The Truth about Mozilla

Exclusive: MailCo Gets Name, Board of Directors

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 18, 2008

The David Ascher-led “MailCo” will, this week, announce its name, initial employees, and board of directors on its new website.

Mozilla Messaging Incorporated is a California corporation led by the Canadian CEO, David Ascher. Its initial goal is to release Thunderbird 3 this year (without the application’s lead developers).

Directors include:

  • David Ascher
  • Chris Beard, VP of Mozilla Labs at Mozilla Corporation
  • Mårten Mickos, CEO, MySQL

But don’t think my secrets are so special. Mozilla Messaging Incorporated (henceforth to be known as MoMess) has published the beginnings of its website in SVN, which is publicly viewable by anyone in the world. (If you’d like to know the initial employee list, the Lizard recommends heading over to either of those links.)

The $3 million question the Lizard must ask centers around the initial board of directors. If MoMess is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, and if this new organization is really supported by that organization, why are there no representatives from the Foundation on the board of directors?

I’ll tell you why. No one truly gives a fuck what happens here. MoMess will fail. It’s bound to be a complete failure. The Lizard does wish the best to Mr Ascher; Thunderbird in a solid, stable home would be wonderful. However, unless Scott MacGregor, David Bienvenu, Sherman Dickman, and Seth Spitzer want to wrest their darling product back from the ’mess and bring it to the bosom of their new mail company, no amount of money or manpower will truly help.

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Picking Apart Mitchell Baker’s Thunderbird Post (Part 2)

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on October 16, 2007

And we continue with Part 2/2 of our “translating the Mitchell spin” articles in parallel with Mitchell’s blog.

As I noted in my last post, 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: In case you missed the bullshit from earlier, I concluded by saying it was time to get rid of that shit that is Thunderbird. Even they wanted a way out!

In early to mid 2007 the Foundation board designated two members (in addition to the work I was doing) to meet with the key Thunderbird developers to work on developing a plan together. In a series of meetings it was determined that a new Thunderbird organization would need an organizational leader — the developers couldn’t both develop and lead an organization. And as I have mentioned, there was a very strong interest in seeing Thunderbird vision expand and that clearly required additional people. A set of questions were raised but few answers were developed.

Translation: Just in case things went sour, I appointed two more Foundation board members to help take the fall. Remember? I can do that. I’m in charge of those bitches. It would have been impossible for me to find someone who cared about Thunderbird and had any leadership talent. People of that caliber don’t just appear. That special person would also need to be willing to expand the Thunderbird vision in the way that’s right: my way.

These meetings were not public for a couple of reasons. There are some key personal and personnel issues. I wanted to make sure that everyone already involved had a good opportunity to express their thoughts quietly, in a safe setting first. Second, we didn’t yet know what we were likely to do. I didn’t want people to worry we were adrift. I know people worried about this when we did start the public discussion. So either I was wrong to not start the public discussion much earlier, OR I was right to do a lot of ground work first and have an outline of how we would proceed before opening the discussion. Or I was *both* right and wrong, and there is no perfect solution.

Translation: Either I was wrong or right or both, but it’s perfectly obvious to me and you, dear reader, that I was right just as I always am.

We then spent some time thinking about who might be a good organizational leader for Thunderbird. The Thunderbird developers and I also spent time trying to think through how to create a new organization. By June or so it was clear that it was time to begin a public discussion about our goals for Thunderbird and desire to create a new home for it. I started working on this. Around the same time the Thunderbird developers came up with the suggestion that they create an independent company and we move Thunderbird development to it. The company would be interested in promoting the Mozilla mission, but would be outside of the Mozilla umbrella of organizations; a private company owned and run by the developers. We spent some time thinking through the pros and cons of this possibility, how the developers and a new company like this would interact with the source code and with the Thunderbird product. This became the third option included in my post opening the Thunderbird discussion. This option had the advantage of exciting the developers.

Translation: I was ready to get rid of Thunderbird, but gosh darnit there were two people that seemed to want it: Scott MacGregor and David Bienvenu. Fuck if I know why, but I was more than glad to add this option as it was the best to get rid of Thunderbird. Make no doubt, this wasn’t a simple option, but it was and is the best.

When we considered the idea of Thunderbird moving to a private independent company, a number of significant disadvantages emerged. First, this would mean that Mozilla as an organization was leaving the mail/ communications space and hoping that space would be filled by another organization. We weren’t ready to do that. Second, it felt like this would be moving Thunderbird to a more private space. We’re eager to see Thunderbird become an even more public project, with more contributors with greater authority. This concern is not remotely a reflection on the motivations of Scott and David. They have been devoted Mozilla participants for many years. This is a *structural* concern. It reflects the desire that Thunderbird — the product as well as the code — remain dedicated to the public benefit through the Foundation.

Translation: When I blogged about those radical three options, people complained that I didn’t care about Thunderbird. To save face, I told the world that my intention, all along, was that being under the Foundation was the best bet. I didn’t mean it, but hell if I could figure another way out. Those excuses in that paragraph above? Bullshit. Both could be worked around. Utter bullshit. But it sounds damn good, doesn’t it?

As is the Mozilla way, the public discussion of Thunderbird allowed us to move forward. Through this process we realized that David Ascher, long a part of the Mozilla project, was an excellent candidate for a Thunderbird / mail organization. I talk to David periodically about many Mozilla topics, and I think perhaps I realized he might be interested in leading the new organization even before he did 🙂 After this, the first step was to have David come to Mountain View (he lives in Vancouver) and meet the Thunderbird developers, followed by a bunch of other folks. I became convinced that David could lead the organization, and had the personality and technical chops to work with the Thunderbird developers. In particular to navigate between their phenomenal commitment to continuing to serve existing Thunderbird users and the Foundation’s goal of broadening the product vision.

Translation: I’ve always said, The best way to discuss something is in blog comments. See above where I said how impossible it would be to find a leader who cared about Thunderbird? ‘Nuff said.

I outlined my view of the future to David and Scott, the Thunderbird developers — David Ascher joins Mozilla to lead the new organizaton [sic], David Bienvenu and Scott McGregor [sic] join the new organization, they continue to work on Thunderbird as they have been and participate in the efforts to broaden Thunderbird. David and Scott reiterated their interest in forming a private company but agreed that David seemed a good person to run an organization and a reasonable person to work with. We (meaning the Thunderbird developers and I) then spent time talking through how this arrangement could work.

Translation: My way or the highway.

These discusions [sic] involve nitty-gritty details like the status of the build system, ensuring that different versions of a product based on the Thunderbird code could be built. They also involve discussions of how modules owners like Scott and David would work within the new structure. Module ownership isn’t related to employment, it’s related to activity and the ability to lead and draw others to one’s work. So we expect the current developers to remain module owners for as long as they are active, interested, and leading a healthy community. We expect someone from Mozilla (eventually at MailCo) to make the final decision about when that code is ready to have the official Thunderbird name and be released as a product. There’s nothing new in this, but it’s always good to reiterate a shared understanding in a time of change.

Translation: Please visit our module owner page and go through the list of modules we care about (ones which affect Firefox and Thunderbird). If you look closely, 33 of the 44 modules the Mozilla Corporation cares about are led by Mozilla employees, including, for the moment, Scott and David. How long do you think they’ll last outside of Mozilla?

In September I announced Mozilla’s plans for a new Thunderbird / mail organization. David Ascher is already at work getting to know the community, find out who is interested and able to help, and working through the details of setting up an effective organization. Scott and David are working on their plans as well. One of the fundamental aspects of Mozilla is that participation is not dependent on employment. Mozilla has phenomenal contributors who have never been employed to work on Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and remain equally involved with Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and later change their involvement with Mozilla, based on their preferences and their ability to lead others. Both Scott and David have stated their plans to continue their involvement with Thunderbird. It’s an unusual setting, and extremely powerful.

Translation: If you’ll recall, I said in my previous post that the Thunderbird community was virtually non-existent. Turns out, a few minutes later I decided that there’s enough for us to get to know!

Translation 2: Bye bye Scott and David. We didn’t want you anyway.

In the coming months a large set of Mozilla folks with be working on getting the new Thunderbird / mail organization organized and running, as well as serving Thunderbird users. We are also very eager to see Thunderbird become a broader product vision and to see a community with greater distributed authority. More people with the expertise and ability to authority to work deeply in the code will lead to a better product faster, and will spur the development of new experiments to improve mail. If you are driven to see Internet communications improve and can assist, please get in touch with David.

Translation: All along I’ve been saying Thunderbird and mail are dead. I think it’s time for me to save some face and say the opposite. If you’d like to become part of the bullshit that I’ve created, contact David Ascher. He’s busy sorting out all my shit.

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!