Future Planning: Thunderbird as a Web App

Matthew Sotoudeh matthewsot at outlook.com
Fri Sep 18 00:44:19 UTC 2015

Hello! I don't think I've replied to this list before, but I have
enjoyed keeping up with interesting threads whenever I can :)

As a hobbyist web developer and Thunderbird user this sounds really
interesting, though I would like to clarify a few things about what
exactly this would mean & throw in my own opinion:

On 9/17/2015 3:03 PM, Kent James wrote:
> 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).

I'd like to clarify what exactly the end state of becoming a "web app"
would be.

Does this literally mean that I should be able to go to (for example)
"https://thunderbird.com/MyEmail" and use a fully-featured version of
Thunderbird inside of Firefox, Chrome, and Edge (possibly using
something along the lines of https://github.com/hiddentao/browsermail)?
Or would this simply mean a push to move existing XUL and C++ components
to HTML and Javascript, but still using the Gecko "shell" (not sure what
the official term is, app runner? bootstrapper?) to make it a real
desktop application now that Mozilla is pulling back on XUL?

Or would the short-term idea be to push existing XUL/C++ to HTML/JS with
the long-term goal being to open up the possibility of moving everything
to a web app/HTML-based mobile app at a later time?

If the former (a real "website" web-app), and especially if this were
done completely in HTML/CSS/Javascript (without a backend component) I
would like to point out that this would open up Thunderbird to a whole
new world of contributors who know the "web platform" and would like to
contribute to Thunderbird, but who may not have the skills, drive, or
patience to learn mercurial or the Mozilla build tools (or wait multiple
hours for the codebase to compile O.O).

This would also make it 10x easier to recommend Thunderbird to people
("just go to this website and log in with GMail" vs. "install this
program, find your account credentials, oh you have two-factor auth? go
make an app access token...").

In addition, wouldn't treating Thunderbird as essentially a website
(even if there was a desktop/mobile version of it) align more with
Mozilla's current focus on the web and the web platform? Not sure if you
were getting at that in the original email, but from what little
understanding I have of Mozilla's goals it seems like this could
possibly help put Thunderbird back on their radar.

While I don't know enough about the C++ portions of Thunderbird to guess
at how huge of a project it would be to port it to a literal,
Internet-accessible web app, I would throw whatever my opinion is worth
in and say I would be *very* excited to see such a project become the
future of Thunderbird.

Thanks for reading,
Matthew Sotoudeh

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