Mozilla to ditch Thunderbird e-mail

Separate organization to oversee Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail application

Mozilla is about to disown Thunderbird, its stand-alone e-mail client, the company's CEO disclosed Wednesday.

In a posting to her blog Wednesday, CEO Mitchell Baker said that Mozilla's first priority is, and will continue to be, its open-source browser, Firefox. "As a result, Mozilla doesn't focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future," said Baker.

Thunderbird's community, which includes a large number of unpaid programmers, should be cut loose "to determine its own destiny," she said.

The e-mail app, which was just updated to version last week, is Mozilla's answer to Microsoft Outlook and Entourage, and other stand-alone e-mailers such as Mail, which is bundled with Mac OS X. Like Firefox, it's free to download, and comes in editions for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

Baker laid out three possible fates for Thunderbird, including creating a new non-profit organization similar to the Mozilla Foundation to focus on the e-mail program; building a new subsidiary of the Foundation just for Thunderbird; and releasing Thunderbird into the wild as a community-only project. The latter was the path taken by SeaMonkey, the name for what was once called Mozilla Suite, when the latter was dropped by Mozilla in 2005.

"We don't know the best answer yet," Baker said. "And we don't expect to without a broad public discussion and involvement."

From the comments left on Baker's blog, that discussion may not be polite.

"I see it as a bad idea for the Mozilla ecosystem as a whole," said a user identified only as Dean. "Already there have been misgivings from some developers about the Foundation/Corporation's dedication to Mozilla as a platform."

"This is a crazy," said another used, tagged as Benoit.

Others, however, backed Baker, and took up sides on which option would be the best for the e-mail program. Scott MacGregor and David Bienvenu, the Mozilla employees who lead Thunderbird development efforts, voted for option No. 3. "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," said MacGregor in an entry at his own blog. "Our vision is to create an independent company responsible for developing future versions of Thunderbird."

Although neither Baker or MacGregor mentioned Web-based mail in their missives, users weren't as hesitant to blame the likes of Gmail, Windows Live Mail and other free online services for Thunderbird's woes. One in particular put it succinctly: "I don't know what I'll be using in a couple of years but my safest bet would be some other Web mail application and not a desktop e-mail client," said a user who called himself John Q Public.

Mitchell did not hint at a timetable for making a decision or when internal Thunderbird development and support would stop. Likewise, Mozilla did not comment on those issues or what, if any, impact Baker's message will have on Thunderbird 3.0, a major update that until today presumably was still in the works.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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