Web & communication software

Mozilla ponders separate organization for Thunderbird

The Mozilla Foundation is thinking about creating a separate organization to take control of its Thunderbird e-mail application, allowing it to concentrate on development of the Firefox Web browser.

In a blog posting Wednesday, Mitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla, a subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, called for a new structure to allow "the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny" and asked the open-source community for input.

Baker said Mozilla's Thunderbird effort "is dwarfed" by the energy it spends on the Firebox browser and the ecosystem around it.

"Mozilla doesn't focus on Thunderbird as much as we do ... on Firefox and we don't expect this to change in the foreseeable future," she wrote. A separate organization focused on the maintenance and further development of the e-mail client, she added, would be able to move independently and thus deepen the user community.

There is more than organizational structure at stake, however. As Web-based e-mail services such as Google's Gmail, accessible from anywhere through a browser, gain in sophistication and numbers of users, standalone applications such as Thunderbird that tie access to an e-mail account to a single computer must offer more to compete. In her blog, Baker alluded to the need to create and implement "a new vision of mail."

The Mozilla executive offered three options for a new Thunderbird structure. One could be a new nonprofit organization similar to the Mozilla Foundation. While providing the maximum amount of independence this model is also the most organizationally complex, requiring good board members to be found and recreating the administrative load.

A second option is to create a new Mozilla Foundation subsidiary to house Thunderbird. In this model, the foundation's board and personnel would remain involved in the management of the product but, as a result, the Thunderbird effort could still suffer from less focus and flexibility.

A third option is to release Thunderbird as a community project, like the SeaMonkey suite of Internet applications, with a small services company set up to support users. "Many open-source projects use this model," Baker wrote. "It could be simpler and more effective than a Mozilla Foundation subsidiary."

But Baker warned that establishing a services company as a nonprofit entity "would be extremely difficult," unlike a taxable company, which would be "the simplest operational answer."

In a separate blog posting, Scott MacGregor, a codeveloper of Thunderbird, wrote that he and fellow cofounder David Bienvenu support the third option -- to release Thunderbird as a community project and create an independent production company.

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