Mozilla on Tuesday unveiled its Mozilla Messaging company--formerly MailCo--and outlined a few plans for Thunderbird 3, the open source email and communications suite.
In a blog post, David Ascher, who joined Mozilla to lead Mozilla Messaging in September, said the company's goal is to help fix email--quite a lofty goal.
As I've slowly internalized over the last few months, the notion that anyone can and should participate in helping fix whatever is broken is a key tenet of the Mozilla project. It has structural implications for how we build companies, and, I believe, it's a key advantage compared to all the other companies who are tackling the nest of issues that entangle internet communications.
We know we can't do it alone, and we're not even going to try. Indeed, rather than lay out a bold vision and convince people that we're going to solve all their problems, we see our primary role as that of facilitating collaborative approaches to problem solving and incremental progress, through a combination of leadership and facilitation work. This is an unusual approach, and it can be chaotic and slow. But it seems to have worked well for Firefox and the web, and I believe it can work well for Thunderbird and email.
Ascher said his plan is roughly define Thunderbird 3 with the following characteristics:
- Integrated calendaring;
- Better search;
- Improved user interface;
- And easier configuration.
A lot of these items will be discussed out in the open on blogs, mailing lists and forums, but the broader question is this: Can Thunderbird, which now has dedicated resources, become a hit like Firefox?
More importantly can an open source project like Mozilla Thunderbird really alter the course of email (Techmeme)? I wouldn't dismiss Mozilla Messaging out of hand, but it could face an uphill climb. Most of us just accept email for what it is--useful yet painful at the same time. Innovation doesn't come to mind when talking about email. Ascher correctly notes that the extensibility of the Thunderbird platform will be critical and it's key that Mozilla Messaging already starts with a Web stack.
It's important to keep an eye on larger trends. Email is more important than ever, and yet it's no longer the only game in town, or even the dominant one for younger generations or emerging economies. It is worthwhile considering what the right user experience could be for someone using multiple email addresses, multiple instant messaging systems, IRC, reading and writing on blogs, using VoIP, SMS, and the like. What parts of those interactions make sense to integrate, and where? I don't believe that stuffing all of those communication models inside of one application is the right answer. But the walled gardens that we're faced with today aren't the right answer either. There is room for innovation and progress here, and we need to facilitate it.
I agree completely. But to get folks on the Thunderbird bandwagon Mozilla Messaging will have to cook up a user interface--and other key features--that a doubtful user can't resist.