The Mozilla Foundation may be synonymous with Firefox, but its e-mail client, Thunderbird, is just as venerable. However, the developer of open-source software has concluded that Thunderbird is as good as it’s going to get–or at least as good as it needs to be.
As Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker explains in a blog post:
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. (For more information about the path to this conclusion, see the “Background Information” section below.) 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.
I’m not a Thunderbird user myself, and I’ve come to the conclusion that e-mail, more than any other application, wants to live in the cloud rather than on any particular computing device. Still, my gut reaction when I read Baker’s post was “What a shame.”
And then I thought: Why do we assume that software needs to receive upgrades ad infinitum? Nobody thinks that a painting gets better if the artist works on it indefinitely; few people believe that a TV series should run forever.
I know more than a few applications which have been around so long, and received so many revisions, that it’s not entirely clear that the “improvements” they get are always improvements. Some of the changes are just cruft, or stuff that wasn’t already in there for good reason.
In some cases, applications continue to get updates because they’re commercial products and their creators depend on the revenue from upgrades. But Mozilla, as a nonprofit, has no purely financial incentive to stay on the new-version treadmill. It can say: “This is good the way it is, and we have bigger fish to fry.”
Mind you, I don’t think that Thunderbird is the definitive e-mail client, or that e-mail is solved. Actually, e-mail is probably more broken than it’s ever been–more thoughts about that in a future post. But if anyone fixes it, they’re going to do it with a radical new service that lives on the Internet, not an extremely conventional piece of PC software.