Is Mozilla’s Thunderbird going to get kicked out of the nest?

I came home from my vacation last week to some troubling news. The future of my preferred e-mail client, Thunderbird, is up for debate. Mozilla Corp. CEO Mitchell Baker, breaks the news in her blog: "...Mozilla doesn't focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future... We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny."

Thunderbird is a great e-mail reader; it's the one that I've found easiest to use and support. The university I work for has supported everything from command-line readers like PINE to desktop mail managers like Eudora. Our recent adoption of Thunderbird as the recommended client was a relief for me because I could finally have my users take full advantage of the IMAP mail service that the university has available. None of the desktop clients we had used in the past had ever provided good support for gracefully storing sent messages on the central servers (I'm looking at you here, Outlook), which hampered users if they intended to access web-based email away from the office. They could connect to their Inbox over the web, but not the messages they had sent to others. Thunderbird's terrific IMAP support gave us a flexibility that my staff really needed, and its cross-platform nature fit well into our desktop environment. I could make sure that my Mac users weren't left out in the cold, without having to support a separate Mac-only program.

Reassuringly, Mitchell's post isn't the great kiss off for Thunderbird -- at least not yet. She goes on to list several options for the future of the open-source e-mail client, either as a different part of the Mozilla Project, or as an independent entity of its own. Maybe one of her organizational suggestions will better guarantee the continued survival of my favorite mail program, because I'd hate to have to go hunting for another.

More and more people are using web browsers to access their e-mail and setting aside dedicated desktop mail readers entirely. When it's possible to have Yahoo, MSN, or Google keep all of your mail off in the "cloud," and always accessible from any Internet-connected computer, what use is a desktop e-mail client?