Blog Post

Mozilla To Spin Out Thunderbird As A Company

thunderbird-logo_small.pngMozilla is ready to set the Thunderbird Free. The folks behind the Firefox browser are spinning out its email client as a separate company that will receive $3 million in seed funding from the Mozilla Corp. David Ascher, currently CTO and VP Engineering of ActiveState will run the new venture. The new company will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Mozilla Corp.

mitchellbaker.gifOur sources say that none of the Thunderbird developers are currently going to be working for the new company. Mozilla officials say that it is a decision the Thunderbird developers will make on their own. We chatted with Mitchell Baker, chair of Mozilla Foundation to get the low down. [digg=]

“We have been thinking about what to do with the project,” said Baker, “And decided this was the right move to give it more focus.” Mozilla wants to focus on Firefox and the browser opportunity, she said. There have been very public complaints about bloat coming back to Firefox and lack of innovation.

“Thunderbird is a solid client and has an active user base, but we feel it can be more than just an email client,” she said. Thunderbird needs to thrive on its own, she pointed out. In comparison with Firefox, Thunderbird seems to be a step child and gets much fewer resources from Mozilla.

Ascher believes that Thunderbird could eventually evolve into a new kind of internet communications client that becomes a hub for aggregating various communication-and-interaction tools such as Twitter and Facebook alerts. I had outlined the concept of such a client in one of my columns for Business 2.0.

A smart inbox would — all in one interface — catch spam in junk filters, display the wine reminder in an IM, move company news to an RSS feed, and intelligently negotiate appointment requests with your calendar in the background.

Further thoughts on this and how email needs to innovate in near future.

18 Responses to “Mozilla To Spin Out Thunderbird As A Company”

  1. Richard makes great points.

    I am happy to see this as Thunderbird has the Eudora rights from Qualcomm. Perhaps as a separate company they will do something with the splendid intellectual property bequeathed to them.

    There’s definitely room for an IMAP client that does the job properly.

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    Richard, you make good points, but they are all addressable. Well done webmail needs no more screen space than a standalone client. The thing that wastes space is ads. Webmail does not automatically mean ad-supported — my Comcast webmail has no ads. You already don’t need a laptop for webmail — any smartphone with a decent browser can handle most services well enough. As for the times when you don’t have a good internet connection, I agree that is the big issue. That’s why I said previously that one of the things webmail needs to become the prime interface is a plugin or widget to take care of archiving for offline access.

  3. Outsourcing your email provision to a specialist company makes a lot more sense – I use a webhost that does good IMAP, as it happens, but there are people who swear by Fastmail, because all they do is email. Either way, you get the best of both worlds – webmail and IMAP, so you can efficiently grab your email and read it offline on smartphone, MID, etc.

    The bandwidth and screen required for webmail (and the time to fire up a laptop) is not always there – if you travel a lot, frequently you have only a lower bandwidth wireless connection, IMAP is the way to go, along with a mail client. If the Foleo returns and/or MIDs take off, that could help webmail somewhat, but only if the bandwidth is easily available.

  4. Jesse Kopelman

    I think Mozilla is putting a happy spin on this for the Thunderbird user base (of which I am one), but the truth is that dedicated e-mail clients are likely to soon go the way of dedicated NNTP clients — useful, but something you might not use everyday. Web-based e-mail is poised to be the primary interface. The reason for this is that more and more of us use multiple computers every single day (home, work, smartphone) and we’d like the e-mail for all of them to be in sync. Sure, this could be done with standalone clients and IMAP, but only if your mail server supports IMAP and most of us do not have access to such a thing for personal e-mail. Even for small businesses, it makes more sense to use GMail or Yahoo rather than run your own server and again that means no IMAP. I think the future of e-mail for the masses is web interface as your primary client, with widgets/plugins to notify you of new mail and archive messages for offline viewing.