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I'm interested in learning more about Thunderbird

Discussion of general topics about Mozilla Thunderbird
Code Name

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Post Posted December 26th, 2019, 7:44 pm

I'm interested in learning how Thunderbird is operated now that it has broken away from Mozilla - except for (as I understand it) Mozilla helping the Thunderbird operation with donations directed specifically for Thunderbird.

Is there an 'About Us' or some informative official declaration available so I can get a better understanding of how the operation is organized; owner-wise and responsibility-wise? Who owns Thunderbird anyway - a small equity partnership? Is one person in charge, like an equity partner chairman - or some other hierarchy? What was the origin for Thunderbird breaking away from Mozilla?

I think I've read that the Thunderbird staff are paid totally from donations, but I don't know if that is correct. If so, how many paid staff positions are there? How many volunteers are there?

How large is the team responsible for overseeing and approving the theme/extension add-ons made compatible (by a dwindling numbers of willing developers) for TB68+?

Is Thunderbird a sinking ship, or do 'the powers that be' have a handle on things and the future looks bright?

Any advice on learning more than the little [I think] I know?
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

DanRaisch
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Post Posted December 26th, 2019, 8:30 pm

Moving to Thunderbird General as this is not a support question.

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Post Posted December 27th, 2019, 4:20 am

Code Name wrote:1) I'm interested in learning how Thunderbird is operated ... now that it has broken away from Mozilla -
2) except for (as I understand it) Mozilla helping the Thunderbird operation with donations directed specifically for Thunderbird.

2) Is there an 'About Us' or some informative official declaration available so I can get a better understanding of how the operation is organized; owner-wise and responsibility-wise?

3) Who owns Thunderbird anyway - a small equity partnership? Is one person in charge, like an equity partner chairman - or some other hierarchy?

4) What was the origin for Thunderbird breaking away from Mozilla?

5) I think I've read that the Thunderbird staff are paid totally from donations, but I don't know if that is correct. If so, how many paid staff positions are there? How many volunteers are there?

6) How large is the team responsible for overseeing and approving the theme/extension add-ons made compatible (by a dwindling numbers of willing developers) for TB68+?

7) Is Thunderbird a sinking ship, or do 'the powers that be' have a handle on things and the future looks bright?

8) Any advice on learning more than the little [I think] I know?


1 + 4) Mozilla Corporation (the outfit that produces Firefox, not the Mozilla Foundation) ceded operations of Thunderbird to the community in 2012 when it decided to stop active development of Thunderbird, and we formally organized the governing council in 2014, the year before 2015 where Mozilla decided that it wanted to totally cut Thunderbird loose. It should be noted that paragraphs 4 and 5 of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Thunderbird are mostly inaccurate. It should also be noted that the name Mozilla is plastered everywhere you see the Thunderbird name, however Mozilla today has nothing to do with the management and operation of Thunderbird.

2 + 3) https://www.thunderbird.net/en-US/about/

5) Yes, absolutely supported by donations. If I have counted correctly there are currently 10 full time paid staff, one of which is the technical manager. There are dozens of volunteers.

6) The add-ons group is growing - I'd put the number currently at 10.

7) IMO Thunderbird in the last decade has a wandering path but has been anything but a "sinking ship", a label given by some people who IMO are biased by personal frustration and know very little about Thunderbird. In the last seven years Thunderbird has never been at risk of not delivering releases; in fact it has been continuously developed, improved and the management and governance has been greatly improved to where today we have a growing number of paid staff.

8) To learn more, I'd say get involved.

Code Name

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Post Posted December 27th, 2019, 9:45 am

Thanks for this information. It helps me better understand Thunderbird's recent history and changes.

I just now made another donation (my second this month) hopefully to Thunderbird from the 'About Us' link you provided. However, PayPal said the money was going to Mozilla, so I hope it is somehow redirected to Thunderbird, and the money actually gets to Thunderbird and not Mozilla. Very confusing! On my credit card statement one donation says 'PAYPAL *MOZILLAFOUN" and the other donation says 'PAYPAL *MOZILLAFOUN 402-935-7733 CA'. Is there a good reason why donations made to Thunderbird must first go through Mozilla and can't go directly to Thunderbird? Strange!


I've also learned that finding Thunderbird related topics are literally here-and-there and all-over-the-place and sometimes duplicated. A good example is Discourse vs Topicbox. It would be far better if the multiplicity was reconciled and put under one primary website in proper categories, instead of helter-skelter all-over-the-place under multiple different hostname websites. It just seems totally unnecessary and way too convoluted like somebody intentionally tried to make it complicated.

You have TB add-ons here : https://addons.thunderbird.net
You have TB add-ons for developers here: https://thunderbird.topicbox.com/groups/addons
You have more TB add-on stuff here: https://discourse.mozilla.org/c/thunderbird/addons
You have TB bug related stuff here: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/buglist.cg ... hunderbird
You have TB related forums here: http://forums.mozillazine.org/
You have more TB extension developer resources here: https://cleidigh.github.io/ThunderKdB/
You have more TB add-on end-user support here: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/products/thunderbird
That's seven different hostname websites, yet they are all Thunderbird related! There's probably more I haven't found yet! Why so many? Why not under one hostname?

Here is a reply from a TB authority - when a new add-on end-user saw an invitation to join/register on the Discourse website, and then he signed-in to ask a simple question about an add-on to learn that he was on the wrong website when he got this response: "This Discourse is for help with developing add-ons, not help with using them. Please go to https://support.mozilla.org/products/thunderbird for end-user Thunderbird support." Talk about unnecessary confusion!


If Thunderbird is no longer associated with Mozilla Corporation then why not get rid of all things 'Mozilla' and become a totally, unquestionable, separate business entity from its origin - Mozilla?

I've also noticed that many of the leaders here seem to be a bit on-edge, which is perplexing...
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

tanstaafl
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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 12:29 pm

"If Thunderbird is no longer associated with Mozilla Corporation then why not get rid of all things 'Mozilla' and become a totally, unquestionable, separate business entity from its origin - Mozilla?"

In 2016 the choices being considered were joining "the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), The Document Foundation (TDF) and a new deal at the Mozilla Foundation". https://blog.thunderbird.net/2017/05/th ... ture-home/ states "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."

The basic problem is Mozilla's influence/culture is too strong. Look at the history of who is on the Thunderbird Council for example. If you browse the archives of the tb-planning posts you'll see there have been prolonged political battles about everything from forking Gecko (one option was to work with several other organizations on a fork), creating a next generation of a Thunderbird desktop client (NOT webmail) that could be run from any major web browser, to finding a new home (a co-op was even advocated for a long time). Basically, the Mozilla-centric view won every time.

The strong Mozilla influence seems to be the reason why the Thunderbird developers claim that you should always update to the latest version of the software due to security patches (and they didn't consider temporarily postponing an update to a newer version of Gecko to give themselves time to flesh out a mail-centric API based on the WebExtensions API).

They typically fix potential security bugs that most users will never run into unless they use a add-on like the now defunct ThunderBrowse add-on to use Thunderbird as a browser. While its a good idea to keep up-to-date Thunderbird seems to have too small a market share to be concerned about malware being developed specifically for it. The developers are basically treating a email client as if it was a browser, where it is critical to be up-to-date. The main security risks for Thunderbird are opening attachments that contain malware, clicking on malware/phishing links in a message, and a user enabling "view -> display attachments inline". Even the official Thunderbrid Security Advisories states: "In general, these flaws cannot be exploited through email in the Thunderbird product because scripting is disabled when reading mail, but are potentially risks in browser or browser-like contexts."

"Why not under one hostname?"

They're leveraging existing Mozilla resources in many cases. In some cases, such as the bug database, its not just a question of resources, you want to keep the ability to re-assign or track a bug against a different product since Thunderbird uses Gecko, NSS, etc. and shares some code with the SeaMonkey project.

MozillaZine is independent, so it would never use a common host.

I suspect some of the different developer resources will eventually merge. However, the new design of https://www.thunderbird.net/ seems to be evolving as the hub for finding many of those sources. Take a look at the many links in https://www.thunderbird.net/en-US/get-involved/ . If you eventually can find links to every one of the websites from one (official, supported) location, does it really matter where they are hosted?

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 1:23 pm

tanstaafl wrote:If you eventually can find links to every one of of those websites from one (official, supported) location, does it really matter where they are hosted?


I think the answer to that question is - 'If' the person that is looking for one of those many websites is actually aware of this one (official, supported) 'Get Involved' website location, then [no] it would not matter [as much] where they (all the various links) are hosted. However, just how many newcomers or casual information seekers are aware of the 'Get Involved' website? Probably damn near zero! :-s I tried Google Searching 'Thunderbird' with various suffixes and got tired of clicking page-after-page and never coming across the 'Get Involved' website. :-?

I cannot think of any non-government organization, company or firm (of any size) that has their documents (written communications, technical help, credentials, instructions, references, links, etc.) not under their own [only] one (official, supported) website. :-k

It seems to me that retaining any connection with Mozilla, when there is no longer a connection, does more harm than good to the Thunderbird brand. The Thunderbird developers can still be influenced by Mozilla with Mozilla's latest version of software due to security patches, etc., but that doesn't mean Thunderbird must continue to ride on the coattail of Mozilla's name. It's odd that Thunderbird's authorities quickly acknowledge and confirm that Thunderbird split away from Mozilla many years ago, yet the Mozilla name is everywhere you look when seeking or viewing Thunderbird related information. #-o
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

tanstaafl
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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 1:58 pm

Code Name wrote:It's odd that Thunderbird's authorities quickly acknowledge and confirm that Thunderbird split away from Mozilla many years ago, yet the Mozilla name is everywhere you look when seeking or viewing Thunderbird related information.

They appear to be slowly shifting from Mozilla Thunderbird to Thunderbird, as the name of the product. See the inconsistent Thunderbird branding bug report for example.

In some cases the Mozilla branding appears to be because you found information about Thunderbird on a Mozilla owned resource such as SUMO (SUpport MOzilla) or Discourse. In other cases it might be because many people still think Mozilla is either doing or funding the development.

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 2:21 pm

When E-commerce giant eBay decided to spin-off their online payment service PayPal into its own company, PayPal didn't retain any semblance of their legacy brand eBay - same goes for Time Warner and Time Inc., same for McDonald’s and Chipotle, same for CBS and Viacom, same for Agilent and HP, same for Gap and Old Navy, same for Frontier and Verizon, etc.
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 2:54 pm

Thunderbird wasn't spun off as a company by a Fortune 500 company. The chair of the Mozilla Corporation said "it is already pretty much what its users want and mostly needs some on-going maintenance". It wasn't totally abandoned but it wasn't funded either. There was a good while where it was not clear whether the project had a future. Think of what happened to Eudora, after Qualcomm stopped developing it.

See https://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2012/07 ... nnovation/

I'm just saying you need to set your expectations based on open source projects, not what large companies with paying customers do. I find it frustrating too.

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 5:14 pm

tanstaafl wrote: I find it frustrating too.


I can imagine... :(
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 5:37 pm

Can someone speak to what took place with Thunderbird add-on developers first being told their add-on extension coding would not need to change for future TB versions ... and then things changed all of a sudden with add-on developers being told (by whom?) that their add-on extensions would require changing to WebExtension coding after all?

I know CustomizeMyBird add-on author/developer 'Aris' got very upset and removed his add-on from ATN and had a strong opinion when he said; "This add-on is discontinued and will not receive any updates for Thunderbird 68+. I neither have the time nor the will to rewrite the add-on for TB 68+. Mozilla developers lied (again or like always) when they said, there won't be changes in add-on environment on Thunderbird."

So, who actually lied to developer 'Aris' and other Thunderbird add-on developers - was it Mozilla developers or was it Thunderbird developers? And what suddenly prompted the change, which 'Aris' considered to be very disingenuous after being told differently?
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 7:08 pm

> Can someone speak to what took place with Thunderbird add-on developers first being told their add-on extension coding would not need to change for future TB versions ...

I have never seen an explicit announcement which says this.

> and then things changed all of a sudden with add-on developers being told (by whom?) that their add-on extensions would require changing to WebExtension coding after all?

The writing was on the wall after 56. TB devs did did a good job with 60 maintaining compatibility but with and after 61 the existing Gecko codebase did go down the drain fast. It is web extensions or nothing and web extensions was never specced for email clients. Just a handcrafted mess of frontend and backend code adapted and optimized for Firefox only. The current Mozilla spiel is fission another wonder rewrite to end all rewrites. This will break any still existing Firefox classic addons but I wonder if TB needs to be rewritten too to support multi process here.

So I doubt it was deliberate. Maybe overly optimistic to assume that classic add-ons can be maintained longer.

FRG

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 8:14 pm

I presume Thunderbird is probably listed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization or entity since it thrives totally on donations and has no meaningful revenue or income. I'm a bit surprised that Mozilla Corporation (a for-profit corporation) just split from Thunderbird and cut it loose to live or die, and didn't even try to spin-off the entity for a profit. Maybe there was a standing agreement in place. Does anyone have any idea what the valuation of Thunderbird is? Or, what the potential enterprise value may be if Thunderbird became a for-profit business?
Politicians and Diapers must be changed often for the exact same reason...

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Post Posted December 28th, 2019, 9:09 pm

Code Name wrote:I presume Thunderbird is probably listed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization or entity since it thrives totally on donations and has no meaningful revenue or income.

No. It uses the Mozilla Foundation (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) as its legal and fiscal home.

It was not clear whether the co-op proposal would have resulted in Thunderbird becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. However, each of the three proposals (SFC, TDF, Mozilla) that were formally considered used an existing 501(c)(3) non-profit organization as the legal/financial home.

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Post Posted December 29th, 2019, 7:02 pm

tanstaafl wrote:"If Thunderbird is no longer associated with Mozilla Corporation then why not get rid of all things 'Mozilla' and become a totally, unquestionable, separate business entity from its origin - Mozilla?"

In 2016 the choices being considered were joining "the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), The Document Foundation (TDF) and a new deal at the Mozilla Foundation". https://blog.thunderbird.net/2017/05/th ... ture-home/ states "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."

The basic problem is Mozilla's influence/culture is too strong. Look at the history of who is on the Thunderbird Council for example. If you browse the archives of the tb-planning posts you'll see there have been prolonged political battles about everything from forking Gecko (one option was to work with several other organizations on a fork), creating a next generation of a Thunderbird desktop client (NOT webmail) that could be run from any major web browser, to finding a new home (a co-op was even advocated for a long time). Basically, the Mozilla-centric view won every time.

That battle is of course over. And while it is true that the decision was made to stay close to Mozilla, the core reason for that choice (which was an overwhelming council opinion) was not about some "love fest" for Mozilla, but it was in the best long term interest of the product and users - a combination of synergy, cost, manpower, priorities, continuity, etc. We could have as easily made the decision to go with TDF, and it was seriously considered, but as a minimum it would have required spinning up lots of infra and executive functions which it was felt would have been a major distraction for example to modernizing Thunderbird for version 68 and the following release, which was/is a time-critical. That may change in the future, but at present it's working out well.

tanstaafl wrote:The strong Mozilla influence seems to be the reason why the Thunderbird developers claim that you should always update to the latest version of the software due to security patches.

Update philosophy has nothing to do with Mozilla. It just common sense, and best practice for the for the average user. Supporting several million users with a dozen or so volunteers doesn't particularly lend itself to supporting multiple releases, and somehow (officially) explaining that it's OK for some class of users to not update without also implying to the average user that it's OK to not update. If there is a way, I haven't heard it.

tanstaafl wrote:(and they didn't consider temporarily postponing an update to a newer version of Gecko to give themselves time to flesh out a mail-centric API based on the WebExtensions API)

Actually, we did delay quite a few months for updating the majority of users to version 68 for reasons which DID include add-on compatibility. IIRC that has been stated on tb-planning. But those updates cannot be delayed till the add-on world comes perfectly together - historically for many past releases takes (too) many months.

tanstaafl wrote:They typically fix potential security bugs that most users will never run into unless they use a add-on like the now defunct ThunderBrowse add-on to use Thunderbird as a browser. While its a good idea to keep up-to-date Thunderbird seems to have too small a market share to be concerned about malware being developed specifically for it. The developers are basically treating a email client as if it was a browser, where it is critical to be up-to-date. The main security risks for Thunderbird are opening attachments that contain malware, clicking on malware/phishing links in a message, and a user enabling "view -> display attachments inline". Even the official Thunderbrid Security Advisories states: "In general, these flaws cannot be exploited through email in the Thunderbird product because scripting is disabled when reading mail, but are potentially risks in browser or browser-like contexts."

Sure, the vast majority of users are unlikely to be affected by every advisory. And in practice some users will be affected by none. But again, it's difficult to put out there that it's OK for some users to not update without giving the masses the idea that it's OK to not update. Plus any security professional worth their salt will say it's just plain irresponsible to suggest that users don't need to update (and I work closely with such people). And so, best practices for release management (of which I am a part) dictate that users should be updated. Nothing to do with browser vs non-browser.

tanstaafl wrote:"Why not under one hostname?"

They're leveraging existing Mozilla resources in many cases. In some cases, such as the bug database, its not just a question of resources, you want to keep the ability to re-assign or track a bug against a different product since Thunderbird uses Gecko, NSS, etc. and shares some code with the SeaMonkey project.

I suspect some of the different developer resources will eventually merge. However, the new design of https://www.thunderbird.net/ seems to be evolving as the hub for finding many of those sources. Take a look at the many links in https://www.thunderbird.net/en-US/get-involved/ . If you eventually can find links to every one of the websites from
one (official, supported) location, does it really matter where they are hosted?

Quite true. And, changing infrastructure takes time.

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