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Mozilla Foundation Dumps Thunderbird Mail Client

The Mozilla people have put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a bugler to play taps for ThunderBird. That’s my take on this post by the Mozilla Foundation’s on the future of Thunderbird.

I have to admit, the Mozilla foundation has irked me for a few years now. Ever since they went blatantly commercial, I have been skeptical of their motives. It wasn’t so much that they “try to earn a living for themselves and their programmers” (so please, spare me that tired retort) but the way they went about it. I consider it exploitation – open source, free software, community good will …. and behind closed doors, deals with Google to sell typo redirection and toolbar installs and such. And that whole thing about filing tax extension requests and then filing late as a commercial entity because, oh look, even though we were non-profit and living off the good will of the open source supporting community, we were actually earning a huge profit so we have to re-write the past 8 months or so of history…mmmkay?

I knew several quality people who contributed their own time, money, and energies to supporting Mozilla during those months. They contributed donations. They bought T-shirts and gave them away, as a means of giving something back to the people who gave them the free browser, the free email client, etc. They chose Linux over Windows and worked hard to convince others of the virtues of supporting projects like Mozilla. And as they did that, Mozilla was earning millions from monetizing that good will. And then Mozilla basically said “oh, while we were saying we were non-profit, we weren’t really, ok? But we’ve back adjusted our paperwork to make it all ok, okay?” Nice.

So now I read how that money-seeking, commercial (but-not-really, okay?) “non-profit” foundation dislikes the taste of Thunderbird. I can’t help but read between the lines of the post:

Mozilla has been supporting Thunderbird as a product since the beginning of the Foundation.

In other words, “we’re getting pretty darn tied of supporting this cost center”.

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.

Translation: Thunderbird is good as a mail program, but we make so much delicious money from Google which we can’t spend on development for Thunderbird because it directly competes with GMail. Oh, and we’re likin’ the bling bling, so there’s no way we’re going back. And those Thunderbird developers…we’ve segmented them out from the rest of our money-making ventures so they really don’t fit in any more, ahem.. great people that they are.

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

Now seriously, doesn’t that sound exactly like corporate-speak for “you’re fired”?

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.

How can I not see the set up in that statement? “We like you, we really do, but it’s best you move away from us. Far away. Over there. We promise to do all we can to help you survive.. really… whenever we can. It’ll be better for you… it will…trust me…

Okay so I get it… you’re dumping Thunderbird because it’s nothing more than a great, free, open source alternative to the available commercial, privacy-invading alternatives like GMail that line your pockets and make you happy happy happy. I can understand that – it’s called greed and it’s very very common. But puhleeeeze stop wrapping this crap in warm fuzzy blankets. It’s making me gag.

Perhaps the bestest part of all, is Mitchell’s post which repeats this stuff but adds the swift kick in the pants to the Thunderbird devotees: He tacks on a job ad for developers looking to create a new email client:

We would also like to find contributors committed to creating and implementing a new vision of mail. We would like to have a roadmap that brings wild innovation, increasing richness and fundamental improvements to mail. And equally importantly, we would like to find people with relevant expertise who would join with Mozilla to make something happen.

Man that has got to suck for the Thunderbird people. Not only has Mozilla-the-Corporation isolated you and labeled you as unworkable in the “New Millenia”, but they’ve gone and re-branded you as “old vision“, “non-innovative“, “low-richness“. Ouch. Maybe it’s just me, but if Mozilla-the-Corporation is so successful, and obviously Thunderbird is amazingly robust, WTF is wrong with putting some of that CorporateAbility to work moving the Thunderbird team into the “new vision”? Last I looked, if a vision was promising enough to warrant investment, then you invested in it. How could it be possible that a company with a great email client considers it more effective to dump the entire project and start over? Smells like bad management to me. Maybe the same bad management that exploited the non-commercial good will? Maybe the same bad management that isolated the Thunderbird team to the point of unworkability? I’m thinking the Google money is coming way too easy for these guys,that’s what I’m thinking.

So please stop. It’s all silly. You’re dumping Thunderbird because it’s not making money, it competes with GeeMail, and the developers own it. You’re culture clashing with those developers, the same way AOL culture-clashed with the Mozilla developers back in the day. You don’t care about the free mail client, you care about the money-making potential of injecting ads into email or whatever other commercial nonsense you can think up and label as “innovative richness”. You aren’t up to the task of managing a real company, and with so little accountability you take the easy route. Let’s face it, Mozilla, you have become BabyAOL.

We have other browsers: By the way, if you haven’t tried the newest Opera it’s amazing, and if you want ad-free Firefox without most of the exploitation, check out the SeaMonkey project.

One Comment

  1. Dave P. wrote:

    Right on! I understand the need to make some money and keep life comfortable, but why oh why must Thunderbird be dropped from the lineup? I agree with your assessment that it clashes with a product from a certain money source. If I had the resources to take over the project, I would, but I’m just a lowly sysadmin and don’t have the cash, servers, or time available to manage such an undertaking. Hopefully someone will keep the project going, and get new financial support for it so that it can continue to evolve as one of the best “heavy,” non-browser-based e-mail clients around.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 5:24 am | Permalink