Thunderbird: Paths Forward

Gervase Markham gerv at
Thu Dec 17 17:41:15 UTC 2015

Dear tb-planning,

As promised, two weeks have elapsed, and I am coming back to you with
some proposals for ways forward. While the 'quiet period' was related to
PEP, the proposals I am making have wider scope. I apologise for the
length of this message, but there are a lot of aspects to Thunderbird's
future :-).

1) A Reminder: tb-planning Is Public

In past discussions, messages from several participants have discussed
potential partners, their characteristics and presumed motives in ways
which are... unhelpful, to say the least. I want to remind everyone that
when talking on a public mailing list, particularly about relationships
with third parties, you need to speak respectfully, weigh your words,
and assume good faith. The more allies Thunderbird can cultivate, the
better its chances of success.

2) Fiscal Homes: Hiring a Consultant

One question facing Thunderbird is that of where the best fiscal/legal
home for the project is. There are several of these on the table (MoFo,
TDF, SFC, Apache, ...), and Kent and others have already done some
research into them. Mozilla has indicated that it is willing to pay for
someone with expertise in this area to produce a public report listing
the pros and cons of each option from Thunderbird's perspective, as
input to the Council's decision on which path to pursue.

Mozilla will be engaging Simon Phipps[0] to do this work. Those of you
who know Simon will know he is an experienced open source community
member and an expert in the particular area of legal structures for open
source. He was previously President of the OSI, and while in that
capacity entirely reorganized that organization for the better. I know
of no-one else with a better grasp of the options and their characteristics.

Simon is already involved in this situation because he's been asked by
The Document Foundation to work out a plan for how TDF might become a
fiscal home for Thunderbird. We are asking him to expand his remit to
consider the other potential options also. I feel that even though he is
associated with one of the potential fiscal homes in question, he has
the integrity to be objective in his assessments.

The decision on what path to take rests, of course, with the Thunderbird

3) Technical Future: Hiring An Architect

Mark Surman believes, and I agree, that there is value in engaging
someone outside the immediate Thunderbird community (but perhaps with
existing knowledge of the Mozilla codebase) with a particular
architectural skillset, to make a dispassionate assessment of all of the
different technical hurdles facing Thunderbird over the next 2-3 years,
and write a report giving some options as to how they might best be
overcome. These hurdles would include the process of setting up
independent infrastructure, the build and release issues, whether to
fork Gecko, the XUL transition and so on. The output of this work would
probably come in the form of one or more written reports giving options
and pros and cons for the different challenges, rather than the
determination of a single path forward.

It's important to realise that an architect is not the same thing as a
contributor - you don't need to understand the nsIAccountManager
interface to do this job, and they wouldn't need to ramp up on the
codebase as a contributor would. It's a different set of skills.

This will be a difficult post to fill and we have no names in the frame
yet; the first thing we need is a job specification for such a person.
Doug Turner at Mozilla has agreed to help draft that specification,
which would then be circulated for comment so we can be sure we are
looking for the right thing. Once the spec is agreed by the Council, we
will start looking for someone to fit it.

4) PEP

Speaking frankly, the relationship between the PEP leadership and the
Thunderbird leadership is currently... less than optimal. And both sides
probably feel that the facts about the situation currently in the public
domain do not tell the entire story of what happened. Without wanting to
attribute blame for any of this, there have clearly been quite a few
misunderstandings here which need ironing out, and mechanisms put in
place to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.

The complete path back to good relations is not clear, but I propose
that we start with some confidence-building. One issue that has been
raised on the Thunderbird side is that people are not familiar with
PEP's technology, and so feel unqualified to make commitments or
decisions regarding it. This is understandable, as it was only released
as open source a few weeks ago.

So I would like to propose that the Council appoint someone to go and
technically evaluate PEP's technology so Thunderbird has someone "in
your camp" who is familiar with it and can discuss how it works and how
it might fit into a potential future Thunderbird+Enigmail+PEP product.

I will also continue to talk to both PEP and the Thunderbird Council to
untangle more of the threads, and I ask for the community's continued
patience as we go through that process.

5) MoFo Accepting Donations

Once the year-end donations drive is over, MoFo have committed to
putting in place a mechanism to allow Thunderbird to accept donations.
They are proposing creating a page at or
equivalent URL, backed by MoFo's existing systems. This page would give
a brief summary of what's going on with TB, and offering the reader two
possible actions:

* Sign up for a mailing list where they can get subsequent emails about
Thunderbird's future.

* Give money to be earmarked for Thunderbird-specific activities.

I will be working with David Ascher and the MoFo fundraising team when
January comes to get this done. The Thunderbird team will then able able
to promote this URL however they see fit. This would be a "minimum
viable product"; options remain open to enhance this system and do
additional fundraising work in the future.

6) MoFo Disbursements

If money is coming in, we need a mechanism for it to go out. Building a
mechanism for this is the ultimate responsibility of Angela Plohman,
MoFo's VP of Operations, although it will not be her day-to-day
responsibility to manage the system once set up. This aspect of things
is less far along as I was unable to catch up with Angela at the Mozilla
all-hands last week, and she has been very busy this week due to a MoFo
board meeting. I include it here for completeness, so you know it's
being actively worked on.

7) Governance

In order to navigate Thunderbird through the choppy waters ahead, it's
important that the project's governance structure be strong and
recognised as legitimate by all stakeholders, both inside the project
and those looking on (e.g. potential partners).

The current situation is certainly not ideal, with a governance
committee being formed but then its mandate expiring without
replacement. Part of this is perhaps Mozilla's fault for not giving the
Thunderbird team enough support in building best-practice governance
structures in 2012 or 2014. As someone within Mozilla who thinks about
governance, I put my hand up for that.

The message which announced the creation of the council[2] clearly
implies another vote after 1 year. I believe it's important that such
promises are kept, but I also don't want to distract the community with
long conversations about governance models when it's quite possible that
the move to a new fiscal home will also come with some recommendations
or requirements about how the governance is done, and so further change
and rethinking. It would be a waste of time to spend a lot of cycles
rethinking governance now, and then do the same thing again in 3 or 6
months when and if Thunderbird ends up with a new fiscal home.

There is also the issue of changes to the council - if some members want
to step down, how should that be handled, and how should their
replacements be chosen?

Kent has proposed the following process, which I suggest may be a
reasonable compromise between all the competing factors. The existing
Council will serve as a nominating committee, and recruit candidates who
agree to serve on a renewed Council. (This could be existing Council
members or new people.) This slate of candidates would then be presented
to tb-planning for a single vote, much like the one a year ago, to see
if there is consensus. The motion would be something like the following:

"The Thunderbird community endorses this list of candidates to form a
Thunderbird Council and lead the project until either one year has
elapsed from the date this motion passes, or a fiscal home is chosen and
a new governance model is put in place. A condition is that, in this
latter case, the new Council commits to working with the new fiscal
sponsor to implement governance arrangements which are acceptable to
that organization in a timely fashion. If vacancies arise on the Council
during this period, the Council may fill them using a mechanism of its
own choosing."

If there vote is No, then work on everything else will have to stop
while a more complex individual voting process is designed and
implemented. This would also involve defining an exact constituency,
which would be difficult in itself. I am only being realistic when I say
that this would lead to a delay of weeks or months in Thunderbird being
able to make progress on determining its future.

If the vote is Yes, then I think the council has renewed legitimacy to
make the big decisions coming up, such as the choice of fiscal home.


I know there's a lot in here. Comments are welcomed. If you have
extensive comments, it might make sense to split them into one message
per section.

One personal note: I am on holiday (vacation) tomorrow and then only
around partially over the Christmas and New Year period. Helping
Thunderbird is a priority for me so I will attempt to be responsive;
however, please forgive me if it's a few days before I can answer any
questions. In other circumstances I might wait to start these
discussions but I promised you something in two weeks, and so here it is :-)



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