Software

Mozilla does the unthinkable

Mozilla made the jaw dropping announcement they are (sort of) halting the development of the single most important open source email client, Thunderbird. Jack Wallen offers his take on this odd news.

I'm sure you've already heard the news that Mozilla has decided to "pull the plug" on Thunderbird. In essence, Mozilla is pulling its resources away from Thunderbird development in the hopes that the fans, er, open source community, will take over the development.

First of all -- of course they will. The open source community has done this constantly. A good project is dropped (or the developers take the project down a road the project shouldn't go down) and a group of developers fork the project so the application can continue to live. That will most likely happen here. And maybe Thunderbird will turn into something even greater.

But the big question is "why"? Most speculation surrounds a ubiquitous project named Kilimanjaro. This foundation of this project is "The web is the platform". What does this say? To me it says that Mozilla has something behind some Oz-ian curtain akin to Google Apps.

Hello Wheel, let me re-invent you.

Sort of.

If, in fact, Mozilla plans on attempting to roll out a Google Apps-like platform, they are going to have a bit of a rough go at it. Why? Because Mozilla simply doesn't have the resources that Google has; and to create such a platform, it requires resources on a serious level. Besides, to assume everyone wants to go to the way of the cloud is a mistake. Yes, I use Google Apps, but not not as my primary email account. For that I use Thunderbird. Should Thunderbird go the way of the Dodo, I'll migrate back to Claws Mail. One way or another, I'll have a client-based email. And should Mozilla roll out a web-based platform, will I migrate from Google Apps? Unless this platform is undeniably superior (which it could be) I doubt it.

The truth of the matter is, Thunderbird is one of the finest client-based email apps available, and to just drop further development is a huge mistake...it's unthinkable!

One of the strangest quotes (one that I simply cannot wrap my brain around) is Thunderbird Managing Director JB Piacentino saying:

"However, Thunderbird is one of the very few truly free and open-source multi-platform e-mail applications available today and we want to defend these values. We're not "stopping" Thunderbird, but proposing we adapt the Thunderbird release and governance model in a way that allows both ongoing security and stability maintenance, as well as community-driven innovation and development for the product. This will mean an eventual shift in how we staff Thunderbird at Mozilla Corporation -- we are still working out details, but some people will likely end up on other Mozilla projects."

So they understand that Thunderbird is one of the very few truly free and open source multi-platform e-mail applications, and they want to maintain security and stability... yet they are pulling resources from the project.

Say huh?

How is this going to ensure on-going stability and security? You pull resources and you inject shortcomings... and help to halt the on-going development, stability, and security.

As it stands, none of this makes sense. I've already seen a rash of emails both to myself and to various email lists to which I belong, asking either "Why?" or "What app should I switch to?" As to the Why?, no one seems to have an answer. As to the What app?, the nearly-unanimous answer is, as I mentioned earlier, Claws Mail. You can bet I'll be switching back to Claws Mail should the time come that Thunderbird begins to fall behind. As of now, the client is still good to go, but who knows what the future holds.

Fortunately, this is open source and that means, one way or another, Thunderbird will continue on. It's just a shame that Mozilla seems to think it's not the best use of their resources. But then... I'm not knee-deep in the muck and mire of everyday Mozilla corporate life -- so maybe, just maybe, this decision is the best for the organization. Even so, Thunderbird is an incredibly important open source project and, in no way, deserves to fade away.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
jkiernan
jkiernan

I saw this coming. The developers for Thunderbird are elitist snobs, and they're not really interested in helping the common business user. One of the simplest requests entered into their Bugzilla tracker is to create a 'reply' message with full headers, similar to the way they do their 'forward' message. https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=218258 The developers flat-out refuse to do it because "that's the way Microsoft does it". Never mind that some businesses require full traceability for compliance issues. This feature was requested 9 years ago! Another shortcoming was its lack of support for MAPI name resolution... Thunderbird couldn't be called successfully from 3rd party programs in Windows. That issue only took 8 years to fix. https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=244222 I would have loved to ditch Outlook, but until functionality existed to replace some key indispensable features, it wasn't going to happen. Now it probably never will.

Kim SJ
Kim SJ

...and anyone who thinks that there's nothing left to do has *no idea* what a "proper" email client should do. The calendar add-in (Lightning) for example is deeply under-featured. Compared to Outlook's meeting scheduling features, our open source alternative is struggling to get out of the gates (a real source of frustration to me when working with outlook-using colleagues). And what about integration with Exchange servers? So, I voted "no", because I hope that letting Thunderbird fly will allow it to roost somewhere where the lurve is.

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

First of all, Thunderbird is THE most flexible and powerful email client out there. It integrates just about everything there is. It grabs Outlook by the hair and beats it about a pole then tosses it away. Also you are darn right that not everyone uses cloud services. I NEVER use cloud services if I can find any other method. I do not even store my old emails on online servers. I am a firm believer that if you do not have the files on your own servers, then you do NOT own the data nor do you control it. Sure I have copious accounts and profiles all over the Net, but I do not store personal data on those services. Also anything that is posted online, if it is not good for everyone to see, them do NOT post in online. Simple. Cloud services do have their uses, but only for deliberately designated public data like websites, whitepapers, and news posts. This new concept of putting private data online is a serious security flaw and shows very poor judgment indeed on the part of users and companies.

philpub
philpub

IMO the cloud offers not much new for email, since IMAP offers the same advantages (essentially your email has always already been sitting in the cloud), plus the choice to have a local copy. TB supports email well. I think TB doesn't need a lot of new features, it is useful and reasonably efficient. I am finishing a much improved address book for TB (much improved - at least in my vision!), and plan to publish it soon as an extension called 'Blackbird'. I chose going this way rather than fixing the address book code in TB (I did originally try...) because the Mozilla code has a few severe disadvantages: it is based on the legacy technology of Netscape (Qt now offers a much better API for platform independence); the code is spread over various different languages, including C++ and Javascript; over the years the vision of the architecture has been lost, resulting in people fixing and adding code in the wrong places; there is a lot of 'dead code' that nobody dares to remove because they don't understand it well enough; the code has become so massive and complicated that it has gotten full of bugs (sorry to say so!) by designers who couldn't properly figure out how the original system was built; and last but not least - stuff is not always equally well documented. Although there is a lot on MDN and various other websites, the documentation quality lags that of Qt quite a bit. Often, the only way to find something out is to either experiment, or reverse engineer the source code. So in my view, I can see why Mozilla stops investing in development of TB. And to a certain extent, I believe they were already not eager on maintaining it (bug fixing). But then again, TB is not bringing in much money to feed their engineers. I believe that is different for Firefox. I'll keep using TB anyway. If there is something about it that I don't like, I can fix it (or swallow it). And overall, TB isn't so bad!

nsleasy
nsleasy

Have you tried the most recent browser-based email clients for Yahoo Mail and Hotmail? They've come a long way and traditional thick clients, like Thunderbird, are on the way out in any case. The new webmail clients also screen for malware and you don't need to worry about updating a lot of software on your local machine. Give it a try!

rgeiken
rgeiken

I currently have version 13.0.1 and the beta update channel has been a rough ride getting there. Frankly I am glad that they will slow things down. The current version that I have of this product is just fine with me. It has certainly improved from version 3.X. Not sure what else Thunderbird could do to improve it for me. At this point, fine tuning may be more important to a lot of people versus major updates. I'm sure that any companies using Thunderbird would not have enjoyed the tumultuous ride to get to this point, so imagine that they have not been on the beta update channel. I have been along for the entire ride, and while I am very satisfied with where they are now, there have been points where I was ready to switch over to something else. I don't think that any other e-mail program would be as satisfying to me as my current version of Thunderbird.

ken
ken

This is a real bummer. I've been using Thunderbird for many years - ever since I moved from the old Netscape/Mozilla suite to Firebird (remember when Firefox was called Firebird?). Thunderbird does still need a few tweaks. It doesn't handle sending embedded photos as well as it should, although it is improved. I also have a *lot* of "Not Responding" from Thunderbird on my win7 64-bit machine and resmon points to Thunderbird as the culprit - usually on the Network tab. I really hope development will continue on Thurderbird by someone!

daniel.matthis
daniel.matthis

It's pretty simple. Corporate world is where the hard client e-mail is and frankly Outlook, for good or ill, is still king there. TB works great as a IMAP/POP client and works generally well with Exchange for e-mail but it doesn't intigrate with the rest of the message features that Outlook tackles. Either 3rd parties have had a problem working with MS exchange api's for calendar and tasks (Documentation, buggy, whatever) or MS has purposfully hindered their development. The mail client "Evolution" tried valiently to work with exchange but it could never get it totaly right and so working with the Calendar was always buggy. I keep hoping that the next version of Outlook will play nicer with the world besides their own apps. Integration you can find on iOS and Android is pretty good regarding calendar so it maybe possible that Thunderbird may finely figure out the intigration part.

wilback
wilback

Let's face it. Mozilla is just another corporation trying to preserve its existence. Where does all its money come from? It comes from its deal with Google to steer default Firefox searches its way. But this deal is worth very little to Google if Firefox continues to lose market share. If Firefox goes away, so does Mozilla. As a result, they had little choice but to divert Thunderbird resources away to shore up Firefox. If Mozilla didn't have to meet a big payroll but depended instead on volunteer developers, this wouldn't have had to happen. Dropping Thunderbird support is just an admission by Mozilla that the ship is sinking...

mekuranda
mekuranda

I have loved Thunderbird for many years - for several reasons - multi platform familiarity (understand comments about new innovation) and overwhelmingly - the add ons (by far the best productivity for me is QuickText -http://extensions.hesslow.se/extension/4/Quicktext/ - a huge time-saver. If TB does flounder - I will go with what ever client gets a port of QuickText) I bet most that are worried are expressing a potential personal loss - and would like to say to Mozilla - thankyou for the years you have provided a free and awesome product to me.

jkameleon
jkameleon

I don't use email clients at all. Web mail is far more practical. They way I see it, pulling the plug in Thunderbird was entirely reasonable thing for Mozilla to do.

pinsard
pinsard

IMO, Mozilla is trying to promote a change in the way we all see and interact with free software. It's like they're really saying: "Hey, free software is good and all, and we have the best free, open source, email client available, so why is it that it isn't the most popular? If this is how the community supports it, let's see what how would you feel, and do, if you were the responsibles for maintaining it." So, I think Mozilla is trying to make us go hummmmm.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

will matter that much if they don't develop it further. Thunderbird is very mature and the last few features they've added I've not used at all, so I won't worry about this as long as TB is still available to me to use. I like to use an email client where I get copies of my mail on my system as it's NOT always possible to get to the webmail server when I want to. I even check my Gmail accounts through TB.

hometoy
hometoy

Seriously, open source email clients have not changed drastically in years. So to keep putting resources into a product as mature as Thunderbird to basically manage security and upkeep doesn't make much sense for Mozilla. Chances are it will be picked up by the open source community including developers already working on it currently. It may have a rocky start, but I am hopeful (partially because the alternatives have not been overwhelming me). If not, then the number of people reading email through browsers (including mobile devices) which is already a growing trend. Maybe Mozilla wants to get out before it drags them, and their resources, down any further. So Mozilla can focus on Firefox and other directions while Thunderbird can benefit from fresh, new ideas that maybe were too radical for Mozilla to take on. They have a lot going on lately including the phone OS so they need to the developers working on fewer, but more significant, products.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Mozilla plans on attempting to roll out a Google Apps-like platform, they are going to have a bit of a rough go at it. Why? Because Mozilla simply doesnt have the resources that Google has;" No, but Mozilla didn't have the resources to compete with MS Outlook in the e-mail client market either. That didn't stop development, assuming that isn't a factor in their decision. With that said, I don't think Google Apps is going to be the stumbling block. It isn't open source, and we know how dedicated to the cause some users are. The problem may be competition from OpenOffice.org / Libre Office; maybe Mozilla is working with them behind the scenes to bring the suite to the cloud? Oh, and dropping Firefox, not T-bird, would be the unthinkable.

Jensen G
Jensen G

I never found Thunderbird to be very useful as a Mac user - it simply never did much that made me want to switch from the built-in Mail for OS X. And on the Windows side, it didn't have good integration with Exchange, the number one mail platform for corporate windows users. Combine that with recent trends that have more people than ever using browser-based mail, and one wonders how Thunderbird even made it this long. It looks like the Mozilla folks are hard at work on worthier projects, and good for them for making the tough decision to cut the fat!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

what the hell has a calendar got to do with sending and receiving mail. I've NEVER had a need to use such a capability with my mail client, even when working at a place where they had Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook. Sure you can overload any piece of software with tons of extras, but we are talking about what a mail client needs to work as a mail client.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

deal with and neither of them provide me with the quick and easy mail linking and sorting that T'Bird provides me. I like to keep BOTH my inwards and outwards mail sorted into folders and sub-folders on related subjects - none of the web mail clients allow me to do that. Sure you can use tags, but then it doesn't have sub-tags so you can link closely related tags together. Another thing is I can move the inwards mails to some folders but NOT the outwards mail. Then you add in the spam sorting the web mail clients provide, and how inaccurate it is, I'm forever saving some useful message because some other person had tagged a message from that same organisation as spam when it isn't. With T'Bird I get to train the spam sorter the way I WANT it to work. Also some organisations would have a major security heart attack if ALL their mail was stored off in the cloud on some web mail server. Plus all the attendant cloud storage issues. I check my mail from the one location and it makes sense for me to keep the mail there in a way I can sort and use them.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

trouble with images as either an attachment or embedded when I use T'Bird. But I run on Zorin OS Linux and not Windows, and that's likely to have some differences in it to work with Windows.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

that requires that sort of sort, or maybe there's nothing more than can be done without taking it away from what T'Bird is in the first place. I can't think of anything they can still do to it short of scrapping it an replacing as a webmail system, which is NOT what it's intended to be at all.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I use it for the accounts that I don't want to pay a subscription just to be able to use my email client to check(Yahoo, Hotmail), but webmail is a pain to me. I have been using Thunderbird for years and I much prefer to be able to check my multiple Gmail accounts at a glance, rather than having to configure multiple browser sessions so I can log in to each account. Nor is delegating authority for all acounts to one "super" account an option for me. With Thunderbird or Outlook (bloated beast that it is) I am able to manage my multiple email accounts without mixing them together. I am sure there are people out there like yourself that can do everything they need in the webmail portals, but people like me want and need for there to be a sensible client solution. I will be looking into alternatives and I would rather not have to go back to Outlook. Hopefully someone else will pick up TB and run with it.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

can't recheck something on the email until after your Internet connection is active again - such as a three day town being off line due to someone ripping up a half mile of main trunk line. These things happen once you get outside of a major city.

anil_g
anil_g

I've recently changed to cloud mail from a long time using client mail. While it's working for me I can see that some people may just not want to leave their mail in the cloud. Most normal users probably won't know the difference.

anil_g
anil_g

Thunderbird frustrated me because it just stuck to the same old folder based approach with all the usual routes for creating new folders, renaming folders, blah blah. I would have thought that the Google mail tags would have made someone think "hey that's an idea". I think a much simpler and more functional interface based around automatic and manual tagging could still make TBird break new ground. Other features around managing attachments, dealing with multiple copies of same attachment, etc could also be added. Maybe it needs a complete rewrite.

rocket ride
rocket ride

I'm too far out in the countryside to trust the cloud with my data. Not far enough to not have high-speed internet but far enough for power/cable/phone/data outages to be a regular occurence. And I frequently go places where there isn't even a voice cellular connection to be had, never mind one for computer type data. I like my peace and quiet and driving into town to check my email every couple of days doesn't seem like such a bad deal. And never mind all the security issues attendant to having ones data on someone else's servers. Even if my data is not particularly interesting to anyone else, it may get stolen or destroyed simply because it is lying there in a big pile with a bunch of other people's data, some of which may well be more interesting to thieves/ black-hat-hackers/ goobers with a political ax to grind/ etc. So, all you nice folks flogging your Clouds, thanks, but no thanks.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

as the folders allows me to quickly flick through and find things and nest the folders, while the tags work by leaving it all in one big pile and you have to have the search engi9ne to find which sub-set of tags you want, nor do the tags provide a nesting arrangement that is so easy to do in folders. If I want to go the tag route I'll use Gmail to store my emails, not TBird, as it is I have them all imported onto TBird and store them in an easy to find set of nested folders.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

at it's impossible to move the sent message into separate folders. The system will let me create folders for the inwards mail and move them there so I can keep the In box free, but it won't let me move the mail out of the sent box, no matter what I do. That means I can't keep the inwards and outwards mail together in the one box. Also, Gmail has issues if I have a folder within a folder within a folder, whereas T'Bird lets me do that, so I can break up mail into categories and sub-categories and a quick view of the folder shows me ALL mail in that category.

anil_g
anil_g

I don't understand this comment. As far as I can see tags work just like folders to start with, but allow an email to sit in multiple tags IF you want to. You can use tags like folders. Gmail has nested tags right now as well. I don't use them so I haven't tested their ease of use. Nesting tags would just be another requirement TBird could subsume. I find folders impractical because of the volume of my email and I get bored filing. I'd like to be able to intelligently move email to tags / folders. With the number of tags I'd like to use folders would be unusable. I'd need to be able to select tags from the list to combine in a fluid view on all email selected by those tags.

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