Thunderbird/Calendar drinks & food

After a long day of talking about calendaring at CalConnect, some of the Mozilla calendar & mail folks (hopefully at least Daniel, Christian, Dan, Clint and David) will be going out for drinks & more food on Tuesday Feb 5 Wednesday, Feb 6, starting around 8pm or so at the Oasis beer garden. Please sign up for the event if you’re thinking of going, and we’ll try to save you a seat.

More on Thunderbird in France

I had a great day in Mountain View today. It was the day after the Firefox 3b3 code freeze, so there were a lot of very tired, bleary-eyed engineers walking around, but the tree was green, regressions seemed under control, and great features had landed (I’m particularly looking forward to integrating the new Add-ons manager in Thunderbird, it’ll help solve a real pain point for users of extensions). I also got to meet some of the Toronto UX folks, and generally talk blue-sky Thunderbird UI ideas, which is always fun.

There were only two negatives about the day: the fact that I hit yet-another-KQED pledge drive, and that even after several rounds of triage during the day, I came home to an inbox with 454 emails to process.

A couple of interesting links as part of that mailstorm came from home:

The AFP (France’s largest news agency) reports that “French police deal blow to Microsoft“, referring to the Gendarmerie Nationale’s decision to move to an open source stack for their 70,000 seats, using Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Firefox, and Thunderbird. (I like the cute picture in the left of that story)

Equally impressive, Tristan Nitot reports (in French) on his conversation with a representative of the French Defense Ministry, who indicates that they’re recommending Postfix as the mail server and Thunderbird as the recommended mail client for most users, reaching up to 200,000 users (this doesn’t include the 70,000 mentioned above).

Both of those organizations use Thunderbird in truly mission-critical situations, and have build significant extensions to support their particular requirements regarding delivery notification, acknowledgement processes, etc. Not something everyone needs, but if you need it, you really need it, and Thunderbird’s extension model can let these kinds of sophisticated users help themselves, which is the way software should be.

Travel plans

I’ll be in the Bay Area starting this evening for less than 24 hours (assuming no delays =).

I’ll be there again Feb 4-8 for the CalConnect roundtable and other meetings.

I’ll be in SF/Berkeley Feb 19-24 (but missing FOSDEM!).

I’ll be heading to Hamburg, Germany sometime in April or thereabouts for the Calendar face-to-face meeting, with likely other European cities thrown in the mix.

Natural collaboration

There are projects with open source licenses, and there are open source projects.

It’s a distinction which I’ve known about intellectually for a long time, but which I’m just now starting to understand at a more emotional level.

In particular, I’ve talked to a bunch of people about some of the messy architectural issues that Thunderbird needs addressed to enable Cool New Features. Some of those people are somewhat cranky, sometimes bitter, often pessimistic, and undoubtedly excellent engineers, who look at the amount of work involved and shudder. At the same time, I’m recruiting engineers who I think will be able to undertake some of those “heavy lifting” jobs which, people often assume, no one who wasn’t paid to do it would want to do, because it’s “not sexy”.

Two such messy areas in the case of Thunderbird are the progressive, careful replacement of the Mork database backend with a SQLite based backend, and the removal of the use of RDF in areas where it proved not to be a poor technology choice in hindsight. Both of these are hard, high risk areas, with few people around who really understand all the details.

And yet.

Two volunteers, Joshua Cranmer and Joey Minta, both in school and doing this for reasons that they should probably explain themselves someday, are making good headway towards tackling these issues, building in Joshua’s case on a test framework put together by Mark Banner, also a volunteer, and in Joey’s case on an outline that David Bienvenu, one of the original Thunderbird developers, had generously written up.

It’s so much fun to watch the dynamics of natural collaboration that can occur when people share a goal and enjoy working together, even if it’s all mediated by online messages. I look forward to a “Mailnews party” where we can meet face to face. Both of these projects will likely take a long time to work through, especially as we need to pay close attention to migrating user data, accomodating extension authors, and all the nitty gritty details that distinguish high quality software from demoware. But it’ll be a fun, collaborative project, so it’s fine!

In other news, I’ll be attending the CalConnect Roundtable Feb 6-8, and plan on meeting at least some of the people behind the Mozilla Calendar project and other calendar projects.

Vancouver Schools: Bad Planning

One of the joys of building a company in Vancouver is the fact that you can recruit people by truthfully telling them that, compared to many other places like San Francisco, the public school system is great, providing a joyful experience that means your kids mostly go cheerfully to school in the morning, and come out feeling good about it all, with good academic outcomes as well.

As I’ve gotten involved in my neighborhood community, I’ve learned that my good feelings towards the school system have to be tempered by some threats to its DNA, most urgently because of what looks like bad real estate planning. It appears that, hopefully through nothing worse than bad planning, the various levels of government involved in schools have setup a set of deadlines, budgetary constraints and bureaucratic processes, which, if left unchallenged, will result in worse outcomes for all.

The full story is very complicated, as while the Vancouver School Board (VSB) runs the schools, the City of Vancouver owns the land, and the provincial government holds the purse. The long and short of it is that the VSB is following a process which will likely result in the demolition of dozens of older schools around Vancouver, with cheap bare-bones boxes replacing them, because it’s the cheap way to meet doubtfully rational seismic safety standards, especially given the funny accounting metrics used. In an era of significant provincial budget surpluses, if the “normal process” is left to play its course, Vancouver will end up with worse schools providing fewer services and a worse educational environment. You can read more about this bit here.

Dickens school is already slated for demolition and “rebuild”. My kids’ school, General Gordon, is next. The local high school, Kits High, is going to go through the same process, and the odds aren’t good. The list goes on.

What’s most galling about the whole thing is that too much happens with too little transparency and opportunity for the public to be involved. Public consultation meetings are misleadingly advertised, decisions are made with very little transparency, and the systems use to figure out efficiency seem ridiculous, biasing new cookie-cutter construction using optimistic costing models rather than proper stewardship of community assets. The sad thing is that there are a lot of parents and community members who could help the VSB secure additional funds, lobby government, and change the process to be plain smarter.

There’s a petition to communicate to the VSB that the current process is unacceptable. If you’re a Vancouver resident, do consider signing the online version.

MailCo: More horsepower!

I’m very excited to share the following news: Dan Mosedale (dmose to his IRC friends) has agreed to help me launch MailCo. For those of you who don’t know Dan, you should know that he’s been involved in Mozilla since the early days, and has contributed significantly both to Thunderbird and to the Calendar project. I can’t think of a better person to help lead me this project. Not only does he have the coding and architectural chops to help lead the code from a strictly technical point of view, but Dan also has a great rapport with the community, understands what it takes to mentor new contributors and guide them through the various stages of involvement, and shares my ambition for what Thunderbird can become.
The current plan is that he’ll be working with me and the rest of the MailCo staff (being recruited as I write) for the next four months at least, bringing his expertise and knowledge to bear on everything from roadmap and product planning, hiring, community leadership, and whatever else I can throw his way.

As he’s currently working on important Firefox 3 features, we’ll find a transition plan which works well both for Thunderbird and Firefox. I’m expecting a gradual transition, as I know that I want Firefox 3 to succeed as much as the Firefox team wants Thunderbird to succeed.

Now Dan, about the demorkification project