Mozilla splits off Thunderbird

It might be old news, but it's big news. First the Mozilla Foundation announced that it was splitting off the Thunderbird mail client from the foundation. The only reason they gave was to concentrate on the browser market more fully. Immediately, I suspected it had something to do with mobile computing. And I was right. Shortly after the announcement the Mozilla Foundation came out with the news that they were going to develop a mobile version of FireFox that would include extensions.

Okay - that IS good news. Up until now the mobile Web experience (if you're not using an iPhone) has been shoddy at best. I've tried many of the available browsers for Palm and all of them have some serious issues. So, yeah, I can handle Mozilla concentrating Tier-1 efforts on a mobile browser.

But what about Thunderbird? Thunderbird has been my mail client of choice for a long time now. It's really come a long way over the years. What about it? Well, I'm sure it'll be fine. And that, my friends, is one of the benefits of open source software. A foundation drops one of its pieces and any of the brighter stars in the open source community can pick it up and keep it going (and, gasp, even improve it!)

Imagine, if you will, that Thunderbird and the Mozilla Foundation were proprietary. Mozilla decides that it is over-reaching by focusing on both a browser and a mail client. So they decide to drop the mail client to concentrate their efforts. But what happens to the mail client? Most likely it is labeled EOL (end of life) and shelved. Of course there is ALWAYS the possibility that another company could come along and buy the shelved product, but that's not always the case. Most likely the shelved product will simply go away.

Now I have absolute faith in this situation. Most likely a new company, independent of Mozilla, will be created to keep Thunderbird rolling. This "company" would more likely just be an umbrella for the Thunderbird Community Project. Basically - Thunderbird is taken over by the community at large.

There will probably be some unfortunate side effects of this. One such side effect is the forking of the code. Sometimes forking code can result in some spectacular developments. Sometimes forking can result in a total fubar of the code. Ultimately, what I think will happen is that Thurderbird will fork into these possible pieces:

1) Ultimate Thunderbird: This version will have every bell and whistle you can imagine.

2) Standard Thunderbird: This will pretty much just be a continuation of the current Thunderbird.

3) Thunderbird Ultra-Light: This will be a stripped-down, bare-bones Thunderbird that will be just shy of text-based clients.

And I would welcome all three. I personally would love to see what the community would do to this project.

I do enjoy open source software for many reasons...this being one of them. The possibilities reach well beyond that of proprietary software.

And now, I can't wait to install FireFox on my Treo680. Then, when my device crashes all the time, I'll at least be enjoying the Web more fully featured.


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

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