I did not want to comment immediately on the proposed options for Thunderbird. First, I was busy with other stuff in mind and second, I wanted to go beyond my first feelings. I originally wanted this article to be a rather long prose, but I'm lazy today and will only list a few important items here below:

  • Remember Nvu ? A standalone web editor was already a dream in the editor team back in 2000. Netscape had to die to make this come true. Nvu got two different forms of support : first, Linspire came to me with a project in mind and finances in hands ; they not only supported Nvu financially but also brought QA, marketing, communication and distribution channels. Linspire and I were discussing on a daily basis, and I really had the feeling to be part of a team even if I was far away, and not even an employee of Linspire. But I was also free. I implemented some features into Nvu that Linspire and I never discussed (the new colorpicker for instance) ; I also refused some of their choices. The second strong support Nvu got came from the localization community ; that was just amazing, and I can't tell how much their help touched my heart. Both were a win-win cooperation, and Nvu has now millions of users, and this is not an exageration. Millions of users with VERY little marketing or viral buzz, keep that in mind.
  • But Nvu got little pure technical contributions because of the complexity of the application. Diving into the editing rules of nsHTMLEditor is painful and requires a level of involvement that not anyone can afford. To build such a community, we should have done two Nvu developers days, one somewhere in the Bay Area and the other one here on the Old Continent. There were people ready to help but they had too little knowledge of the code to start alone, and I had no time to train them. Overall, that was a severe mistake : little time invested for those developer days would have saved us lot of time afterwards.
  • Thunderbird is an incredibly successful app. Please remember that compared to Firefox, Thunderbird has very little to no visibility, even on www.mozilla.com home page... If I browse that page on my laptop's screen, I can't see the word Thunderbird w/o scrolling down to the bottom of the page. Without increasing drastically the investment into Thunderbird, I think a better visibility of Thunderbird on the Web with better marketing mottos could have increased a lot the buzz.

From my perspective, I deeply regret that Mozilla Co. cannot keep this project entirely under its wings. It's the Mozilla Co. and Fo., not the Firefox Co. and Fo. But hey, that's life. So I thinkthe best option for Thunderbird's fate is probably an independant company, formed by Thunderbird tech leaders. Mozilla Corporation would be the "seed" of that company, contracting with it for the initial spin-off and early progress of the product, probably during the first year or year and a half. That's a high level of financial investment, but also help on a logistics basis. Shared marketing, developers days, umbrella of the Mozilla name (say everywhere it's a spin-off) and so on. Mozilla Co. will also need to share its corporate contacts with the new company so it can find long-term revenue streams faster.

The only concern - and we know it very well at Disruptive Innovations - is about the need to preserve product development outside of any consulting while only consulting pays for it. This can be hard to achieve. Other than that, I wish Scott and David the best of luck, may Thunderbird have a long product life and even have a successful descendance.