Mozilla ceases Thunderbird feature development

July 9, 2012 | 10:25

Tags: #firefox #firefox-mobile #mitchell-baker #netscape-navigator #thunderbird

Companies: #mozilla #mozilla-foundation #open-source

The Mozilla Foundation, the not-for-profit company behind the popular open-source Firefox web browser, has announced that it is pulling resources away from its Thunderbird standalone email package and leaving its future in the hands of the community.

Developed alongside Firefox when Mozilla took over the Netscape Communicator code base - which was, in turn, a suite of tools including the Netscape Navigator browser that would become Firefox and the Netscape Messenger email system client that would become Thunderbird - Thunderbird's popularity has been waning in recent years as increasing numbers of internet users switch to web-based emails systems like Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Hotmail, or even giving up on email altogether in favour of communicating via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

It's been clear that Mozilla has been favouring Firefox over Thunderbird for quite some time, with Thunderbird's feature set stagnating while Firefox's version numbers fly ever skyward in competition with Google's Chrome browser. On Friday, however, the Foundation made it official: Thunderbird is being all-but abandoned in favour of work on the far sexier Firefox project, and spin-off efforts including the Firefox Mobile operating system previously known as Boot To Gecko (B2G.)

'Much of Mozilla's leadership — including that of the Thunderbird team — has come to the conclusion that on-going stability is the most important thing, and that continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla's product efforts,' Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, explained in a blog post on Friday. 'As a result, the Thunderbird team has developed a plan that provides both stability for Thunderbird’s current state and allows the Thunderbird community to innovate if it chooses.'

That plan, Baker explained, means that Mozilla will continue to provide security updates through what it calls an Extended Support Release (ESR) process. This will make the Thunderbird ESR release, previously created for use by universities, business and other organisations which need stability and extended support for mass deployments, feature-complete with regards the standard release - after which its feature set will not change, although a six-weekly release will bring security fixes.

The standard release, meanwhile, will diverge from the Thunderbird ESR: while it, too, will get six-weekly security and stability patches, its feature set will be flexible - but any new features added to the software will come entirely from the community, and not from the Foundation itself.

'Most Thunderbird users seem happy with the basic email feature set. In parallel, we have seen the rising popularity of Web-based forms of communications representing email alternatives to a desktop solution,' Baker claimed. 'Given this, focusing on stability for Thunderbird and driving innovation through other offerings seems a natural choice.'
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