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!

15 thoughts on “Thunderbird in 2010

  1. You could make it easy to donate money towards Thunderbird development specifically. I’ve briefly looked at donating for Thunderbird the end of 2008 and 2009, but could not find any way. The donations page lists 5 specific projects in addition to general donations, but Thunderbird is not listed.

  2. Heikki — You’d think it’d be simple, but it turns out I don’t think it’s that easy because of US tax law. As I understand it, such donations would not be tax-deductible because Thunderbird is managed by the taxable subsidiary of the non-profit foundation, and donating to a taxable corporation is likely problematic. On the other hand, selling goods (Thunderbird umbrellas anyone? ;-) or services (e.g. a backup system) would be legally easier.

    From a planning POV, donations are also suboptimal because they wax and wane more than consumer goods depending on a lot of factors — also, they require a much deeper level of commitment from the audience. It may sound strange, but as I understand it on average it’s easier to get people to buy mugs than to donate cash.

    More fundamentally, I’d prefer it if Thunderbird was funded by actual value creation, and not require a morally-based “giving back”.

    If people _do_ want to give back in the form of money, however, I think people should just give money to the Mozilla Foundation, which can then allocate the money however seems best. If you’ve read this post by Chelsea, you might be able to guess about some Thunderbird-related fundraising that might be happening in some possible future (wink, wink).

  3. A good idea could be providing branded TB for other online mailing service provider. Like Zimbra, Its altogether different client but serves same purpose. If MM can develop set of plugins to do that, Its something everyone will love. Zimbra does not have to do duplication of efforts. Its going to be difficult job to find business model for MM since its more of an offline business. Something like awesome addons and appstore for the same could really be good start. Hope i don’t see a banner within TB with “click here to win lotto :)”

    Wats up with raindrop ?

    All the best :)

  4. Hi and thanks for your post and your work for Tb/Mozilla!

    If you want to bring more attention to add-ons than you also should ensure or help that extension developers make their work compatible with the latest official Thunderbird release. Many people can’t update to Tb3 because of this “problem”. Extensions make Tb unique and customizable but they can be (and are) bad when updating the program to a newer release.

    The problem now is that between Tb2 and Tb3 there was too big timespan and many extension developers has abandoned their work. How can we bring them back or motivate others to continue their work?

  5. Brian

    I notice you erased my previous comment. I’m assuming I interrupted your little bit of self promotion. Let me ask you some simple questions in it’s place. Why is it that each and every new email account set up for Eastlink cable ( the high speed provider for most of Eastern Canada )in Thunderbird has incorrect server auto detection ? Why is it that when the user tries to reverse this that Thunderbird reverts to the original settings ? Why is a POP server detected as IMAP ? Why can’t you answer a very simple question ? Why ruin a perfectly good setup routine ? No other email program on the planet works like this. Free or not, people depend on this program. If you don’t feel the end user is important enough to be involved or taken into consideration, I submit to you that you should keep Thunderbird on your own hard-drives and spare us the frustration of being your guinea pigs.

  6. Bruno Friedmann

    What the future of TB in 2010 ?
    If the 3.0.2 doesn’t provide stability and minimal functionality like was 2x, the future is no future. Many of people here are looking around for an another product.
    We are waiting for a too long time now to have a decent calendar/messaging product. That’s remind me the bad past period when we are forced to stop using Netscape product, and can’t use Mozilla as they were not ready, leaving us in confusion.
    In my opinion, and from what’s I’ve seen last weeks about the reaction of customers, friends and myself : if mozilla fondation doesn’t do something right now, and hardly work to offer a full featured and polished product, you will gained a few new trend users, and lost all your old long term users (those who use TB in enterprise).
    In this context, having also FF becoming more & more bloated, there’s just a step to get away from default enterprise install…
    So you finally loose and get no future.

  7. Gorit Maqueda

    Hello, David.

    I like the idea to deploy new features as add-ons. I can only see one drawback: really universally useful add-ons, like Calendar, can go unnoticed by the standard PC user, despite the suggestions already present in the Components options (too techie for them, I suppose).

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to pack such add-ons in a kind of “you couldn’t live without that” category and install them by default? I know that could be perceived as too agressive to some users, so I just throw the idea and await for the storm :-)

    On the other hand, do you think some long awaited and difficult to implement fixes (such as an HTML composer that do follow the user preferences on fonts, or an option to choose one signature from a list of predefined ones, or… pick your favourite here) could be deployed also as add-ons?

    Thanks!

  8. I think TB needs to re-think the needs of people who use mail clients. I use a mail client because I have several e-mail addresses for different purposes, and it is much faster to have a local client than it is to go to the web sites of my various providers. (Incidentally, this is also why I’m looking to eliminate Yahoo mail and Hotmail from my life. If I have to visit your site to get my mail, you’re too slow.)

    As it exists now, TB tries to use the first outgoing account I set up for every other account. I have to go through the rigamarole of adding a separate SMTP server/account and then telling the incoming account to use that one. When I set up an account, ask me “Do you want this account to use its own sending address or another one?” Once I say “another one”, make it easy to set that up. We already know that it will probably use the same username/password as the incoming account, so don’t force me to re-enter that info.

    There used to be an extension that made TB setup sensible again, but I haven’t seen it in a couple of years. I’m honestly looking for a cross-platform replacement client already. I’ve been a TB fan ever since I first heard of it (and a MozMail/NetscapeMail fan before that), but the stubborn refusal to change this is driving me away quickly. (Claws Mail does this right, but doesn’t support sending HTML mail. If they defaulted to plain text with a checkbox for HTML, I’d completely switch *today*.)

  9. AA

    I so much want to use Thunderbird but having to deal with the continuous worry of backing up email is too big of a price.

  10. I cannot use Thunderbird 3.X because, even months after its release, it breaks two-thirds of my 2.X add-ons. And the add-on updates are not happening.

    This is a serious issue with both Firefox and Thunderbird, but far more so with the latter. Mozilla has done a decent job addressing this in Firefox, but Thunderbird seriously lags.

    All the talk of new features, stability, and so on in 3.X doesn’t help if only a handful of add-on authors are updating their add-ons. (Case in point: Lightning STILL does not have an official 3.x-compatible release, just temperamental nightly builds.)

  11. Matěj Cepl

    I don’t see in your article anything about your efforts to encourage providing of the code from large governmental/corporate users.

    Which is why I am so excited over Trustedbird. This Apache way in my opinion the way to go.

    Of course, you need some money to get supporting infrastructure going.

  12. If I may make ONE suggestion for a bonus feature, the one suggestion I’ve missed ever since I used outlook, and then Eudora, and then Thunderbird, and migrating from a program to another, from a computer to another, has always been a nightmare.

    If you add a feature to export into a single file the totality of one’s email messages + accounts information, so that it may be exported in seconds into another version of the program or into another computer, it will make life SO much simple, it will make Thunderbird more popular.

    That’s a funny rule of the software world, to bring new users, you have to show them it’s easy to quit the day they like it.

    Another remark, to make thunderbird more sustainable in the future, there is a feature several of my co-workers would like : thunderbird working as a webmail.
    Take Zimbra, for instance, it’s a webmail, but you’d believe you’re using a mix-up of Thunderbird and Eudora.
    Well, if you create a corporate version of thunderbird that can be configured to work on a company’s server and serve as a webmail, with the thunderbird interface, loading the inboxes of the members, and it would – in fact – be the same when the employees are back on their office computers, you’d score big with the corporate market.
    I believe that is something you could monetize well.
    I hope this suggestion is something that is not a total technical impossibility ;)

  13. Ferhat

    Hello,

    I love Thunderbird and using since 2005,

    Please someone check the message filters, it is very difficult to sort and arrange the filters on this screen that would be nice to have an option to sort them at least A to Z and there must be a way to move selected filters to make easy handle

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