The Truth about Mozilla

Picking Apart Mitchell Baker’s Thunderbird Post (Part 1)

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on October 9, 2007

Mitchell Baker’s latest two posts about Mozilla are extremely interesting. It’s time to cut out all the spin and translate them into something my mom can understand.

Thunderbird Process of Change Part 1

Translation: I’m covering my ass here so incredibly much, the bullshit doesn’t fit in one post.

In the coming months there will be a lot of discussion about how mail and Thunderbird will evolve. There will also be more detailed discussions about the new organizational home as we move from plans to concreteness. This seems a good time to describe how we got to where we are today.

Translation: Whoops! Forgot that everything doesn’t happen behind closed doors. I suppose there are others who care about Mozilla. I’m the one in charge though, so everyone else gets to know when I feel like telling them.

Thunderbird has been a part of the Mozilla Foundation since the Foundation was created in 2003. Initially the developers did all the work, including build, release and QA. After a while I arranged for the organization to provide the full range of resources to Thunderbird as well, meaning build, release, QA and marketing. We did not make separate groups to support Thunderbird (other than the actual application developers, where we had one Firefox developer and two Thunderbird developers).

Translation: See, we’ve always cared about Thunderbird. What? You don’t believe me? I supported them from the very beginning, God dammit! Oh wait, you know about the vendors who paid us to work on Thunderbird? Shit. I guess that might a good reason why there were two Thunderbird developers. Fuck.

That setting remained unchanged but started to grow uncomfortable as the web started exploding in 2005 and 2006. Not only did Firefox marketshare and mindshare explode, but the web (and the browser) as a delivery platform for new applications also came of age. Firefox was at the center of a new wave of activity and a giant ecosystem. Through this Mozilla acquired a stronger voice for openness, innovation and participation on the web.

Translation: Remember the Mozilla Suite? Shit, I sure loved that thing. But since it took me over a year to see the value of Firefox, I’ll be damned if anyone says that anything else is more or equally important. We gave Thunderbird a chance. Look at all the marketing and PR we put behind it! Thunderbird just isn’t as cool as Firefox. Sorry.

Thunderbird remained an important product with a significant and dedicated userbase. But Thunderbird diverged from our browser based efforts in a number of ways. One is the scope and vision of the product. Thunderbird is an email client. IT [sic] has some RSS and newsgroup capability, but it is primarily an email client. Increasingly other forms of web communications are developing. And Thunderbird the email client is not the complete answer to email needs. A complete solution might have other functionality (for example, calendar is a highly desired feature). A complete solution might include some server aspects, it might include a strategy for webmail, etc.

Translation: All these years I’ve said one thing: The only way Thunderbird can be viable is with calendar integration. If you can’t see how true that is, get some damn glasses! You see, I knew what Thunderbird should be all along. I told Scott and David what to do. Sucks for them for not caring. My way or the highway, bitch.

Second, email is a decreasing percentage of Internet communications. It’s still critically important to those of us who live in it of course. But even those who live in email often also use instant messaging, SMS, and other new ways of staying updated. Thunderbird is an excellent basis for thinking about these topics and improving Internet and web-based communications as a whole. But this wasn’t happening. And third, we weren’t seeing Thunderbird develop the kind of community or influence in the industry that Firefox has.

Translation: I axed the Mozilla Suite because email and HTML editors are dead. In 2005, when I found a way to make an assload of money by creating the Mozilla Corporation, I included Thunderbird. Contradictory? No way! Thunderbird was making money back then; money that looked good in my hands.

Don’t you read the Internet? Email is on its way out. SMS and IM is in! If the Thunderbird developers would integrate IM and SMS, I would love them so damn much.

Last but not least, Thunderbird would need a community. Haven’t you seen the stats? Community developers only contribute over 50% of patches that go into Thunderbird. That’s way less than the ~35% that community developers contribute to Firefox. Did I tell you I have a masters degree in mathematics?

Two things became clear. We had the team for developing a stand-alone desktop email application. But we didn’t have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern. The second thing that became clear was that we weren’t likely to build a mail / communications team we need inside the Mozilla Corporation.

Translation: Isn’t it incredibly clear by now that no one was thinking about the children? What about the damn children?? I mean future. Same difference. Of course, it is absolutely impossible for a team to be built inside the company we created to build teams. Never mind the loud noise we’re making as we create a specific mobile team, partnering with ARM and others.

If you need more reason, God knows that Thunderbird won’t generate near the amount of money that Firefox does. The Mozilla Corporation is making me filthy rich. It was time to cut out some slack and make more money.

Why not? Sometimes diversification can be a good strategy. Some companies do quite well with wildly different product lines, different operating groups responsible for them, all connected in one organization. But doing this well requires a certain type of management, and that is not the type we have at Mozilla. If an organization has different product lines and different development organizations, there must be a set of people in the organization who are thinking about all of them. At a minimum, that set includes whoever is making (or in our case guiding) strategy decisions, whoever is making decisions about how much money to spend where, whoever makes decisions about hiring and job responsibilities.

Translation: It was incredibly hard for me to write this paragraph in a way that proves that it was impossible for me to bring David Ascher into the Mozilla Corporation, but I quite certainly pulled it off. Creating a second company allows us to waste more of the Foundation’s money. They’re not using it anyway. And when I sit on the board of this new MailCo, I can get a cut of that money. Go me!

We could have a layer of decision-making that balances these two. But that involves more management, both in people and in process. Mozilla is about empowering as many people as possible to do, to make decisions and take action. We have managers and management in the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation, but generally we have as little as possible to get the job done.

Translation: Every month we work hard to grow our management staff. Hell, we’re working hard to create a full, honest-to-God HR department. See how devoted we are to keeping management small? And the managers we do hire are top shelf. (Editor’s note: More about that in a later post.)

So in late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers.

Translation: I finally decided, let’s get rid of this bullshit product however we can. We have to make it look good though, so we’ll bring in the Thunderbird developers and ignore everything they say.

In my next post I’ll describe how we went from this realization to our current plan.

Translation: Not enough bullshit for you? Just wait for my next post!

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