In a blog post on Wednesday, Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker explained, "We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny."
The rationale behind the decision is that Mozilla's ongoing effort to promote the Firefox Web browser leaves Thunderbird out of the limelight.
Baker proposed several options for Thunderbird: creating a nonprofit foundation similar to the Mozilla Foundation; creating a Mozilla Foundation subsidiary for Thunderbird; and releasing Thunderbird as a community project along the lines of SeaMonkey, an open source application suite that includes a Web-browser, e-mail and newsgroup client, IRC chat client, and HTML editor.
While Baker outlines potential difficulties with each of these approaches, she makes no mention of the fact that Web browsers like Firefox, in conjunction with the continued adoption of free Internet-based e-mail services, are obviating the need for a standalone e-mail client for many users.
Responding to Baker's post, Rafael Ebron, founder and general manager of Browser Garage and a founding Mozilla Corp. employee, explained in a comment that despite being an avid user of Thunderbird, the e-mail application no longer meets his needs. "I honestly must say that I do not have much use for an offline client anymore," he said. "For the last few years I have switched to entirely online options. Gmail, Hotmail, etc. solve all of my e-mail problems. Google Groups solves my Usenet problems. No more backups, importing, and synchronization. It really is an ideal system for me."
Online e-mail services like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft's Hotmail also offer very good spam protection, unlike out-of-the-box Bayesian filters in desktop e-mail clients.
Then there are other differences between Firefox and Thunderbird, like the millions in revenue Mozilla earns for setting Google to be the default search engine in Firefox. Thunderbird doesn't feed off the search cash cow, though with 5 million users around the globe there are probably untapped revenue opportunities.
Thunderbird has also suffered in comparison to Microsoft Outlook for its lack of calendar support. Though a calendar is under development in the form of Mozilla Sunbird, Thunderbird still faces a tougher sell than Firefox, without an obvious search ad dollar payoff. It also has to deal with competition from the likes of Zimbra in the corporate world.
Firefox rode resentment of Microsoft's Internet Explorer monoculture to success. Microsoft Exchange and Outlook don't seem to generate the same discontentment. Finding a new home for Thunderbird may prove to be far easier than sparking the uprising it needs to be king.