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Mozilla spins off Thunderbird


In July, Mozilla executives admitted that they weren’t quite sure what to do with Thunderbird, the open-source e-mail client, since Firefox, the popular open-source Web browser, demanded most of the company’s attention. On Sept. 17, Mozilla announced that it had decided to spin Thunderbird off into a company of its own: MailCo.

The plan is for Mozilla to establish a new company to develop Internet communications software based on the Thunderbird program, code and brand. The new initiative also aims to nurture a robust developer ecosystem in order to drive improvements through open source and community innovation. This was the same path that Mozilla took with Firefox.

Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker had admitted that the popular e-mail client had taken second place in July, and the company was looking beyond Mozilla to find another way to advance Thunderbird.

Both the Mozilla company and the Mozilla Foundation considered several options for Thunderbird. These included creating a new non-profit organization like the Mozilla Foundation, making Thunderbird a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, or release Thunderbird as a community project supported by a small independent services and consulting company being “formed by the Thunderbird developers to continue development and care for Thunderbird users,” said Baker.

In a more recent blog, Baker described what Mozilla plans for MailCo. The goals for the new company are:

* Take care of Thunderbird users
* Move Thunderbird forward to provide better, deeper e-mail solutions
* Create a better user experience for a range of Internet communications — how does/should e-mail work with IM, RSS, VOIP, SMS, site-specific e-mail, etc?
* Spark the types of community involvement and innovation that we’ve seen around Web “browsing” and Firefox.

To make this happen, David Ascher, currently CTO and vice president of engineering at ActiveState, an open-source development tools company, will join Mozilla to establish MailCo. Ascher has been an active member of the Mozilla community since 2000, initially as the lead of Komodo, a Mozilla-based IDE (integrated development environment). He is also an established leader in the open-source community, including his role as a director of the Python Software Foundation.

Mozilla will provide $3 million seed funding to establish this new company. According to Baker, “We’ll be setting up MailCo in the coming weeks. Part of this is forming the team of people, part is developing a transition plan to move Thunderbird into MailCo gracefully while supporting the Thunderbird users. That will take some time. We’re on the path now, though, and that’s a great thing.”

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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