Thunderbird in 2010

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2010 will be a big year for Thunderbird. Last year, we launched Thunderbird 3, which is a huge milestone for us. In this post, I’d like to give people a heads-up as to what the coming year will look like. I’ll focus on three topics: our plans for innovation through add-ons, Thunderbird 3.1, and our first steps towards making Thunderbird self-sustaining.

Innovation through Add-ons

We believe that Thunderbird is a much better development platform than ever. This means that building innovative experiences on top of Thunderbird is easier than ever. We’ll be building on that platform ourselves and helping others innovate as well. In particular, we’re going to be using add-ons in a few ways:

  • If we have an idea for a change to an existing Thunderbird feature, we’d like to roll it out first as an add-on, so that we can get feedback on early versions of the idea without having to incur all of the up-front costs of landing that change into the “trunk” builds. This should allow us to validate (or reject) ideas much faster. A great example of how this can work is the Personas feature, which matured as an add-on, and is now a standard (and awesome) feature of Firefox 3.6.
  • We sometimes think of features that “would be cool” (see e.g. conversation arcs, tagsoup), but don’t necessarily make sense to integrate into the core product. Making an add-on here makes sense because it lets us share those ideas with others who think they’re worthwhile. Sometimes “cool ideas” become “big ideas” over time (google calendar add-on.

Having core engineers develop add-ons is also one of the best ways to ensure that the add-on platform is as good as possible.

Thunderbird 3.1

In parallel with some exciting innovations in add-ons, we’ll be pursuing more gradual change strategies within Thunderbird 3 itself.

Thunderbird 3.0 is getting security & bugfix releases (3.0.1 is out, 3.0.2 is coming soon).

Thunderbird 3.1 is also underway. We’ve already released the first alpha, and a first beta is getting defined. It will be focused on a couple of areas:

  • Making the upgrade from Thunderbird 2 as painless as possible: Some of the features that we introduced in 3.0 were confusing to Thunderbird 2 users, and some of the defaults which we think made sense to new users were quite surprising to long-term Thunderbird users. We’re reviewing the upgrade process and making sure that users get to opt-in to the more radical changes. We realize it can be quite unpleasant to have your software change unexpectedly.
  • Improving some of the new features in Thunderbird 3: The feedback for the new features has been both positive and constructive — look for refinements on the concepts introduced in Thunderbird 3.

Ensuring Economic Sustainability

Thunderbird deserves to be self-sustaining. Paying one’s way is a great validation of any effort, and it’s in the interest of Thunderbird users everywhere that we figure out a way to get there. As promised when we formed Mozilla Messaging, we’re starting to explore ways to make Thunderbird self-sustaining while at the same time promoting the Mozilla mission (as articulated by the Mozilla Manifesto). We’re specifically looking to identify business models that create economic value by improving the user experience of Thunderbird users. This is nothing new for Mozilla. The foundations of an open source codebase, the ability for users to opt-out of commercial relationships, and an architecture that allows plugging in alternative providers for whatever service or product we end up partnering with are non-negotiable requirements. With that as a foundation, we’re looking for ways to make the online life of our users better, and within those ways, identifying those which can help ensure Thunderbird’s long life.

This will happen through a set of public opt-in experiments. For each business model that we try, we’ll build a prototype, announce it, get data to evaluate it, solicit feedback from users, and evaluate whether it’s worth continuing. Anecdotal data suggests that plenty of Thunderbird users are happy to be offered commercial services which provide them value and help Mozilla too.

In addition, I’ll be actively soliciting input and help from what I’d like to call “business contributors”. Just like we encourage programmers and others to contributing to Mozilla through patches and other internet-mediated activities, I’m going to setup ways to “open source” the business model and business development activities. I’ve found in conversations with my peers that almost every business leader who’s aware of what we do would like to contribute, but we haven’t made it easy. Identifying and facilitating such contributions is one of my personal goals for the year.

To start, here are two possible ways for business folks to contribute:

  • I’ll be in the Bay Area next week for a panel at MAAWG in San Francisco and other meetings, and will be organizing a dinner/drinks event for people who want to chat about Mozilla Messaging business models. Contact me by email if you’re interested (dascher at mozillamessaging.com).
  • We’re hiring a business development lead to help drive this effort. If you know someone who you think understands business development and would be a great fit for Mozilla, point them to the job description.

I’m looking forward to the conversations!

Ikea Canada: WTF?

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A few months ago, we needed more desks for our office, so I figured I’d order them from the Ikea website. Easy to do, except that the Ikea.ca store doesn’t work with US credit cards, and our corporate card is a US card. So I bite my tongue about the craziness of e-commerce in Canada, knowing it’s not just an Ikea problem, and I use my personal card, and will deal with expensing it internally. Annoying, but oh well.

Then I’m blown away because delivery takes eons, because the desks have to come from the “online distribution center” in Quebec (“it’s Canada, so it’s got to be close, right?”), and not from either of the two warehouses within 20 miles of the delivery address (who do have the items in stock!). But I’m busy, so I live w/ the delay. Environmentally criminal, but oh well.

This month, we need more desks, and I’ve learned my lesson, so I know to take time out of my weekend to go to Ikea, order the desks and chairs. After about 45 minutes in the store, it looks like we’ll have delivery on Tuesday morning. A few high-end desks and what seems like their most expensive chairs, but I have a soft spot for Ikea, and their furniture is working out fine for us.

Turns out the chairs aren’t in stock, so they have to be scheduled for delivery a few weeks out and delivery has to be charged separately. Annoying, and a bit more expensive, but oh well.

Monday, they call and say that we hadn’t talked about delivery times (we had), and we reschedule it for the same day/time. Seems disorganized, but oh well.

Tuesday, they come and call my cell to let us know they’re downstairs, but I’m on the phone on an important call, and I thought it was someone else, so I figure I’ll get the message when I’m done with my call. By the time I get off the phone, I’m told they went on with their route, and I need to reschedule another delivery, which will cost me $75. Frustrating, but I blame it on the olympics and how it’s messing with deliveries everywhere, and blame myself for not taking the call, but oh well.

I call back to reschedule, and I’m told that I need to go back to the store to reschedule, because I need to pay for another delivery. WTF? After a bit of back and forth with the CSR, I ask to talk to a manager, and I’m told to do that I need to go to the store. WTF? I then ask about canceling the order, and I’m told that, you guessed it, I need to go back to the store.

Oh, if I want to lodge a complaint, I can do it on their website. I’ll definitely be sending them a link to this page.

I guess I know what I’m doing this weekend. What I’m not sure of is where I’ll get the next batch of furniture from. What a totally horrible customer experience, just because they don’t have a system for paying over the phone (or, hey, the internet?!?!) for silly delivery fees.