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Mozilla's new e-mail effort looks beyond Thunderbird

Mozilla Messaging head says 'e-mail is broken,' and the cure is Thunderbird 3.0

February 20, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Mozilla Foundation yesterday put a name to its e-mail subsidiary and said the first job of the spin-off will be to produce Thunderbird 3.0, the next update to the open-source group's e-mail client.

David Ascher, CEO of the just-named Mozilla Messaging Inc., said that the company's short-range goal is to have Thunderbird 3.0 in final form by the end of 2008, although the exact timing will depend on, among other things, the number of volunteers who flock to the project.

Claiming that "e-mail is broken," Ascher said that Thunderbird 3.0 would build on the already-available Version 2.0 but add features such as calendaring, better and faster search, and a wide range of user-interface and usability improvements.

Mozilla won't be starting from scratch or working alone. The calendar addition, for example, will be based on the Lightning extension, which is currently at Version 0.7, and it will integrate scheduling and tasks with Thunderbird. Lightning was last updated in October 2007.

On search, Mozilla may collaborate with Qualcomm Inc., owner of Eudora, a long-established proprietary e-mail program that was abandoned in 2006. Qualcomm will produce a new Eudora based on Thunderbird's open-source code, said Ascher. But it may make sense for the two companies to work together on small-scale projects, like search, that both could share.

Mozilla Messaging arises from decisions made last July, when Mozilla Corp. -- then the only for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation -- stunned Thunderbird users by announcing that it would sever ties with e-mail development. In explaining the decision, then-CEO Mitchell Baker said that Mozilla Corp.'s first priority is Firefox. "Mozilla doesn't focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox, and we don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future," she said at the time.

Thunderbird, she added, should be cut loose "to determine its own destiny."

By September, Mozilla Corp. had seeded the new venture with $3 million in start-up funds, and Ascher had been tapped to head the spin-off, dubbed "MailCo" at the time for lack of a real name.

When Mozilla booted Thunderbird, users worried that the departure of the software's only two paid developers meant the client was doomed; neither chose to stay when the program was spun from Mozilla Corp. Ascher said those fears had proved unfounded. "It wasn't hard to recruit," he said. "People were excited about the opportunity to work as part of a Mozilla [Foundation] project." A "handful" of developers are on the payroll, Ascher said, but like its Mozilla Corp. sibling, Mozilla Messaging will heavily rely on unpaid programmers, testers and designers.

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