TB Future Dev

R Kent James kent at caspia.com
Wed Oct 21 17:39:34 UTC 2015

On 10/20/2015 6:14 PM, jsabash wrote:
> "Investigated Github atom/electron as a development environment for a 
> post-Gecko Thunderbird.
> It would be really good to have some partners in long-term work for 
> Thunderbird.
> Gecko Thunderbird is dying, is there any debate about that?"
> I would like a little clarification on this statement.
> Gecko to me is the basic rendering engine of a browser or Mail App

At the meetings, I tend to raise difficult issues that are not easily 
expressed as a two-sentence summary. Let me clarify.

Gecko development is currently tightly focused on improving Firefox as a 
product. Mozilla as an organization has defined its mission as promoting 
"the Web" which seems to mean the HTML/CSS/JavaScript development 
platform. Neither of these goals is compatible with the current 
Thunderbird development environment, which is essentially recompiling 
Firefox to function as an email client. We also need to realize that 
Firefox is under tremendous pressure right now, so they have precious 
little bandwidth to focus on anything other than their own long-term 
relevance. We can neither demand nor expect that Firefox revenue will be 
used to subsidize Thunderbird development, either directly or even 
indirectly as now.

A good example is the discussion we recently had about how addon changes 
will affect Thunderbird. Blake Winton (who is a key player now in the 
Web Extensions world) said "It isn't being designed to work with 
Thunderbird, and I'm not even sure they would accept patches that got it 
working with Thunderbird". We can expect more and more changes like this 
in the future, with things like XUL deprecation, Electrolysis, and Servo 
in the Firefox world leading to an increasingly difficult operating 
environment for Thunderbird in the Gecko binary world.

So it seems to me that long-term we have these three long-term choices:

1)    Assume that either Firefox is bluffing about their upcoming 
changes, or imagine that somehow we can adapt to them, even when the 
Firefox team itself has no long-term commitment to continue to support 
Thunderbird as a application target for a Gecko binary.

2)    Fork mozilla-central at some future point when Thunderbird support 
becomes untenable, and try to maintain it ourselves.

3)    Rework Thunderbird to work on an alternate development platform 
that has a long-term future.

The current "plan" is path 1) which IMHO is really path 2). I do not 
believe that is a viable long-term plan. I laid out a plan in my post 
"Thunderbird as a Web App" that essentially set down a three-year 
timetable for a transition to an alternate platform that used Web 

At the meeting, my point was that I do not sense other people having the 
same sense of urgency and commitment to a long-term transition that I 
seem to feel. I outlined some of my investigations into the 
Atom/Electron development environment, which is a Github (the company) 
project to make a development environment for desktop applications that 
provides a platform for making Mac/Linux/Windows apps that use nodejs as 
the backend. This is exactly where we seem to be headed, so I think that 
we should experiment with that platform. I switched this weekend to Atom 
as my editor to get some feel for this (and discovered that it crashes 
several times per day).

The quote in the notes "Gecko Thunderbird is dying, is there any debate 
about that?" is asking if anyone really believes that plan 1) or plan 2) 
is the right long-term plan. If not, then we really need to get more 
people to focus on the transition issues.

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