Open letter to the Thunderbird community

Thus far, my public comments about MailCo have been quite high-level, and spanning big fuzzy concepts like communication, organizational structure, etc.  Here I’d like to touch on Thunderbird specifically.

Both Scott McGregor and David Bienvenu have posted that they are leaving Mozilla Corp.  My understanding from chats with them weeks ago (I hope I’m not divulging anything that I shouldn’t) is that they have decided to start a new venture.  They’ve worked on Thunderbird and its predecessors within Mozilla and Nestcape for a long time, and I can certainly understand their desire to do something different.  After all, I’m doing something different myself.  At the same time, I know from talking to Scott and David that they care very deeply about Thunderbird, and I look forward to working with them in the future. 

That’s all I know about Scott and David’s plans, so I’ll talk instead about what we’re doing with the still-being-formed mail-focused subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, regarding Thunderbird planning in particular.  While Scott and David will I’m sure be forthcoming with advice and opinions, I’m hoping to solicit input from other Thunderbird community members.  

The bulk of the MailCo budget is expected to be spent on staff (as with all small software companies, and especially small open source software companies!), with most of that going to Thunderbird-focused staff for a while, I expect.  We’re recruiting experienced developers now to focus specifically on Thunderbird and more broadly on improving mail and communications in general. Everyone involved full-time in the development of Thunderbird has been offered a role and we’re moving forward as quickly as possible to hire additional developers.

I’m also going to be looking for non-developers to help in every other aspect of maintaining and evolving Thunderbird. If you’re interested in such a job, or know someone who I should talk to, please don’t hesitate to let me know.  People who care about the project and who want to make a different in the world of email will be key to Thunderbird’s continued success.  One of my tasks next week is to get a better picture of exactly which jobs I should fill — I’ll share the job descriptions as soon as they’re settled, but you don’t have to wait for that if you’re interested.

More broadly speaking, the intent of the new subsidiary is to gather together the Thunderbird community (including you) in a single “virtual” location, so that what happens or doesn’t happen in Firefox-land isn’t so relevant to Thunderbird anymore.  I’ll have more to say about the new community “hangouts” soon.  I’m (obviously!) convinced that Thunderbird is great, and can become even greater. There’s so much pent-up energy around the project, it feels as though it’s about to take over the world.  There’s of course a lot of work ahead to coordinate everyone’s enthusiasm, but I’m looking forward to it.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been gathering feedback and opinions from lots of directions.  The opinions of the core Thunderbird community are more important than many, so if you care about Thunderbird, please let me know what you think.  Now is a great time to influence the future of Thunderbird.


  1. Who should we trust more to coordinate the community: you who just landed with a $3 million seed-money briefcase, or the two guys who have lead the project for the past 12 years? If I was looking for a job, I think I’d wait for David & Scott to open their company and I’d send them my resume.


  2. Hey, I suggest you send resumes to both organizations (or just an email), and find out what each has to offer. I suspect that different people will find that they prefer one or the other.

    (I love the idea of a $3 million briefcase ;-).


  3. “My understanding from chats with them weeks ago” – that makes one really wonder what’s going on here, with _the_ TB developers leaving…


  4. The first thing most people I talked to expect is a dependable mid-range concept. Some ask themselves it is worth to invest time in (enhancement) patching if the structure can change soon.
    Furthermore, people interested in contributing without any (deeper) coding experience should find easy information how to get involved. Wikipages and regular qa-sessions and feedback channels on irc for helping have been a success for and the Calendar team.
    The next thing is the missing location for the discussion of possible new features. I propose a global brainstorming like there was for Firefox 3. After the deadline, the drivers can walk through and drop or set priorities or wanted tags.
    In addition to the concept of fast communication (fastest: IM and [IP-]phone; slower: mail), the issue that people can’t use Thunderbird out of the box and have to configure it should gain focus. Many run their IMs during their online time, but complain about automatic logouts of webmailers. For this reason, Thunderbird should ask the user in the ‘add accoung’ dialog only for the mail address and lookup the settings for the (sub)domain from a server. In the next step, a page with the downloaded settings is shown (so people can change something if the want or give the infos like name etc.), which will work in 99,x % of the cases. If the lookup doesn’t find any info, show an info page about the technical details needed. Also other things get modulized (to allow easy updates) like import settings and IM protocols.
    There are different concepts of using Thunderbird, one is to use it as a data-acceleration machine: RSS items, newsletters, automated mail (responses to forum posts, bugmail, …). Many of these contain links to or even are pages which require logins. At the moment, clicking a link opens it in the default browser and the user has to perform the action there, go back to Thunderbird and usually performs the delete action there. This is annoying and people should have the choise if they want to manage it in the default browser or directly in the mail client. (Maybe get the rendering engine of the default browser for the content window?)
    Please continue to use the same rendering like the actual Firefox one. Otherwise I doubt that the developers of extensions which are compatible with both will maintain the Thunderbird one.

    Hint: You should also post this content to the newsgroup , probably not everyone is aware of your blog..


  5. “My understanding from chats with them weeks ago … is that they have decided to start a new venture.”

    …and you took the job anyway.

    with zero assets (Knowledgable devs |$}, and a firm challenge to come up with a sustainable $ model at some point?

    God Bless you David,
    I think you will need all the help you can get.

    I’m just a simple TB community member, but your task seems at the very least…daunting.


  6. JoeS: I could be deluding myself, but I really don’t think it’s as bad as you make it sound.

    I do have seed funding available to hire staff, I have a mandate from the Mozilla Foundation that is extremely motivating and exciting to me and to many people I talk to, and I have stewardship, in collaboration with many other people, over a product which millions of people care about and use daily.

    I would have loved to _also_ have Scott and David on board, but one important part of open source and community-based projects is that they can survive the departure of key staff. Many, many open source projects have done so in the past, and I’m confident that Thunderbird can do so as well, and that’s assuming a worse-case scenario that Scott and David completely stop contributing, which I would be surprised by.


  7. Sorry David, but one of the key things I learnt in years and years of programming is that the saying “nobody’s irreplaceable” is blatantly false in our software world. It’s even more blatant where your codebase has the size and complexity of Thunderbird.


  8. Archaeopteryx: Well you probably talk about implement to handle DNS SRV records. These SRV records will help a lot in corporate because net.admin can control DNS changes. This cut down settings to only email and your name (which probably already can be extracted from logged in user).
    David: Looking forward for positions 😉


  9. I’d just like to thank-you David for taking the time to email me about the future of Thunderbird, after seeing my comments on Scott’s blog. I think that shows a level of dedication above and beyond the call of duty and I’m happy to say from the looks of things Thunderbird is in good hands with you. There are a lot of people who care about this project and I think it benefits from having close ties with Firefox from staff to technology. Having a place for like-minded, Thunderbird lovers is the right way to go about cultivating a renewed motivation for Thunderbird. Thanks again.


  10. Also, I’m just adding a few points since I’ve read the cynical comments.

    Not being a particularly fluent programmer on any scale near the size of Thunderbird I’m probably uninformed in my opinion.

    However, as Archaeopteryx pointed out the Calendar team really do an amazing job as do the SeaMonkey community and that’s without seed funding etc. What I feel a project like this needs is clear goals. Community is everything, gather your enthusiastic people and involve them, road mapping is important, informing the community of progress is important.

    We all applaud Scott and David’s work on Thunderbird but each release to me has felt unambitious and incomplete. Email management is inherently a hard task as it does require a certain bit of knowledge to setup POP3/SMTP servers to get everything flowing. The vast array of configuration options is also probably daunting too, but this is a burden that all email programs have to face not just Thunderbird. Email is still very relevant and especially the way I use it – more as an archive, a way to make sure that everything’s written down somewhere and searchable.

    Thunderbird needs some more ambition again. It needs to be the best it can be, not just another release with no really useful features added. That involves a lot of discussion and a lot of planning. A new start for Thunderbird could possibly be the best thing for the project. New thinking can begin.


  11. Come on! Your project has two core developers and those two core developers leave and you talk like this? Are you really qualified for that job?

    “Now is a great time to influence the future of Thunderbird.”

    Please no, coding would be enough. Time to wipe the braggarts out.


  12. Hi David.

    We at the Bongo Project would be very interested in participating more closely with the Thunderbird project. It’s likely you’ve not heard of Bongo before; we’re a continuation of what Novell called Hula.

    I use Tbird on a daily basis, as we do at the company I work at, and I’d love to see much better support for more advanced address books for one.


  13. Although perhaps email has passed its prime as a communication method, we are still communicating with each other, just in different ways. There is an enormous opportunity now to try to consolidate the myriad ways that we are now supposed to communicate (email, voice, text messaging, Facebook, blogs and comments, forums, etc.) into a more unified system. I hope that MailCo will broaden the scope of its perceived mission to include the entire scope of a person’s communications, and not just attract the diminishing group of people interested “in the world of email”


  14. Andrew, Eyal —

    I agree!

    It’s about getting more developers working on the code! My job, however, is not to do that coding, but to help make that coding happen. To find the best developers who can do it, and get them hired. To get other companies to help pay for some more coding. To make it easier for third-party developers, paid or unpaid, to get
    their voices heard, their ideas understood, their code accepted.

    That _is_ what it’s about. But I can’t do it all, which is why I need “flowery appeals to the community” to figure out who wants to do it, and what needs to happen once the developers have been hired.


  15. I’m surprised by all the negative reactions from the community. We all care about Thunderbird here, so why the hostile tone? Don’t you guys think David Ascher wants Thunderbird to be successful? Then let’s make that happen!

    One way to attract developers and contributors around Thunderbird could be to discuss and develop a clearer vision to explain the overall goals of the project. Initiate and encourage brainstorming and graphical mockups and let the fantasy flow. Even though I’m not a KDE user, all the KDE4 planning and shaping got me really interested before the development had even started. I’m sure it could have a similar effect on the Thunderbird community.

    Then, when you have a clearer Thunderbird vision (it doesn’t have to be set in stone), it’s probably easier to figure out the appropriate job descriptions and choose from a greater developer pool.

    I like Kent James’ vision (comment 17) of a unified messaging system gathering mail, blog comments, Facebook messages, etc into one common storage. Think about “Compose > New Facebook Message”. Think about searching for a code snippet and find it regardless whether it was posted in a blog comment, IM chat, or newsgroup. That would be awesome! 🙂


  16. David,

    I expect TB to facilitate my communication with my friends regarless the chanel.

    1. Facilitate:
    => Aggregate all info about my friends:
    I don’t like to have phone number in my cell phone, e-mail address in TB address book and ground mail address in my Palm addres book.
    I would prefer to merge all info in TB address book and distribute them from TB address book

    => Easy to synchronsize with other device (Cell phone, Palm/PC Pocket,…):
    I don’t always have acces to my PC but 99.999% of the time my cell phone is close to me.
    So I expect to find info in it coming out from TB which should be my unique source of info.

    => Info about our schedule:
    “who is avaiblable at what time and where is he?”

    => Secure:
    I need to have an easy back-up of messages and easy way to restore back-up.
    Per year, I’ve ~2 Go of e-mail. I never delete any e-mail.
    I would like to store an archive on back-up (USB drive, burned CD,…) and have direct access to archieve when I plug the back-up disk on my PC.
    Some discussion must remain private thanks to reliable encryption of data.

    2. Chanel:
    – e-mail
    – IM
    – SMS
    – VoIp
    – Video Conference
    – Blog
    – File sharing
    – Desktop sharing

    User should not care about chanel.
    TB should ensure that the message will reach my friend.
    It could depend on his calendar, his availability or info gathered about my friend.

    Imagine that my friend calendar inform me that he is abroad and out of contact for 2 weeks. There is no need to try IM, VoIP, video conference so TB choose to send e-mail or SMS depending on the fact that I’ve in my adress book my friend cell phone number or his e-mail adress.

    TB must respect open standard and promote them.
    “Aggregate info” and “easy to synchronize” will be efficient only if it’s done through open standard.
    I’m impressed by Calendar team work on standard:

    TB must be a key player on standard battle to avoid for example IM standard mess.
    Implement XMPP standard in TB would promote this IM standard.
    Working on Jingle to get a real open standard for VoIP and Video Conference would bring huge added value to community.
    I am not aware of open standard for calendar sharing. But I’m sure there is a think tank somewhere. I think that TB should join such a think tank.


  17. From an immediate point of view, I don’t use Thunderbird because it’s too much like Outlook Express and other similar clients. I’m a long term Eudora user and have been really looking forward to Penelope.

    All this upheaval of late worries me. AFAIK Qualcomm has committed developers to Penelope and Thunderbird but I wonder if they regret that now when they see the lack of clear direction from Mozilla?

    On the wider picture I find it funny that everyone pontificates in such obscure directions about the trends in software development. I think there are simple underlying principles that are easy to use for your purposes of establishing a future direction:

    – Open Standards

    This is not as much of a political issue as people make out. It’s a user issue. The way that instant message software has ‘grown’ is a great example of how much worse the web could have been if it were not for the clumsy but well-intentioned guiding hand of the W3C, amongst others.

    Why are there so many protocols that are not inter-operable? Because no entity has been there to champion that cause. So the user suffers.

    The same fate is being replayed again in the VoIP sphere.

    MailCo MUST lead in these fields with a product, policy or both.

    You’re behind the 8 ball since Skype has out-innovated you, but that is now an monopoly that eBay should not be allowed to benefit from the way Microsoft has with it’s Windows monopoly.

    Email is another field where standardisation and inter-operability is sorely lacking. Ever received an email from Rotus Notes in a client that has deliberately disabled HTML email due to it’s phone-home spam friendliness? Not a fun experience. But who is out there encouraging the adoption of safe and cross-client formatting of emails? Nobody. MailCo should be there.

    Who is talking with the various companies who have proposed spam solutions but would need partners?

    Who is out there publicizing the issue of open-relay servers and the need to close them down? MailCo should be!

    – Simplicity

    Users want solutions that just work. MailCo should learn from Firefox. Fix the current scourges that face email: spam, phishing, interoperability (again). Firefox got it’s initial boosts from tabbed browsing which empowered users in a simple way. Then there was popup blocking which removed a menace. MailCo should do the same. Don’t tell me spam cannot be drastically improved, if not solved. Simple white lists are an easy answer.

    Apologies for the lack of distinct clarity and clear argument but this little comment box is tiny and narrow and difficult.


  18. Sounds good so far, keep the updates coming. There is every expectation of some chaos, and every little flaw will resonate loudly and painfully. Good luck!


  19. David, please talk with the OpenChange Project to extend Tb to a better Oulook+Exchange competitor/collaborator.

    And have a critical look at the Gecko/core developers. They are oriented solely towards Firefox and break things like

    Thunderbird needs a clear vision and a roadmap so that the community can contribute to the project and not only discuss about this and that like last months.

    I wish you all the very best!


  20. Re: Comment 21

    David, you can’t say this is what it’s about without addressing the very serious problems with the conduct of your senders, the Mozilla Foundation. You are the appointment of the organization which has neglected mail&news development more and more over the years, and is now cutting it loose completely with a ridiculously small sum of money plus yourself, and manages to get the remaining two developers to walk out completely.

    If you want any sort of credibility or support, especially after Mozilla has managed to make the only two existing developers quit, you have to start by giving us an honest and detailed account about what the hell has been going on these past few years, and especially past few months. Otherwise you’re sort of like a PR scarecrow guarding a carcass. And believe me, it is not easy for me to call a software project I have contributed a lot (well, relatively) to over the past 5 years a carcass.


  21. David: what’s your vision (insofar as you have one) on how to divide focus between Thunderbird the product and mailnews as part of the overall Mozilla ‘platform’? I’m thinking specifically of SeaMonkey as consumer of the same code, as (from what I understand), SeaMonkey and Thunderbird are much more tightly coupled than SeaMonkey and Firefox are.
    Have you been in touch at all yet with those SeaMonkey developers who work with the mailnews code?


  22. I’m an enterprise guy and I would like Thunderbird to focus more on enterprise integration above else. It is sickening to see no answer from Open Source to the domination of Outlook. Calendar, VoIP, IM etc integrated. Also patnership with all open source groupware (Kollab, Bongo, OpenXchange, Zimbra, eGroupware) should be a good start.

    I for one would love to see Thunderbird soaring high again…


  23. Re: Comment #9
    Sorry, but you haven’t learned much if that’s your view. Clearly you’re not a software manager. Or maybe no one’s ever left your project..? Or when they have you’ve curled up in a corner and shut it down.

    Re: Comment 29
    Sorry, David is not responsible for nor does he owe anyone anything regarding past MoCo practices regarding Tb. Your hostility is very misplaced.

    As I wrote in mozillazine, the current state of Tb was broken, not healthy in the least, and imo in large part due not to MoCo but to the consequences of decisions made/not made by the former devs. You have to ask why, if way back Fx started with one dev and Tb with two, did the former flourish and the latter not? Hint: it’s not Googlebux.

    Now, no one has any way of knowing whether the new initiative will work or not, but the correct decision was made and if the former devs didn’t care to join it, so be it. Or does anyone here think Tb ‘belonged’ to them?


  24. “Now is a great time to influence the future of Thunderbird.”
    Please no, coding would be enough. Time to wipe the braggarts out.

    No, coding IS NOT enough.
    There are tons of great projects out there that have great coding but dont know how to get to the ‘next level’. (that is true for bands as well)
    You have to have a vision of what you want TB to be.
    Saying that your code/product is the best wont impress anyone but hardcore geeks.
    Being just another in the crowd, happy to just keep up or be mediocre is not enough.
    What do we want TB to be?
    What fields are we lacking in?
    What fields arent well addressed by others and how can we improve?
    How do people use TB and want dont they do in TB?
    Can we improve on the first and get the latter group on board?
    What can we add that is bold and inovative but wont burden and bog down the program?
    How can we get better word of mouth and community support?
    Marketing campaigns a la Firefox?
    How can we get better feedback and streamline it?

    These have to be answered first so that a plan is put in place.


  25. I was using TB today and need help connecting with a developer to get a TB add-on written. Dave – a place where ideas and developers meet would be a great boon for extension of TB.


  26. “It’s about getting more developers working on the code! My job, however, is not to do that coding, but to help make that coding happen. To find the best developers who can do it, and get them hired. [blabla]”
    So a 100% useless person. Someone who does not get it done. No wonder the productive people leave when unproductive managers take over and try to organise them. The main advantage of David so far is that he casted the core coders away. All that Thunderbird needs is more coders who know the codebase and do the real work. And developer trust. Developer trust was low under the lead of a Maid who came from the IP department. Hope David is at least no lawyer and understands coding.


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