Thunderbird’s Future Home

Summary

The investigations on Thunderbird’s future home have concluded. The Mozilla Foundation has agreed to serve as the legal and fiscal home for the Thunderbird project, but Thunderbird will migrate off Mozilla Corporation infrastructure, separating the operational aspects of the project.

Background

In late 2015 Mitchell Baker started a discussion on the future of Thunderbird, and later blogged about the outcome of that, including this quote:

I’ve seen some characterize this as Mozilla “dropping” Thunderbird. This is not accurate. We are going to disentangle the technical infrastructure. We are going to assist the Thunderbird community. This includes working with organizations that want to invest in Thunderbird, several of which have stepped forward already. Mozilla Foundation will serve as a fiscal sponsor for Thunderbird donations during this time.

To investigate potential new homes for Thunderbird, Mozilla commissioned a report from Simon Phipps, former president of the OSI.

The Last Year’s Investigations

The Phipps report saw three viable choices for the Thunderbird Project’s future home: the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), The Document Foundation (TDF) and a new deal at the Mozilla Foundation. An independent “Thunderbird Foundation” alternative was not recommended as a first step but the report said it “may become appropriate in the future for Thunderbird to separate from its new host and become a full independent entity”.

Since then the Thunderbird Council, the governing body for the Thunderbird project, has worked to determine the most appropriate long term financial and organizational home, using the Phipps report as a starting point. Over the past year, the Council has thoroughly discussed the needs of a future Thunderbird team, and focused on investigating the non-Mozilla organizations as a potential future home. Many meetings and conversations were held with organizations such as TDF and SFC to determine their suitability as potential homes, or models to build on.

In parallel, Thunderbird worked to develop a revenue stream, which would be needed regardless of an eventual home. So the Thunderbird Council arranged to collect donations from our users, with the Mozilla Foundation as fiscal sponsor. Many months of donations have developed a strong revenue stream that has given us the confidence to begin moving away from Mozilla-hosted infrastructure, and to hire a staff to support this process. Our infrastructure is moving to thunderbird.net and we’re already running some Thunderbird-only services, like the ISPDB (used for auto configuring users’ email accounts), on our own.

Legally our existence is still under the Mozilla Foundation through their ownership of the trademark, and their control of the update path and websites that we use. This arrangement has been working well from Thunderbird’s point of view. But there are still pain points – build/release, localization, and divergent plans with respect to add-ons, to name a few. These are pain points for both Thunderbird and Firefox, and we obviously want them resolved. However, the Council feels these pain points would not be addressed by moving to TDF or SFC.

Thus, much has changed since 2015 – we were able to establish a financial home at the Mozilla Foundation, we are successfully collecting donations from our users, and the first steps of migrating infrastructure have been taken. We started questioning the usefulness of moving elsewhere, organizationally. While Mozilla wants to be laser-focused on the success of Firefox, in recent discussions it was clear that they continue to have a strong desire to see Thunderbird succeed. In many ways, there is more need for independent and secure email than ever. As long as Thunderbird doesn’t slow down the progress of Firefox, there seems to be no significant obstacles for continued co-existence.

We have come to the conclusion that a move to a non-Mozilla organization will be a major distraction to addressing technical issues and building a strong Thunderbird team. Also, while we hope to be independent from Gecko in the long term, it is in Thunderbird’s interest to remain as close to Mozilla as possible to in the hope that it gives use better access to people who can help us plan for and sort through Gecko-driven incompatibilities.

We’d like to emphasize that all organizations we were in contact with were extremely welcoming and great to work with. The decision we have made should not reflect negatively on these organizations and we would like to thank them for their support during our orientation phase.

What’s Next

The Mozilla Foundation has agreed to continue as Thunderbird’s legal, fiscal and cultural home, with the following provisos:

  1. The Thunderbird Council and the Mozilla Foundation executive team maintain a good working relationship and make decisions in a timely manner.
  2. The Thunderbird Council and the team make meaningful progress in short order on operational and technical independence from Mozilla Corporation.
  3. Either side may give the other six months notice if they wish to discontinue the Mozilla Foundation’s role as the legal and fiscal host of the Thunderbird project.

Mozilla would invoke C if A+B don’t happen. If C happened, Thunderbird would be expected to move to another organization over the course of six months.

From an operational perspective, Thunderbird needs to act independently. The Council will be managing all operations and infrastructure required to serve over 25 million users and the community surrounding it. This will require a certain amount of working capital and the ability to make strong decisions. The Mozilla Foundation will work with the Thunderbird Council to ensure that operational decisions can be made without substantial barriers.

If it becomes necessary for operational success, the Thunderbird Council will register a separate legal organization. The new organization would run certain aspects of Thunderbird’s operations, gradually increasing in capacity. Donor funds would be allocated to support the new organization. The relationship with Mozilla would be contractual, for example permission to use the trademark.

A Bright Future

The Thunderbird Council is optimistic about the future. With the organizational question settled, we can focus on the technical challenges ahead. Thunderbird will remain a Gecko-based application at least in the midterm, but many of the technologies Thunderbird relies upon in that platform will one day no longer be supported. The long term plan is to migrate our code to web technologies, but this will take time, staff, and planning. We are looking for highly skilled volunteer developers who can help us with this endeavor, to make sure the world continues to have a high-performance open-source secure email client it can rely upon.

Thunderbird Active Daily Inquiries Surpass 10 Million!

We are pleased to report that Thunderbird usage, as reported though the standard Mozilla metric of Active Daily Inquiries (ADI), has surpassed 10 million users per day on Monday November 30 2015 for the first time ever.

Thunderbird Active Daily Inquiries graph, showing new record of 10,000,000

ADI is a raw measurement of active users, and is taken by counting the daily requests from Thunderbird users for updates to the plugin blocklist. This measure under-counts active users for a variety of reasons (such as firewalls, or users that do not use Thunderbird everyday). Based on more detailed studies with other applications, a typical multiplier applied to ADI to estimate total active users is 2.5. So the best estimate of current active users is 25,000,000.

Thunderbird Celebrates its 11 Birthday

Eleven years ago, on December 7 2004, Mozilla announced in a blog post the birth of Thunderbird. Happy Birthday, Thunderbird!

String-freeze for Thunderbird 45 on December 14

The Thunderbird development team is working hard on the next major release of Thunderbird, version 45, which is due for release in March of 2016. String freeze for new features is this weekend. Over 1000 code commits have been done to the main Thunderbird code repository in preparation for this release (in addition to the tens of thousands of commits to the Mozilla platform repository that Thunderbird uses as its base).

Mozilla Foundation as (Temporary) Thunderbird Home

Coincidentally on the same date as the new ADI record, in a post to a public Mozilla discussion forum, Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker outlined some upcoming changes in the relationship of Mozilla to Thunderbird.

In the administrative part of that post, Mitchell announced that the Mozilla Foundation under Mark Surman has been working with Thunderbird to provide at least a temporary legal and financial home for the Thunderbird project (which we have been sorely lacking for several years). At the same time, a formal process will be undertaken to determine what is the best long-term home for Thunderbird, which might be Mozilla or might be some other entity.

Practically what this means is that in 2016, Thunderbird will finally be able to accept donations from users directed toward the update and maintenance of Thunderbird. In the long run, Thunderbird needs to rely on our users for support, and not expect to be subsidized by revenue from Firefox. We welcome this help from the Mozilla Foundation in moving toward our goal of developing independent sources of income for Thunderbird.

In the technical part of that post, Mitchell reiterated that Mozilla needs to be laser-focused on Firefox, and that the burden this places on Thunderbird (as well as the burden that Thunderbird places on Firefox) is leading to unacceptable outcomes for both projects. The most immediate need is for the Thunderbird release infrastructure to be independent of that used by Firefox, and Mozilla has offered to help. In the long-term, there will be additional technical separation between Firefox and Thunderbird as a continuation of a process that has been ongoing for the last three years.

 

Thunderbird and end-to-end email encryption – should this be a priority?

In the last few weeks, I’ve had several interesting conversations concerning email encryption. I’m also trying to develop some concept of what areas Thunderbird should view as our special emphases as we look forward. The question is, with our limited resources, should we strive to make better support of end-to-end email encryption a vital Thunderbird priority? I’d appreciate comments on that question, either on this Thunderbird blog posting or the email list tb-planning@mozilla.org.

"I took an oath to defend the constitution, and I felt the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale" SnowdenIn one conversation, at the “Open Messaging Day” at OSCON 2015, I brought up the issue of whether, in a post-Snowden world, support for end-to-end encryption was important for emerging open messaging protocols such as JMAP. The overwhelming consensus was that this is a non-issue. “Anyone who can access your files using interception technology can more easily just grab your computer from your house. The loss of functionality in encryption (such as online search of your webmail, or loss of email content if certificates are lost) will give an unacceptable user experience to the vast majority of users” was the sense of the majority.

Woman In HandcuffsIn a second conversation, I was having dinner with a friend who works as a lawyer for a state agency involved in white-collar crime prosecution. This friend also thought the whole Snowden/NSA/metadata thing had been blown out of proportion, but for a very different reason. Paraphrasing my friend’s comments, “Our agency has enormous powers to subpoena all kinds of records – bank statements,  emails – and most organizations will silently hand them over to me without you ever knowing about it. We can always get metadata from email accounts and phones, e.g. e-mail addresses of people corresponded with, calls made, dates and times, etc. There is alot that other government employees (non NSA) have access to just by asking for it, so some of the outrage about the NSA’s power and specifically the lack of judicial oversight is misplaced and out of proportion precisely because the public is mostly ignorant about the scope of what is already available to the government.”

So in summary, the problem is much bigger than the average person realizes, and other email vendors don’t care about it.

There are several projects out there trying to make encryption a more realistic option. In order to change internet communications to make end-to-end encryption ubiquitous, any protocol proposal needs wide adoption by key players in the email world, particularly by client apps (as opposed to webmail solutions where the encryption problem is virtually intractable.) As Thunderbird is currently the dominant multi-platform open-source email client, we are sometimes approached by people in the privacy movement to cooperate with them in making email encryption simple and ubiquitous. Most recently, I’ve had some interesting conversations with Volker Birk of Pretty Easy Privacy about working with them.

Should this be a focus for Thunderbird development?

Thunderbird 38 Released

Thunderbird 38 is now released (actual initial version is 38.0.1 to maintain compatibility with equivalent Firefox releases). This release has some significant new features, as well as many, many bug fixes. Some of the new features include:

  • Calendaring is now shipped by default. This continues to be implemented as the Lightning extension, but that is now enabled and installed by default.
  • Chat now supports Yahoo Messenger.
  • Messages can be filtered when sent and when archived.
  • You can now search multiple address books.
  • Gmail users can now authenticate using Google’s preferred OAuth2 authentication (which means that new GMail users should work with Thunderbird without special configuration).

This is a significant milestone for the Thunderbird team, as it is the first release that has been fully managed by our volunteer team rather than by Mozilla staff.

Mozilla is still heavily involved with this release, as we still use Mozilla infrastructure for the build and release process. Thanks to the many Mozilla staff who helped out to fix issues!

Thanks to all of the volunteers who have contributed to make this release possible!

(Note that while general comments on Thunderbird 38 are welcome, please do not use the comment section of this blog as a place to make bug reports, or to request support for specific issues).

Thunderbird 38 goes to beta!

The next major release of Thunderbird, version 38, is now in beta and available for testing. You may download Thunderbird 38.0b1 here.

This version of Thunderbird is the first that is mostly managed by volunteer community members rather than by Mozilla staff. We have many new features, including:

  • Message filtering when a message is sent or archived
  • File-per-message local storage available for new accounts (maildir)
  • Contact search over multiple address books
  • Internationalized domain names for RSS feeds
  • Allow expanded columns to the folder pane for folder size and counts

Release notes are available here.

There are still a couple of features missing from this beta that we hope to ship in the final version of Thunderbird 38. Those are:

  • Ship Lightning calendar addon with Thunderbird with an opt-out dialog
  • Use OAUTH authentication with Gmail IMAP accounts

 

Thunderbird Usage Continues to Grow

We’re happy to report that Thunderbird usage continues to expand.

Mozilla measures program usage by Active Daily Installations (ADI), which is the number of pings that Mozilla servers receive as installations do their daily plugin block-list update. This is not the same as the number of active users, since some users don’t access their program each day, and some installations are behind firewalls. An estimate of active monthly users is typically done by multiplying the ADI by a factor of 3.

To plot changes in Thunderbird usage over time, I’ve picked the peak ADI for each month for the last few years. Here’s the result:

Thunderbird Active Daily Installations, peak value per month.

Germany has long been our #1 country for usage, but in 4th quarter 2014, Japan exceeded US as the #2 country. Here’s the top 10 countries, taken from the ADI count of February 24, 2015:

Rank Country ADI 2015-02-24
1 Germany 1,711,834
2 Japan 1,002,877
3 United States 927,477
4 France 777,478
5 Italy 514,771
6 Russian Federation 494,645
7 Poland 480,496
8 Spain 282,008
9 Brazil 265,820
10 United Kingdom 254,381
All Others 2,543,493
Total 9,255,280

Country Rankings for Thunderbird Usage, February 24, 2015

The Thunderbird team is now working hard preparing our next major release, which will be Thunderbird 38 in May 2015. We’ll be blogging more about that release in the next few weeks, including reporting on the many new features that we have added.

Thunderbird Reorganizes at 2014 Toronto Summit

In October 2014, 22 active contributors to Thunderbird gathered at the Mozilla office in Toronto to discuss the status of Thunderbird, and plan for the future.

Toronto Contributors at 2014 Toronto Summit

Thunderbird contributors gather in Toronto to plan the future.

As background, Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, posted in July 2012 that Mozilla would significantly reduce paid staff dedicated to Thunderbird, and asked community volunteers to move Thunderbird forward. Mozilla at that time committed several paid staff to maintain Thunderbird, each working part-time on Thunderbird but with a main commitment to other Mozilla projects. The staff commitment in total was approximately one full-time equivalent.

Over the last two years, those individuals had slowly reduced their commitment to Thunderbird, yet the formal leadership of Thunderbird remained with these staff. By 2014 Thunderbird had reached the point where nobody was effectively in charge, and it was difficult to make important decisions. By gathering the key active contributors in one place, we were able to make real decisions, plan our future governance, and move to complete the transition from being staff-led to community-led.

At the Summit, we made a number of key decisions:

  • A group of seven individuals were elected to comprise a Thunderbird Council with the authority to make decisions affecting Thunderbird. I (Kent James) am currently the Chair of this council.
  • For our next major release, Thunderbird 38 due in May 2015, we set this roadmap:
    • Folders: allow >4GByte mbox folders, plus finish support for maildir
    • Instant Messaging: Support WebRTC
    • Calendaring: Merge Lightning into Thunderbird as a shipped addon
    • Accounts: Merge the New Account Types binary addon into core, allowing new account types to be defined using addons in the future.
    • IMAP: support OAUTH authorization in GMail.
  • We agreed that Thunderbird needs to have one or more full-time, paid staff to support shipping a stable, reliable product, and allow progress to be made on frequently-requested features. To this end, we plan to appeal directly to our users for donations.
  • The Thunderbird active contributors are proud to be part of Mozilla, expect to remain part of Mozilla for the foreseeable future, and believe we have an important role to play in fulfilling the goals of the Mozilla Manifesto.

There is a lot of new energy in Thunderbird since the Summit, a number of people are stepping forward to take on some critical roles, and we are looking forward to a great next release. More help is always welcome though!

Updated Thunderbird released today

Mozilla, a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to making the Web better, today released new versions of Mozilla Thunderbird, its free and open source email application, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

We are happy to announce that the new Thunderbird release includes several new features and improvements, such as improved message thread management options, as well as the support of email addresses using the newly adopted standard for international domain names.

Thunderbird is now more accessible with the ability to magnify the compose window. This release is also comprised of many bugs and security fixes. More details can be found in the release notes.

To get the latest versions of Thunderbird for Windows, Mac or Linux download Thunderbird from getthunderbird.com or go into the About dialog to upgrade to the latest version.

Thunderbird menu bar facelift, ESR new release, new governance implementation…

This release of Mozilla Thunderbird comes with a new button on the right hand side, at the top of the window; called the Menu Button it provides more options to customize the user interface.

The Menu Button allows users to remove the Menu Bar from the top of the window in order to grant more real estate to read and manage emails. A right click on this same Menu Button gives access to the “customize” command and entitles the user to add, remove and re-arrange many icons on the bar. It really empowers the user to build its own personal interface.

Beyond this mainstream Thunderbird release and as planned, we are releasing the second Thunderbird Extended Support Release (ESR) targeted at large organizations. This ESR version is not only a security and bugs fix, but it contains all the great features that have been added to Thunderbird since January 2012. Please download here.

This release is also a milestone release and marks the beginning of the new governance model for Thunderbird. As mentioned in Mitchell’s blog post back in July, “Mozilla is focusing its efforts towards important web and mobile projects, such as Firefox OS, while Thunderbird remains a pure desktop-only email client.” Therefore, we proposed “to adapt the Thunderbird release and governance model in a way that allow both on-going security and stability maintenance, as well as community-driven innovation and development for the product.”.

This has been actively discussed with the community during the last few months, and now is the time to implement the plan. If you are interested in more details, please have a look at the wiki pages describing our collective work.

If you are a developer, a translator or just want to join the Thunderbird project, please click on this link.

Click here to download the up-to-date version of Thunderbird for Windows, Mac or Linux, or go to the About dialog and click ‘Check for Updates’.

Updated Thunderbird release today

Thunderbird keeps on expanding the list of partners for Thunderbird Filelink: we are pleased to announce that Box.com now joins YouSendIt and UbuntuOne in the list of tightly integrated online storage service partners. With Thunderbird Filelink, sending large files is no longer a pain. Simply select the file you want to attach and tell Thunderbird you want to link it: as soon as the file is uploaded to Box.com, you are ready to send this big file that would never have made it through. Even better, we believe that Box.com online document collaboration services will nicely enhance the way you share files over email, and as a Thunderbird user you’ll get 25GB storage space for free.

Also, Thunderbird is permanently updated with new features and security improvements. To make the update experience even smoother, Thunderbird now supports silent background update. As soon as an update becomes available, Thunderbird downloads it and apply updates in the background. You’ll be up and running very quickly with the latest and greatest Thunderbird the next time you start. If you are curious,  the silent background update  eliminates the need for the update progress dialog on all platforms  and eliminate the nagging  User Access Control dialog on Windows.

We hope you will enjoy it and do let us know your comments!

Click here to download the up-to-date version of Thunderbird for Windows, Mac or Linux, or go to the About dialog and click ‘Check for Updates’.

Reminder: The Thunderbird 3.1.x series and earlier versions are no longer supported and therefore are becoming more exposed to Internet security threats. We recommend that all Thunderbird users of previous versions upgrade to the latest release as soon as possible.