Business models for Thunderbird

Phillip Hallam-Baker phill at
Thu Oct 22 13:24:28 UTC 2015

One of the main differences between Firefox and Thunderbird is that
while Firefox has a proven business model, Thunderbird does not. Open
Source software is good but it costs money to produce really good
product. So Firefox has a lot of paid developers, Thunderbird does

So it is probably worthwhile considering ways that Thunderbird could
produce a revenue stream without compromising the core value
proposition. One suggestion made is that TB partner with one of the
many email service providers that offer enhanced search etc. But that
creates another problem, development of TB is now limited to not
competing with the channel.

I think the affiliate model is viable but it needs to be considered at
a higher level. In particular, who actually uses TB? What products do
such people not buy today but might buy in the future?

For quite a while, I have been thinking that the traditional
ISP/service provider model is broken at the customer end. I have a
choice between Verizon and Comcast as broadband Internet providers and
that is it. They provide SMTP with spam filtering, will host a small
web site with static pages and that is it. They don't support use of
custom domains, a decent blogging platform, etc. etc.

If you look at the incremental cost of supporting almost any service,
it is in the pennies per user. It isn't zero, which means anyone
trying to provide the service for free will eventually go bust or cash
in. Most of the services aren't quite valuable enough to stand on
their own either though. There isn't a paid email service that is so
much better than gmail free service to be worth $50/year. S/MIME certs
have the same problem.

But what if services were aggregated? $50 for email is not worth it.
But a bundle could be worth it, $50/yr for:

* Domain name
* Dynamic DNS
* Email with SMTP/IMAP/POP3/Spam filter
* S/MIME and OpenPGP support
* XMPP Presence
* OAUTH / similar authentication presence.
* Anti Virus
* Personal WordPress with SNI/TLS
* Full DNS management for the above [DNSSEC/DANE]

This would be on a 'curated service' rather than a full control basis.
This reduces customer service costs and means that features like
DNSSEC are easier to roll out, everything is consistent. So when there
is a new feature gets to RFC status, it can be rolled out across a
significant user base on a single day.

Now the capital cost of tooling up to support all those well is
significant. And there are customer support costs which are going to
be non-negligible per user. But $50/yr for the above package would
leave a significant chunk for an affiliate fee.

As you all know, I work for Comodo which provides that bundle of
services today. But we mostly do that through a network of affiliates.
I don't want to get into a conflict with my channel which is generally
thought of as being a domain name registrar but their primary function
is actually customer service. Nor do I want to end up building out my
customer support. that is the job of the channel.

What we could do though is to develop a standardized package and sign
up resellers to provide it. TB would then advertise them as potential
service providers. Most of the service providers are specialized to a
region and/or language. TB can prioritize accordingly.

I think that with appropriate tweakage, this could be a win-win-win.

There could also be a mini package that just enables S/MIME support at
a lower price point. But this would require the S/MIME support in TB
to be fixed. Right now it takes me 20 minutes to apply for and install
a cert for TB. Doing the same thing for Windows live mail is a one
click deal using my code.

Getting TB users to donate $20 as a thank you is probably a one time
deal. If they are getting an S/MIME cert and they used it, they would
have an incentive to renew. Again, we could look at a number of
business models. At present Comodo is giving away S/MIME certs and
also selling them.

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