Mozilla 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.
Our 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.
“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.