18 October 2007

Musings on Thunderbird's future

Over the summer, it was announced that the Mozilla Thunderbird project would be spun off into a new, separate organizational structure. Then, earlier this month, the lead Thunderbird developer, Scott McGregor, suddenly announced his departure from the Mozilla Corporation. This unexpected announcement was then followed two days later with news from David Bienvenu, another prominent Thunderbird developer, that he too was leaving.

In their respective blog postings where they briefly announced their resignations, both have stated that they will continue working on the Thunderbird project. Nonetheless I'm skeptical of their ability to retain their focus on the continued development of the Thunderbird email client, especially since they're moving on to other endeavours. With them pursuing their new venture (according to David Ascher's open letter to the Thunderbird community), how could they possibly maintain the same level of effort on Thunderbird like they used to? Unless their new "venture" somehow involves Thunderbird, but very little has been revealed as to what they'll be pursing next.

I've read a lot about these recent events with great interest, and it's interesting to read the speculative reasons for the departures and the negative "doom and gloom"-type predictions; case in point: right now Mozilla Links has a reader survey up, asking if the two key departures signify "the end of Thunderbird." While I can't help but wonder if there is a deeper, undisclosed reason for these two developers leaving, perhaps these departures -- as well as the spin-off from the Mozilla Corp -- is an opportunity for the Thunderbird project to reinvigorate itself with fresh ideas and evolve further from what it is right now.

How? Being the open source project that it is, there are people all over the world either volunteering their time, efforts and talents into the ongoing development and testing of Thunderbird, or are paid to do so by other companies (Red Hat, Google, IBM, et. al.) that hire them to do their work. As long as there is interest and motivation in improving Thunderbird, as well as the number of end users justifying the effort at doing so, there will be people who will be passionate and dedicated enough to step forward and make it so. And with the new, separate organization focusing entirely on the email client, the unavoidable distractions that come with supporting other, non-mail projects should be eliminated.

I admit that Clippings wasn't originally intended to be compatible with Thunderbird; I had designed and coded it with Firefox in mind. As a Thunderbird user, it never struck me as the slick, polished application that Firefox is; even with version 2, I still regard Thunderbird as nothing more than the mail and news component split off from the original Mozilla 1.x suite. But compare that with Firefox... much effort has been put into making it the most user-friendly open source application thus far (although I have heard a lot of good things about Ubuntu...), and Firefox 3 promises to be another great leap forward into making Web browsing even more easier, efficient and fun -- for both end users and developers.

Hopefully we will soon see the same with Thunderbird.

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