the answer to "What can be done to get some attention on this?"

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at
Wed Dec 23 00:16:04 UTC 2015

On 12/22/15 1:35 PM, R Kent James wrote:
> On 12/22/2015 9:29 AM, Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
>> So, this is my own spin on: "What can be done to get some attention on
>> this for that bug and many others?" I wrote this as a long email in
>> Thunderbird, but as people often complain about long emails, I put the
>> rest on my website at the end of the "ThunderbirdS Are Grow!" manifesto.
> I copied your entire post into a word processing program to scale it -
> 53 pages long! Don't expect many people to wade through all of that.

Agreed; I don't. :-)

> If I might summarize your business plan, quoting from your paper,
> "Ideally some foundation would pour millions (or even billions) of US
> dollars into a new Thunderbird just because it is the right thing to
> do." Obviously this is a gross simplification of 53 pages.

Thanks for looking at it. I'm not sure I'd call it a "business plan", 
although since you put it that way, perhaps in some ways it is. Only the 
last few pages at the end were added recently about the funding issue 
(although other parts touch on it). But if you add governments alongside 
foundations, then sure, foundations and governments are two possible 
avenues. They are not the only ones (and you have some valid approaches 
you've mentioned), but those two avenues are possibilities that may be 
overlooked. I've been looking at free and open source funding models for 
over twenty years, so just trying to make sure everything is on the table.

Very few open source projects can point to somewhere between ten million 
and thirty million users who absolutely depend on their software for 
managing both their identity and their most critical business and 
personal information as one can with Thunderbird. And also point to 
continuing growth despite the worst sorts of negative publicity (as 
linked below at ZDNet).

> While I admire your passion, there are many serious problems in the
> world, and nobody at a large, wealthy foundation with billions of
> dollars to spend is going to think that maintaining Thunderbird is one
> of them. If the Gates Foundation were to ask me where they should spend
> their money, Thunderbird would not be on my list.

When seeing Thunderbird broadly as "communications", it would be on my 
list. :-)

And it could potentially fit right into some Gates Foundation 
initiatives, like for example disaster relief capacity planning when 
coupled with something like Briar or Serval Mesh.
"In addition to responding directly to emergencies, we work to help 
improve the speed and performance of first responders in the first 
critical hours of an emergency. We also invest in strengthening the 
ability of first responders, their organizations, and local institutions 
to help communities prepare for and cope with future shocks."

How much is email, RSS, IRC, IM, and other communications used in 
dealing with emergencies and crises? I'd expect a lot. When networks go 
out, how important are having a local list of contacts and local copies 
of information? I'd expect a lot. When government collapse (as they do) 
and when networks fail (as they can) how important is having a way to 
still remember and perhaps communicate even if just locally? I'd expect 
a lot.

What happens in a serious homefront war when internet access becomes 
unreliable or compromised (assuming it is not widely compromised 
already)? What are people going to do when the next huge solar flare 
hits and gmail and Twitter goes down? Where will people get their 
knowledge and news from if the web is suddenly gone? How would they even 
know how to make and do things with so many books digitized and so on? 
Thunderbird can fit into a whole strategy of local knowledge storage. 
"Repeat of 1859 Carrington Event would devastate modern world, experts say."

There are a lot of serious problems in the world precisely because 
people don't communicate well and do a lot of sloppy and short-sighted 
and often ill-informed thinking (myself included, probably some examples 
even in here). Better tools to help us communicate well collectively and 
argue together and educate each other are a bargain even at a billion US 
dollars a year in a ~US$70 trillion global economy. Thunderbird is not 
that whole picture, but it is a part. This is work that really needs doing.

Now, someone might say, look at all the money being poured into 
Facebook, Slack, and so on as proprietary communication tools, so why 
invest in Thunderbird? Mozilla seems to have implicitly said that? But 
the proliferation of such proprietary centralized services as attractive 
distractions (like the effect of refined sugar on human health) is 
actually a big part of the problem, and an even more reason to pour a 
lot of money into even better free alternatives.

A choice of communication tool is not like picking a Subaru over a 
Lexus. Digital communication tools that are now at the heart of our 
democracies. Using gmail is like Google letting you use their printing 
press; using Thunderbird is like having your own printing press.

Still, if you mean Thunderbird specifically over other communications 
tools, well, as below, that is debatable, true, if we are "realistic".

BTW, from lazy Googling of foundation support for communications, second 
or third hit:
"Growth in Foundation Support for Media in the United States"
"Tracking investments from 2009 to 2011, the data reveals that 
foundations are increasingly supporting media-related work across 
multiple areas. At the same time, they are tapping into larger trends, 
with investments in new media growing at a faster pace than traditional 
media investments. However, growth in grantmaking across the spectrum of 
media is inconsistent—with growth in public broadcasting falling behind 
  growth in investments in other areas. ... 1,012 foundations made 
12,040 media-related grants totaling $1.86 billion from 2009 to 2011"

 > Continuing to hold out
> the hope that some Foundation (including Mozilla) is going to decide
> that Thunderbird is a Worthy Cause that should have lots of money is
> just a distraction from us getting down to the hard business of
> operating a viable, realistic organization.

Well, that's obviously a judgement call. You may well be right. :-)

But I'd ask, has anyone really tried? If so, can you point me to 
specific public examples of such attempts so I can read from them and 
learn from them? What specific foundations were approached and how?

> If our stakeholders will not
> support us, we have no right to exist.

If by stakeholder you mean "users", then tell that to any soup kitchen, 
homeless shelter, food pantry, or public health initiative, or even 
unemployment programs, where users almost by definition can't afford the 
service they are receiving. Likewise, tell that to the people who 
developed the transistor or many other research efforts, where the 
people who ultimately most benefited were not the ones paying up front 
for development.

If by stakeholders you mean people who should be concerned about 
democracy, education, privacy, and other issue that connect with local 
data and peer-to-peer messaging, then Thunderbird has many stakeholders 
with very deep pockets. These are individuals who may not be actually 
using Thunderbird themselves or even aware how much they have been 
freeriding on the diligent self-sacrifice of people on this list and 
elsewhere. If we make them aware of that, perhaps they will choose to 
support improved communication tools as well as maintaining good ones we 
already have.

Figuring out who the stakeholders might be in a large context is a first 
step. Is there already a list like that somewhere public? I could not 
easily find a comprehensive list here, but I probably missed it:

The word "stakeholder" is mentioned in about fifty emails on tb-planning 
out of about 4300. But in the ones I looked at, it seems to imply 
Thunderbird users or developers or some email processors? Are there 
lists of groups interested in democracy? Is, say, for a random example, 
Amy Goodman and "Democracy Now" on that list of Thunderbird stakeholders?

> Let's see if they will, but we
> need to understand what that means. Donations from users to support a
> few paid developers is only one way of turning to our stakeholders.

I agree with you that getting more people involved in the process is 
important. Part of that relates to some sort of vision for why people 
would want to run a local email client as opposed to use gmail or Slack.

If you want to talk "realistic", then why should anyone invest in 
maintaining a gigabyte of (mostly deprecated, given Firefox is 95%) 
source code written by dozens of developers of differing skill levels 
(like to fix bugs as you mentioned at the start), when people can 
instead use either gmail (sacrificing privacy) or Kontact (QT, so in 
theory cross-platform, and certainly VirtualBox-able) or some others 
which do not have the same legacy baggage and technical debt? That's the 
question that needs a good answer when you are approaching an individual.

As another alternative, FossaMail was mentioned on this list 2014-01-11 
and then not again. But that actually seems to be what some Thunderbird 
users on Slashdot are considering or switching to, as it is the same 
codebase as Thunderbird but maintained by someone else. I don't know 
much about FossaMail, nor would I switch to it myself without compared 
to other alternatives without seeing a lot of support for it given the 
security patch issue.

Seamonkey is ironically another thing people propose a lot as a 
Thunderbird alternative, not knowing it has the same codebase issue. 
"Yeah, so is Thunderbird.  They are both "independent projects" that are 
built on top of the Gecko core, share a ton of Firefox UI code, are VERY 
dependent on Mozilla's testing and coding infrastructure and personnel 
for security patches, are tied to Mozilla releases, and SeaMonkey 
actually uses Mozilla hardware and employees to do it's releases.   How 
could SeaMonkey *not* be impacted by this?  My question is whether or 
not Mozilla has actually mentioned this to anyone involved in SeaMonkey?"

How long would it take most (not all, but 80%) of people to move from 
Thunderbird to Kontact, gmail, Kolab, mailpile, Nylas, Roundcube (some 
of those as a virtual box appliance), or similar? One day? Plus 
incremental learning over months? It is precisely the value of 
Thunderbird that it does not lock you in. That's a great selling point 
for using it, but it also makes it easy for people to abandon it. That 
barrier is then, if you emphasize exchange economics, the maximum price 
someone would pay to stay with Thunderbird if looked at purely as an 
individual choice if they have alternatives. Granted, one can argue 
alternatives are not very good.

But consider:
"Kontact has, in contrast to Thunderbird, integrated crypto support 
(OpenPGP and S/MIME) out-of-the-box."

There may well be compelling arguments like access to specific 
Thunderbird plugins for specific people (especially Enigmail) for the 
20% (or whatever) who can't switch because they rely on plugins heavily 
which are unavailable elsewhere. Which are those?

But Firefox XUL, the basis of such plugins, has been deprecated, and so 
all the Thunderbird plugins have been implicitly deprecated as well 
(including Enigmail). And a lot of developers are rightfully angry about 
that (even if XUL is problematical at this point with web standards) 
given Mozilla has not supplied an easy upgrade path for those who put 
their faith in Mozilla, and Thunderbird is caught in the middle of that. 
See the developer comments here:

With the decision about XUL, Mozilla has devastated not just the Firefox 
community of third-party developers but the Thunderbird one as well. 
Again, I actually feel deprecating XUL is a good choice, but not 
investing in tooling to make it easy to migrate from XUL to something 
else (plain DOM with JavaScript) trivially is a bad decision. I can hope 
that situation improves with migration tools. But it seems like Mozilla 
just expects everyone to do it by hand?

For me, being cross-platform was a big win for Thunderbird, as I 
migrated from years under Windows, to years under Debian GNU/Linux, to 
years under Mac OS X. But it can be hard for most people to accept that 
is important. And local webservers provide another way to be cross-platform.

Whether or not the following is true, the media is full of comments like 
this one ZDNet from 2012 that almost make Thunderbird's future a 
self-fulfilling prophecy:
"With the news that Mozilla will no longer be developing its 
long-standing email client , there will undoubtedly be a lot of 
disappointed Thunderbird users out there. Worry not: ZDNet has put 
together a list of five alternative desktop email clients that can be 
used in place of the venerable software."

That's one reason a compelling future alternative (like a Thunderbird 
Server or whatever) could show that Thunderbird was gaining ground again.

By the way, ZDNet also said Thunderbird has 20 million users, so not the 
only thing they get wrong? :-) But maybe no one really knows? Ten 
million ADI means thirty million users plus or minus?
"Thunderbird's 20 million users will in future only get security updates 
from Mozilla, apparently because people are switching to other messaging 
technologies and aren't bothered with further email innovation. ... When 
it came out in 2004, Thunderbird's biggest competitor was Microsoft's 
Outlook. However, in the intervening years many if not most businesses 
and consumers have switched to webmail of some variety. Many also now 
use instant messaging and collaboration platforms instead of email. ..."

I feel one can make a compelling case for an investment in amazing 
peer-to-peer communications tools in a democracy as a statement of 
purpose. With a lot of money for for that, Thunderbird, as a shining 
cross-platform example of working peer-to-peer code that perhaps thirty 
million people use, might have enough energy to survive. But if we start 
trying to get people to count costs for picking Thunderbird versus some 
alternative as *individuals*, that may be a much harder decision to 
make. A middle ground there is to make the argument to organizations who 
use Thunderbird in house, but such organizations are the same places 
something like Kolab might be a realistic alternative given the inhouse 
staff to maintain it.

I perhaps don't fully understand the Thunderbird value proposition then? 
Power user tools? Same as for Mozilla Firefox in some people's opinion? 
Plugins? User community?

And for people not focused on free software, they might instead migrate 
to Postbox or something paid:
"Postbox is Thunderbird with a bunch of plug-ins and a price tag added, 

That's another part of why focusing on the big vision, to support a 
broad ranging development of improved communications tools, may actually 
be more likely to keep Thunderbird moving forward as a concept.

Still, I may be wrong and biased because I myself would much rather work 
on next generation peer-to-peer collaboration tools (that also support 
email) than maintain a gigabyte of deprecated C++ and XUL just to keep 
it as it is in the face of upstream security issues and breakage. :-)

Don't get me wrong -- I still feel that maintaining Thunderbird is an 
important task (until it can be replaced with something easier to 
maintain with a clear upward migration path), and putting ten people on 
that maintenance task full-time (for pay) to support ten to thirty 
million users who may live in Thunderbird much of their workday is a 
good use of global resources (not that such decisions get made that 
way). But, it is hard to make that case to individual users who could 
switch to another platform if they feel Thunderbird is seeming risky to 
use. A case for the value of a diversity of implementations and the need 
for experiments is one that might be made to governments or foundations, 
but it is hard to make that case to individual users when the 
alternative is just switching.

Mozilla had the chance to make that case but did not. What are highly 
paid CEOs and such for (in the Mozilla case) if not to take stewardship 
of great ideas and beat the bushes at foundations and government (and 
business and NGOs) to get them funded? But are they doing that? Could 
they be doing that? Maybe they would never know what was possible until 
they tried. In any case, Mozilla's current business model seems 
unsustainable, and likely funding will drop precipitously along with 
Firefox browser share. So it would be worth Mozilla's while to seriously 
do something about this instead of kiss off decentralized data storage. 
And there is no reason people can't run local web servers or that 
Mozilla could not make that easy (including bundling a web server like 
Node.js or some Mozilla equivalent into Firefox).

Anyway, it's OK if I'm not convincing. I tried. :-) I may well be wrong. 
As is said here:
"We do not claim that reasoning has nothing to do with the truth. We 
claim that reasoning did not evolve to allow the lone reasoner to find 
the truth. We think it evolved to argue. But arguing is not only about 
trying to convince other people; it’s also about listening to their 
arguments. So reasoning is two-sided. On the one hand, it is used to 
produce arguments. Here its goal is to convince people. Accordingly, it 
displays a strong confirmation bias — what people see as the “rhetoric” 
side of reasoning. On the other hand, reasoning is also used to evaluate 
arguments. Here its goal is to tease out good arguments from bad ones so 
as to accept warranted conclusions and, if things go well, get better 
beliefs and make better decisions in the end."

And that's the kind of thing I would like tools like an improved 
Thunderbird to support better in all sorts of communities. :-)

Kent, you're probably right. And I don't want to be a distraction from 
what people here think is the most feasible way forward. I'll agree I'm 
proposing a "Hail Mary" pass at the end of a long game. But sometimes 
they do actually work. Rarely, but sometimes. :-)

Back to coding... :-)

--Paul Fernhout
The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies 
of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity.

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