Thunderbird 25 Jul 2007 12:28 pm

Finding a New Home For Thunderbird

Mitchell’s blog talks about the need to find a new organizational home for Thunderbird. I wanted to share my thoughts about why we need to do something, provide more detail about what David and I feel would be best for Thunderbird and its users, and to solicit feedback from the community for their thoughts and ideas.


In the early days of the Foundation, browsing and e-mail applications were linked together as the two major Internet activities users engaged in. At that time, it made sense to have both Firefox and Thunderbird under the Mozilla Foundation.

Over time, the Mozilla Foundation’s mission has evolved to focus on advancing the open web through browsing and related activities. Today, Thunderbird, as a desktop mail client, does not supports this mission. As a result, Thunderbird has been a lower priority for quite some time. It takes attention away from the Firefox effort, yet it doesn’t have the level of resources or support it needs to move mail forward. Thunderbird releases are pulled together by the heroic efforts of the QA and Release teams who are still exhausted from the most recent Firefox release.

For the Thunderbird community to grow and flourish, we need our own mission that promotes the interests of open mail and its users, and we need an organization dedicated to supporting that mission. We (David, myself, the leaders of the Corporation and the Foundation board) all agree that it’s time to form a new organization dedicated to Thunderbird and its users.

Some of the Options

Mitchell’s post outlines several options available to us. We’ve been thinking about these ideas for a long time and here are our current thoughts. We’re interested in hearing what others think.

Option 1. Create a new non-profit organization analogous to the Mozilla Foundation – a Thunderbird foundation. If it turns out Thunderbird generates a revenue model from the product as Firefox does, then a Thunderbird foundation could follow the Mozilla Foundation model and create a subsidiary.

The complexities and organizational overhead associated with this option are very high. At the end of the day, we are a small team of developers who want to focus on serving our users and working with our community, not spending most of our time managing the complexities of this style of organization.

Option 2. Create a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation for Thunderbird. This has less overhead, although it still requires a new company that serves the mission of the Mozilla Foundation

This option doesn’t satisfy the goals of either the Mozilla Corporation or the new company, since a Thunderbird subsidiary will not further the Foundation’s mission to advance the open web, and will continue to draw resources away from Firefox.

Option 3. Thunderbird is released as a community project much like SeaMonkey, and a small independent services and consulting company is formed by the Thunderbird developers to continue development and care for Thunderbird users. Many open source projects use this model, it could be simpler and more effective than a Mozilla Foundation subsidiary. However, creating this as a non-profit would be extremely difficult. Running a services company as an independent taxable company is the simplest operational answer. We would need to figure out how such a company relates to the Thunderbird product itself. What’s the best way for such a company to release a product? How does that relate to the community project that stays within Mozilla?

We believe, creating a separate independent company focused on the Thunderbird mission is the best way for us to take care of our users, while having the most flexibility to grow and support our mission.

Our vision is to create an independent company responsible for developing future versions of Thunderbird, supporting our users, and providing choice and innovation in the mail space. This company would embody the same principles that make Mozilla great: dedication to open source, transparency, community involvement, and doing right by our users.

The Thunderbird project would become a Mozilla community project like Seamonkey and Camino. The code wouldn’t move, the ways in which we all interact (bugzilla, CVS, IRC) would not change. The Thunderbird community would continue to interact and collaborate with other vested mail contributors (localizers, SeaMonkey developers, Penelope developers, QA volunteers, etc.) to further innovate around the mailnews platform. The new company would be responsible for the productization of Thunderbird, similar to the Mozilla Corporation’s productization of Firefox.

These responsibilities would be funded using the following potential sources of income:

  • donations from existing users, universities, corporations, etc.
  • several support contracts
  • other partnerships that support the Thunderbird mission

David and I are committed to finding the right solution that allows us to support our user base, grow our community, and re-energize Thunderbird development. We look forward to hearing what you think about these ideas and any other possibilities.

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