Future Planning: Thunderbird as a Web App

Axel Grude axel.grude at gmail.com
Thu Sep 17 23:06:15 UTC 2015

> *Subject:* Future Planning: Thunderbird as a Web App
> *To:* Tb-planning
> *From: *Kent James
> *Sent: *Thursday, 17/09/2015 23:03:46 23:03 GMT ST +0100 [Week 37]
> As we are discussing our future, both in relation to radical changes expected in the 
> Mozilla platform, and our need to express where we are going to potential partners 
> and donors, we need to discuss and agree on some big-picture issues. One of those 
> was end-to-end encryption that we discussed recently. I want to discuss here our 
> future platform, and how it related to users and their needs.
> tl;dr Thunderbird over the next 3 years needs to convert to being a web app that can 
> run on any browser that supports ES6 Javascript and HTML5. (web app does not imply 
> cloud-based, only that the underlying platform is js/html).
> There are two independent but both equally critical reasons why we need to go this 
> direction.
> First, the Mozilla platform itself has no long-term commitment to being available as 
> a general-purpose development environment to run non-browser software, other than as 
> a web app. At the same time, they are doing amazing innovations to allow more and 
> more functionality traditionally associated with native clients to run under the 
> "Web as a Platform" meaning the HTML5/ES6 stack. Really in the long run we will 
> either have to fork the Mozilla platform and maintain it ourselves as an email 
> development environment, or go with the flow and convert. Let's convert.
We will have to convince Addon authors to convert away from XUL, so there needs to be 
documentation or workshops helping to get away from this. And obviously we need a 
transition time where "both" technologies can be used concurrently to find out about 
performance / compatibility issues. According to the timeline you give below, there is 
not much wiggle room there.
> Second, more and more users are using a variety of platforms, including not only our 
> traditional desktop environments but also Android and iOS (and other mobile OSes 
> hoping to join them). I'm writing this message using Thunderbird on a Microsoft 
> Surface 3 Tablet, which can now run traditional Windows applications such as 
> Thunderbird. But we can't expect most of our users to buy a tablet from a 
> second-tier operating system, merely to be able to run Thunderbird (as I did). In 
> the last 24 hours, I have accessed my email using 4 different devices (Android phone 
> and tablet, Windows desktop and tablet). Only 2 of those devices can run 
> Thunderbird. We need to have a serious mobile story. Starting from the existing 
> forward-thinking Mozilla web environment, we should be in an excellent position to 
> convert our existing code to ES6-js/HTML5, and that is the best long-term way to 
> support our users on the full range of platforms that they expect to use.
I am using Android Gmail App to access my email in parallel with the more comfortable 
Thenderbird on my desktop when I actually try to get some work done. Most email 
providers already allow web access to their emails. But a unified Thunderbird frontend 
on Android and Firefox OS would sure be nice.
> Last year, jcranmer introduced JsMime for some of the mime-related processing. This 
> year, he is specing a Js database. I am working on JsAccount that will allow us to 
> create new mailnews accounts and associated objects (server, folder, URL, protocol, 
> etc.) using js and interoperate with our existing code. Although initially aimed at 
> new account types, JsAccount will eventually make it straightforward to 
> incrementally convert all of those core objects from C++ to Javascript. We need to 
> plan to convert the entire backend in a similar nature to ES6 javascript.
> Looking to a rough long-term schedule, I see future versions of Thunderbird looking 
> like this:
> 38 (Avocet), 45 (3/2016 Bunting), 52 (01/2017 Cormorant?): Traditional XUL/C++ app
> 59 (09/2017 Dunlin?) Last and traditional XUL/C++ release. By this date, a 
> reasonable possibility is that the Mozilla platform will no longer be usable for 
> non-browser XUL-based development. This version of Thunderbird, in that case, would 
> need to ship on a fork of Mozilla from the point where XUL-based development becomes 
> untenable. 
can you elaborate what you mean? Forking would make XUL-based development impossible? 
Or XUL based development necessitates forking?
> This will also be our last major XUL-based release, and we will not attempt to keep 
> current with the new non-XUL Mozilla platform. It would also be useful to ship a 
> stripped-down version of Thunderbird as a web app with this release.
for the web app, will there be local storage? a "gloda-like" repository that can be 
stored on the hard drive? will the data be cross compatible with any other desktop 
email clients?
> 07/2018 Egret? (no point in matching release numbers to Gecko anymore): Thunderbird 
> ships a full-version web app.
> I don't see what choice we reasonably have, given the announced changes in the 
> Mozilla platform. We should view this as an opportunity to both get out from the 
> current Mozilla regression-driven development, to being able to focus on our own 
> issues. Hoping we can adapt to changes in the Mozilla platform, with no commitment 
> from Mozilla that they will try to make that easy, is an enormous risk with little 
> upside for us.
> Comments?
Any plans on who from the Thunderbird team could / would lead development. Are we 
going to get some help from the Firefox team?

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