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Thunderbird:Future of Thunderbird

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The Future of Thunderbird

Mozilla has been supporting Thunderbird as a product since the beginning of the Foundation. The result is a good, solid product that provides an open alternative for desktop mail. However, the Thunderbird effort is dwarfed by the enormous energy and community focused on the web, Firefox and the ecosystem around it. As a result, Mozilla doesn’t support Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don’t expect this to change in the foreseeable future. We are convinced that our current focus – delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services – is the correct priority. At the same time, the Thunderbird team is extremely dedicated and competent, and we all want to see them do as much as possible with Thunderbird.

We have concluded that we should find a new organizational approach for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny.

Mozilla is exploring the options for an organization specifically focused on serving Thunderbird users. A separate organization focused on Thunderbird will both be able to move independently and will need to do so to deepen community and user involvement. We’re not yet sure what this organization will look like. We’ve thought about a few different options. I’ve described them below. If you’ve got a different idea please let us know.

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

This model probably offers the maximum independence for Thunderbird. But it is also the most organizationally complex. There is lots of overhead to create a new foundation, find board members, recreate the administrative load. When we started the Mozilla Foundation Mitch Kapor, our-ten business development lead and I spent a bunch of time on this work. The current Thunderbird developers don’t have this level of business assistance. If there is revenue that requires a subsidiary then the overhead goes up even further. There is serious concern that this will detract from serving Thunderbird users, since the core Thunderbird team is small and developer-focused.

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. In this case the Foundation board and personel would remain responsible for Thunderbird. Thunderbird would continue to need to be balanced and prioritized with Mozilla's focus on delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services. As a result the Thunderbird team may still end up with less focus and less flexibility.

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 the Mozilla Foundation?

We don’t know the best answer yet. And we don’t expect to without a broad public discussion, which we hope this message will trigger. Today someone suggested to me that perhaps there is another foundation that might be a good home for Thunderbird. I hadn’t thought of this but it’s worth considering.

If you’ve got thoughts or – even better – want to get involved, please let us know by adding your comments to the discussion page.