Mozilla is Wrong. There is Still Room for Open Source Thunderbird Innovation

Mozilla ThunderbirdFrom the ‘Difficult Decisions’ files:

Mozilla’s current success is born out of a decision made over a decade ago to split up the Mozilla Browser Suite. The original Mozilla Browser (now continued in SeaMonkey) has both email and browser which was split out into separate projects: Thunderbird and Firefox.

While Firefox has achieved stunning success over the years and generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Mozilla – Thunderbird has not.

Thunderbird has been slower to release in my experience and the project lacks the vision and the leadership that Firefox has enjoyed for a decade. Mozilla is now (once again) pulling back from Thunderbird.

“We’ve tried for years to build Thunderbird as a highly innovative offering, where it plays a role in moving modern Internet messaging to a more open, innovative space, and where there is a growing, more active contributor base,” Mozilla chief Mitchell Baker blogged. “To date, we haven’t achieved this.”

As a historical refresher, Mozilla attempted to re-invigorate Thunderbird with the spinoff Mozilla Messaging originally announced in 2007 and given real life in 2008. In April of 2011, Mozilla realized that Mozilla Messaging was going nowhere and decided to fold the unit into Mozilla Labs.

Now Mozilla is ceasing to fund active innovation in Thunderbird.

While I have tremendous respect for Mozilla, I respectfully disagree with Mozilla’s assessment of the situation. There is still a lot of room for innovation in email. Who among us is truly happy with their email experience today?

Email is a legacy tech that we all use everyday. It is a place that desperately needs to revolutionized by an open source leadership team that has a vision that goes beyond what has been done in the past and what others are doing today. Just like Mozilla has delivered an amazing new browser for Android (I love it!!) if the same bright minds put their energy behind figuring out how to make email better…….

The problem is that Thunderbird is good enough, lots of Mozilla types use Zimbra (hey i like Zimbra too) and web based Gmail is workable too. If I had Mozilla’s money, I would not rest on my laurels and throw the towel in on email innovation. It’s something that is in desperate need of innovation, a new way to think about collaboration and email.

No it’s not easy and no there are no easy fixes. Email is essential (as is calendar which never really matured after the Firefox/Thunderbird split either) and just like Firefox revolutionized the way we think about browser – I think Mozilla should be the place to revolutionize email.

Yes I know it’s open source and if I really wanted too, I could contribute my ideas to generate the ideas I’d like to see. But does that really work in Thunderbird? Can large platform ideas actually come from the community at large?

In any event, Thunderbird is not dead, Mozilla has committed to maintaining stability and it remains open and free. Perhaps a hero will come along, much like one did in the Firefox era that has the leadership, vision and guts to change the way we all think about and use email.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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