What do Thunderbird extension developers need?

One of the goals for Thunderbird 3 is to be a much better platform for which to develop add-ons.

We’re planning and doing some in-product and in-codebase work to that end, including documenting APIs (shocking, I know), bundling STEEL, which should make it easy to do 80% of what add-on authors want to do without resorting to XPCOM voodoo, and in general refactoring to make more capabilities pluggable.

But I’d like to find out what else we can do. Are there enough ways for add-on developers to get help? Do you know where to ask for various kinds of questions? Add a comment if you have ideas, please.

I’ve been emailing with David Boswell and Eric Jung from mozdev, trying to figure out if there’s something the two organizations can do together, as we have some natural overlap in this area.

Ideas welcome!

Thunderbird is PC World’s 43rd best product in 2008

PC World’ s editors have selected Mozilla Thunderbird as one of “The 100 Best Products of 2008 Award” winners, specifically in the 43rd position, in between the Rock Band controllers and the Dell XPS 420 (???).

That’s a weird and fascinating list. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of list in general. However, regardless of the specific merits of any of these rankings, it can’t be a bad thing to be listed there! We should get them to update their review though, which dates back quite a while!

I can’t wait to see where we land in 2009…

Open source networked interactive whiteboards?

If you’ve never seen Johnny Lee’s videos explaining how he uses cheap Wii remotes to do amazing things, check out the TED video, or his home page.

Now after watching that video, I snuck into the ActiveState game room, and poked around with the wiimotes & projector there. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the wiimote project.

Now someone needs to hook that project up with some of the open source screen-sharing software, and all kinds of cool things could happen.

Speaking of which — any recommendations for inexpensive projectors (for presentations, not home theater stuff)?

Twitter Thoughts

So, this twitter thing. Or maybe, I should say, this twitter category, in which I’ll lump Twitter, Pownce, FriendFeed, Facebook status updates, etc.

What to think of it?

First, an admission: I feel like I don’t yet know what I’m talking about, in the sense that I don’t feel the value proposition yet the way I do for other tech like IM, email, IRC, campfire, VoIP, etc. I’ve spent longer than I really enjoyed on Facebook, and I’ve had accounts on many of these systems for a long time, but I haven’t drunk the koolaid enough to “get it”.

Second, a question: What’s the right way to do the experiment? Is it twitterrific, twitterfox, friendfeed, something else? I’ve accepted the 29 “follow requests” that had accumulated and that I didn’t know about, and signed up to follow a bunch of people I know in various ways, and I’ll triage that list down as I expect the volume to be too high. Anyway, we’ll see how the experiment goes. My twitter account is the extremely unoriginal “davidascher”, btw.

I’m also “tracking” the terms Thunderbird and Shredder as well. The former is already proving interesting, the latter not so much =)

One idea Andrew had was to use it to share status among the extended Thunderbird team, inasmuch as IRC isn’t perfect (and, while it may sound shocking to some Mozilla folks, I don’t think IRC is perfect =). At the same time, some of the flaws I see in IRC (like the difficulty of identifying the important stuff among the random chatter, the difficulty in finding out what happened while you were not online, etc.) don’t seem any easier to solve with twitter (as compared to something like Campfire).

Third, an architectural note: The currently hotly debated Twitter scaling problems, as I understand them, seem unavoidable in a centralized architecture. Decentralized messaging systems seem to scale better. You gotta wonder..

Romania ahead

I’ll be heading out to Romania next week, to talk in Bucharest at eLiberatica about Mozilla and open source, and to learn about everything from open source in eastern Europe to food (always). I’ll also be visiting my grandfather’s hometown (Braşov) for a bit of personal root-digging. Should be fun, especially if I get rid of this grogging (new word!) cold I’ve just picked up.

As a side note: it’s interesting to see that an open source conference is now sponsored by everyone from the FSF Europe to Microsoft. What is the world coming to?

Dangerous Strategy Meetings

I just got back from doing a podcast for RainCity Radio, with Zak, Boris, and Dave Olson as host.

The podcast was fun, as was the conversation afterwards with Zak and Boris. Unfortunately, the day was so beautiful that we went out for a beer to complement our strategy brainstorming. Nothing like drinking a good belgian beer in the sun to impact the afternoon’s productivity! Still, it resulted in some ideas bouncing around in our heads, and time will tell which ones survive.

Given that my brain was a bit shot, I decided to do what I seem to do now that I don’t have TV — watch some TED videos (preferably with Miro). I know, it’s awfully highbrow, but it’s what I seem to have lying around. I watched two. A relaxing one about artistic juggling, which is fun to watch, and Dave Eggers’ TED Prize wish video, which simply should be watched. Take the time and watch it, it’s butt-kickingly inspirational.

New folks!

Two new additions to the Mozilla Messaging crew, which I’m quite pleased to talk about.

I’d like to welcome Philippe Chiasson, who will be taking on everything “IT” for MoMo, in close collaboration with MoCo IT. Think of him as “root@mozillamessaging.com”. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gozer (as he is known) for several years, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with our idle hardware and mounting buglist. Gozer has a lot of experience with open source, and is eager to build as open and participatory IT systems as possible, so I think he’ll fit right in. In addition to configuring our existing hardware, expect Gozer to work with Rick and others to setup build and test servers, and start to plan out our overall IT roadmap, so that we can act with as much agility as possible.

In addition, I’m pleased to welcome back David Bienvenu, one of the original Thunderbird developers! Since we spun up MoMo, David has been helpful answering questions about the code base, reviewing patches, and the like. I’m very happy that he’ll be able to do even more of that and more, starting now. David brings a huge wealth of knowledge about the codebase, and equally important, the rationales for the decisions reflected in the current product. As we review things, it’s nice to be able to leverage the past work, rather than ignore it.

Welcome to both Gozer and David!

Prize money for a good Thunderbird/OpenOffice.org project

Something else I’ve had on my blogging queue for a while:

Last month, when we had the Calendar meeting in Hamburg, we met with some of the OpenOffice.org and Sun engineers. One idea that came up that I intended to mention here is that OpenOffice.org has a Community Innovation Program, funded by Sun Microsystems, which includes cash prizes for cool projects. A project which somehow made Thunderbird and OpenOffice.org work better together would be eligible, as much as I understand the rules. So put your thinking cap on and apply!

Possible ideas:

  • An ODF reader for Thunderbird?
  • Some sort of mail merge feature?

Other ideas?

University of Toronto Student Projects

What feels like years ago, my friend Greg Wilson, a book author CS prof at the University of Toronto with a deep understanding of both the practical realities of software engineering and open source, roped me into being a “client” for a class he teaches on software engineering, where he matches students with open source projects, and gets the projects to act as if they were typical clients. I have to say, I behaved like a typical bad client. Fuzzy requirements, lousy documentation on our system, erratic email, never around to meet in person, etc.

Still, the two students assigned to me, Mike Wu and Ronald Fung, did a great job. Ronald Fung led a messy part of the project, which was about teaching Thunderbird how to detect RSS/Atom feeds in pages that mention feeds but aren’t feeds themselves, work which will likely make its way into Thunderbird 3 at some point. Thanks!

Mike Wu led the development of a Remember The Milk provider to Lightning, the calendaring add-on to Thunderbird. RTM is a popular website for tracking TODOs, so it seemed a good alternative storage mechanism for Lightning users (alternatively, Lightning seemed like a good front end for RTM users). That add-on is now on addons.mozilla.org. Nice job!

First Shredder alpha available!

Fresh off the press: Shredder alpha 1, the first alpha release of the next version of Thunderbird, is available for download!

As I mentioned previously, we’re going to be calling the alpha releases of Thunderbird Shredder, to make sure that people don’t get confused and download unstable releases thinking that they’re “the final thing”. That said, I’m quite pleased with where it seems Shredder a1 has landed from a quality point of view. It has very few feature changes, so don’t expect many changes from Thunderbird 2, but it is built on a quite substantially revised codebase (sharing much with Firefox 3), and therefore forms a great foundation for us to start making more substantive changes. There are some known problems, but many of us have been using nightlies for weeks with no permanent damage.

It’s been quite an education to go through even this “simple” release, starting with bug triage and driving through tree freezing, build engineering, QA, website updates, etc. Much of the release work was done by people who had never done it before, relying on the kind assistance of people who had. It wasn’t a perfect release, but I’m still quite proud of the entire team. I’d like to express my thanks to everyone involved, for their patience in this at-times stressful process. It’ll get easier and smoother each time, promise!

Now onto planning alpha 2…