having said that, we already do email, which counts for a lot.
So what about Mitchell’s options?
Option 1 makes no sense on several levels. Firstly, why start a Thunderbird Foundation when we have a perfectly good Foundation already looking after it? And even if a separate entity was needed, the Software Freedom Conservancy could provide all that was necessary without the effort of setting up our own new non-profit. (Maybe that’s Option 1b.) The SFC option counters a lot of mscott’s objection to Option 1.
Option 2 talks about keeping Thunderbird development within the Foundation, perhaps with a new Corporation-like subsidiary. I think the choice between this and option 3 (independent consulting) ultimately depends on how the two or three core developers feel they would like to operate.
Of this option, mscott says:
This option doesn’t satisfy the goals of either the Mozilla Corporation or the new company, since a Thunderbird subsidiary will not further the Foundation’s mission to advance the open web, and will continue to draw resources away from Firefox.
But I would respond: since when did the Foundation have a mission to “advance the open web”? Last I read, the mission was to “promote choice and innovation on the Internet”, and the Internet is explicitly not the web, but a superset of it which includes email. Also, whether this satisfies the goals of the Mozilla Corporation is an irrelevant concern, given that their personnel and management would not be involved with the new venture. For the same reason, I don’t see why this option would draw resources away from Firefox. I think mscott has short-changed Option 2 somewhat.
I understand the desire to have an organisation fully focussed on Firefox. The Mozilla Corporation could be and is that organisation (with our without a name change). But the Mozilla Foundation should not and need not be. We are here to take the wider view, and can look after the projects in our care without taking up MoCo management time. If there are people who want to be focussed on Firefox but are being distracted from that by MoFo duties, then perhaps we should consider making changes to their roles, rather than make MoFo another Firefox-only organisation.
Option 3 is the consulting company option. This has the advantage that the market will quickly tell the core Thunderbird developers what it wants – answering, for example, the “pure email” vs. “Outlook competitor with calendaring” question. But there’s a higher risk of failure, as if no-one wants to stump up money for Thunderbird, then the core developers will need to start working on something else to pay the rent.
I think the right move here is to set both the Corporation and the Foundation free to pursue their goals undistracted. The Corporation can focus 100% on Firefox, and the Foundation can look after the project as a whole, including all the non-Firefox software (from NSS to Rhino via Seamonkey and Thunderbird), and also (in my view) run a wide-ranging donations program across the free software ecosystem. So let’s disentangle the people, even disentangle the technology and resource (maybe the Foundation finally needs its own sysadmins?) and let people focus. Then either option 2 or option 3 allows Thunderbird to take flight.