It’s an odd-enough question. After all, the Firefox browser is surely called “Mozilla Firefox” if you use its full name, and the organisation behind it is called “Mozilla Corporation“. Mozilla has been responsible for various products and projects over the years, but if you actually go to the Mozilla site and look around now, it’s all Firefox, Firefox and, digging deeper, Firefox. Well, there’s also a mention of something called Webmaker, “apps”, and some developer-related links, presented within a gallery of pictures of the cool people working for Mozilla.
Now, I use Iceweasel, which is Debian’s version of Firefox, and it’s a good browser. But what concerns me is what has happened to certain other products produced by Mozilla that people also happen to be using. In the buzz that Mozilla are trying to create around their Firefox-centred strategy, with Firefox-the-browser, Firefox-the-mobile-OS, and whatever else the Firefox name will soon be glued onto, what treatment do things like Thunderbird get? Go to the Mozilla site and try and find the page for it: it’s easier to just use a search engine instead.
And once you’ve navigated to the product page for Thunderbird, the challenge of finding useful, concrete information continues. It may very well be the case that most people just want a download button and to be in and out of the site as fast as possible, on their way to getting the software installed and running. (If so, one really hopes that they did use a search engine and didn’t go in via Mozilla’s front page.) But what if you want to find out more about the code, the community, the development processes? Dig too deep in the support section – a reasonable path to take – and you’ll be back in Firefox country where there are no Thunderbirds to be found.
Now, I don’t use Thunderbird for my daily e-mail needs: given that I’ve used KDE for a decade and a half, I’ve been happy with Kontact for my modest e-mail retrieving, reading, writing and sending activities. But Thunderbird is used by quite a few other people, and I did indeed use it for a few years in a former workplace. I didn’t always like how it worked, especially compared to Kontact, but then again Kontact needed quite a bit of tuning to work to my tastes, especially when I moved over to KDE 4 (or Plasma, if you insist) and had to turn off all sorts of things that were bolted on but didn’t really work. Generally, however, both products do their job well enough.
When Mozilla announced that Thunderbird would take a back seat to other activities (which looks more like being pushed off the desk now, but anyway), people complained a lot about it. One would have thought that leveraging the common Mozilla codebase to keep delivering a cross-platform, Free Software e-mail client would help uphold the kind of freedom and interoperability in messaging that the organisation seeks to uphold on the Web generally. But I suppose the influencers think that webmail is enough, not least because the browser remains central in such a strategy. Unfortunately, webmail doesn’t exactly empower end-users with things like encryption and control over their own data, at least in the traditional sense. (Projects like Mailpile which deliver a Web-based interface locally via the browser are different, of course.)
So, given any need to remedy deficiencies with Thunderbird, where should one go? Fortunately, I did some research earlier in the year – maybe Mozilla’s site was easier to navigate back then – and found the Thunderbird page on the Mozilla Wiki. Looking again, I was rather surprised to see recent activity at such a level that it apparently necessitates weekly status meetings. Such meetings aren’t really my kind of thing, but the fact that they are happening does give me a bit more confidence about a product that one might think is completely abandoned if one were only paying attention to the official Mozilla channels. My own interests are more focused on the Lightning calendar plugin, and its official page is more informative than that of Thunderbird, but there’s also a collection of wiki pages related to it as well.
Once upon a time, there was a company called Mosaic Communications Corporation that became Netscape Communications Corporation, both of these names effectively trading on the familiarity of the Mosaic and Netscape product names. Given Mozilla’s apparent focus on “Firefox”, it wouldn’t surprise me if they soon went the other way and called themselves Firefox Corporation. But I would rather they sought to deliver a coherent message through a broad range of freedom-upholding and genuinely useful products than narrowing everything to a single brand and one-and-a-bit products that – in case those things don’t work for you – leave you wondering what your options are, especially in this day and age of proprietary, cloud-based services and platforms that are increasingly hostile to interoperability.
Without even a peripheral Mozilla Messaging organisation to block the tidal flow towards “convenient” but exploitative cloud services, one has to question Mozilla’s commitment in this regard. But those responsible could at least fix up the incoherent Web site design that would leave many wondering whether Thunderbird and other actively-supported Mozilla products were just products of their own vivid and idealistic imagination.