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07 July 2012, 10:54

Thunderbird development to be stalled by Mozilla

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Thunderbird logo An email leaked on Friday forced Mozilla to reveal its decision to reduce resources for the Thunderbird email client ahead of a planned announcement next Monday. The early announcement from Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker explained that the organisation felt that, as an open source, cross-platform email client, Thunderbird was unlikely to be a "source of innovation" and future leadership. Mozilla's officials say they have concluded that what is important for Thunderbird is ongoing stability and that "continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla’s product efforts".

This position translates into the organisation reducing the Thunderbird team to a number of module owners who will manage code stability and security fixes and "release drivers" who will be making regular releases of those fixes. Mozilla say they are allowing the "Thunderbird community to innovate if it chooses".

The plan currently proposed will see a Thunderbird ESR released in November, based on Thunderbird 17 as per the already existing Extended Support Release (ESR) programme. This will be updated every six weeks with security and stability updates as per the ESR cycle.

Mozilla doesn't say if the updates will continue at the end of that cycle. The original ESR plans say that the main Thunderbird release would be forked at that point. A Thunderbird release will exist with the same feature set as the ESR and get the same fixes, but, say Mozilla this release "might evolve over time and solely based on the availability of community contributions". It is unclear if this would be the basis for a future ESR release though.

Whether Mozilla will see any community contributions is debatable. Baker points out that Mozilla has tried to "build Thunderbird as a highly innovative offering" with a "growing, more active contributor base" but that to date, apart from the community localisation work, they have not achieved those goals. Most users are apparently "happy with the basic email feature set" or are using web based forms of communications as an alternative to email on the desktop says Baker, but calls for anyone who is interested in the future development of Thunderbird to get involved now.


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