Mozilla no longer developing Thunderbird

Eric Moore tanstaafl at
Sat Jul 7 21:34:41 UTC 2012

> Yesterday Mitchell Baker posted on the future of Thunderbird:

1. "Support will continue to be provided by the Thunderbird community 
and Mozilla will continue to provide the required infrastructure."

Is the official support forum part of the required infrastructure? The 
proposal should include a overview of the required infrastructure, and 
what is being explicitly dropped.

The proposal doesn't address several issues such as who will maintain 
the ISP database, and what happens to account provisioning (is anybody 
left authorized to sign contracts with new email providers?).

2. "At the same time, Thunderbird will be released with the same feature 
set as Thunderbird ESR and will be updated every six-weeks for security 
and stability."

Does that include updating Thunderbird to use the latest version of Gecko?

Given the existing problems maintaining and testing Thunderbird I am 
confused why the proposal keeps the "new development process" (update 
every 6 weeks, including latest Gecko). I'd have expected a slower 
release schedule so that the fewer resources have a easier time 
maintaining the software and there is a more consistent platform (to 
make it easier to get and integrate contributions from the community). 
If Mozilla believes "it is quite possible that Thunderbird is already 
pretty much what its users want and there is not a high demand for 
innovation in this field." why do we need the "new development process"?

I don't see the need for security patches every six weeks for a email 
client. People can still safely use if they apply common sense. 
The security advisories seem to deliberately inflate the impact of 
potential problems. I'd argue that a new release every 6 weeks actually 
contributes to stability problems, especially if there is no longer a QA 

3. SeaMonkey is a community effort hosted by and under the legal 
protection of the Mozilla Foundation, with the SeaMonkey Council 
providing the project leadership. SeaMonkey would seem a better model 
than maintaining the status quo with a fraction of the existing resources.

Most of the Thunderbird module owners seem to be Mozilla employees. Its 
not clear why that would change anytime soon. I'm worried that the 
project will continue to pay the political cost of being a Mozilla 
project (many decisions dictated by what Firefox does or Mozilla's 
roadmaps) while losing most of its resources. That doesn't seem viable.

4. It would help if a few features developed over a long time that are 
near completion such as maildir support were finished and there was some 
sort of explicit exit criteria to have a smooth handoff rather than 
development ending as soon as a new governance model was established. 
That doesn't necessarily require more investment by Mozilla, it might be 
done by prioritizing what needs to get done before the transition.

It wouldn't hurt to evaluate removing some half-way finished 
implementations (such as anti-phishing, which most people disable) that 
will probably never be finished due to lack of interest in order to make 
Thunderbird a little easier to maintain.

5. The proposal doesn't mention the impact on SeaMonkey. My impression 
is they leverage bug fixes and new features developed by Mozilla for 
Thunderbird, and this means they are going to have to divert some of 
their limited resources. Some volunteers such as rsx11m seem to work on 
both projects. Perhaps there needs to be some more explicit coordination 
to help deal with the common lack of resources.

6. "We have come to the conclusion that continued innovation on 
Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla and that the most critical 
needs for the product are on-going security and stability. In fact, it 
is quite possible that Thunderbird is already pretty much what its users 
want and there is not a high demand for innovation in this field. "

Users want a product that is under active development and has a future, 
even if they don't really care about the new features or get annoyed by 
some of the changes. I suspect many users will interpret the re-focusing 
of efforts as Mozilla abandoning Thunderbird, and will look for 
alternative email clients since they don't perceive the community as 
providing enough development. I think there would have been a much 
better reaction if Mozilla had announced they were reducing staffing 
levels (there were only two full time employees for a good while) but 
would continue new development at a slower pace.

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