Mozilla Thunderbird to Find New Home as Mozilla Foundation Focuses on Mozilla Firefox

Thursday July 26th, 2007

On her weblog, Mozilla Corporation CEO Mitchell Baker has announced that Mozilla Thunderbird is to move to a "new, separate organizational setting" as the Mozilla Foundation continues to focus ever more closely on Mozilla Firefox.

While the Mozilla Foundation supports a number of projects, its taxable subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation is responsible for only Firefox and Thunderbird. However, it has become increasingly clear that Firefox is the priority. The resources allocated to Firefox dwarf those allocated to Thunderbird and recent projects such as the initiative to improve Mozilla support exclude Thunderbird.

Mitchell outlines three possible options for a new organisational structure for Thunderbird. One is to create a entirely new non-profit, which would offer maximum independence for Thunderbird but is organisationally complex. A second option is to create a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation for Thunderbird, which would keep the Mozilla Foundation involved but may mean that Thunderbird continues to be neglected in favour of Firefox. A final option is to recast Thunderbird as community project, similar to SeaMonkey, and set up a small independent services and consulting company to continue development. However, there are concerns over how the Thunderbird product, project and company would interact.

On his new weblog, lead Thunderbird developer Scott MacGregor has posted his thoughts on the finding a new home for Thunderbird. He states that he favours the third option. Scott explains that this means that Thunderbird would continue to use Mozilla Foundation infrastructure, such as the CVS repository and Bugzilla, and the new company would perform a similar role for Thunderbird as the Mozilla Corporation does for Firefox, developing, releasing and supporting the application.

Observers of the Mozilla community may have seen Thunderbird's new home coming. In April, former Firefox lead developer Ben Goodger wrote a weblog post discussing autonomy for non-Firefox projects. He suggested renaming the Mozilla Corporation to the Firefox Corporation and pointed to a newsgroup message in which Mozilla Corporation CTO Brendan Eich declared "Thunderbird will have to fly free". Ten days later, Mitchell Baker wrote a weblog post on the Mozilla Foundation's focus on Firefox, stating that the Foundation's resources would be used to "assist other Mozilla participants and projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox".

Update: In the text above, the sentence "While the Mozilla Foundation supports a number of projects, its taxable subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation is responsible for only Firefox and Thunderbird" was potentially misleading. The Corporation provides significant support to projects other than Firefox and Thunderbird in terms of hardware, services and personnel.

It would be more accurate to say that Firefox and Thunderbird are Mozilla products, which means that they get released, distributed and supported as end-user applications by the Corporation. Other applications, such as SeaMonkey and Camino, are Mozilla projects, which are made into products by volunteers or other organisations, if at all.

Thanks to Asa Dotzler for the clarification in comment 26 and comment 30 on this article.

#33 Right direction

by yanychar

Sunday July 29th, 2007 4:07 AM

You are replying to this message

I am not happy with Mozilla Corp. dropping of TB support. But this is a long expected step.

Mozilla is using the most complicated build system I can imagine. The "one tree many projects" mantra makes practically all ./configure options unreliable. In its current state, mozilla resembles a hydra with each head trying to push the body in its own direction. It needs clear priorities to keep on flying.

However, concerns are voiced about mozilla sustainability as a platform. If that also ceases to be a priority, I would expect an alternative line of development or fork to appear. For example, xulrunner is already an important part of Debian Linux. Like any good platform it is shipped as a number of packages, not a single one. And those packages have dozens of dependencies. In turn, many of the dependencies have fought their way into the set of programs installed by default. Developers, maintainers and users of these packages is a community with a potential to support possible fork.

Whatever Mozilla thinks of mail client, that kind of program is a must-have for any modern desktop operating system. Mozilla paved the way for GNU/Linux to workstations of normal users, Dell+Ubuntu is the brightest example. And there is no sign of retreat.

In short, if TB is let fly free to facilitate mozilla platform restructuring this is a good news. If to the contrary this is the step to promote gmail and drop platform support, we should see some strong resistance from OSS community.