Mozilla Wants To Split Off Its Thunderbird Email/Chat Client, Says Mitchell Baker Memo
The Mozilla Foundation looks like it’s about to take another step in its bid to sharpen its focus on development around its Firefox browser. Mozilla now wants to once and for all hive off support for Thunderbird, the free email, chat and news client it first developed in 2004 buteffectively stopped directly updating in in 2012. The plans were revealed in a company-wide memo penned today by chairperson Mitchell Baker. (We have confirmed with Mozilla that it is indeed from her.)
“I believe Thunderbird should would thrive best by separating itself from reliance on Mozilla development systems and in some cases, Mozilla technology,” Baker wrote in her open memo, posted on Mozilla’s public governance forum. “The current setting isn’t stable, and we should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled.”
Baker notes that it is not clear whether Mozilla will try to spin off Thunderbird as its own open-source entity, or whether it will seek a business partner to take over the product; it seems too early to tell at this point.
What is more clear is that Mozilla has been trying to streamline how it runs things and the focus of its engineers as part of a bigger campaign to rejuvenate Firefox, part of a long-term fightback to gain more market share against competitors like Google Chrome.
Mozilla now views any support for Thunderbird, even the limited support it has been providing for the past three years, as akin to “paying a tax,” in Baker’s words, on top of the work those engineers spend building Firefox.
“These competing demands are not good for either project,” she writes. “Engineers working on Thunderbird must focus on keeping up and adapting Firefox’s web-driven changes. Engineers working on Firefox and related projects end up considering the competing demands of Thunderbird, and/or wondering if and how much they should assist Thunderbird. Neither project can focus wholeheartedly on what is best for it.”
Apart from the fact that Mozilla had cut off most development support in 2012, Thunderbird has become a somewhat anachronistic product.
Hitting the market in 2004, at a time when many consumers were still wedded to desktop clients to access email services, Thunderbird got off to a flying start, with 1 million downloads in its first 10 days of life. But in the years following, many switched to mobile apps and web-based clients, and Thunderbird’s popularity waned.
Mozilla and the wider Thunderbird community have not provided any updates on how many Thunderbird users there are today, or how many downloads of the client, or what kind of usage the application sees.
And for Mozilla itself, focus has largely switched to developing its core Firefox browser formore platforms, and generally making Firefox more of a business, integrating with Yahoo and Google to generate revenues around search ads.
When Mozilla passed Thunderbird development on to a volunteer-led community in 2012, it committed itself only to providing “extended support releases” focused only on security and maintenance updates mainly aimed at large organizations who use Thunderbird. In that regard, for Thunderbird and its users, this is potentially a rough turn, but it’s not really a surprising one.