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Mozilla Sends Thunderbird on Solo Flight

By Nancy Cohen
Sep 19, 2007 3:12 PM PT

The Mozilla Foundation is spinning off its open source e-mail client, Thunderbird, into an independent company. The new company, MailCo, plans to develop Internet communications software "based on the Thunderbird product, code and brand," Mozilla said.

Mozilla Sends Thunderbird on Solo Flight

David Ascher, CTO of ActiveState, will lead the new mail-focused company. ActiveState is centered on developer tools and technologies such as JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Python and Ruby.

Each time an open source community debuts business-usable software, a knee-jerk reaction is to ask: How many rafters will this rattle in Redmond?

"I don't think Thunderbird will be a threat to Outlook/Exchange," Radicati Group market analyst Matt Anderson told LinuxInsider.

Browser Coup

While Firefox was a runaway success, Thunderbird might have a tougher time taking on Microsoft.

The Firefox story is one of fast growth due to superb timing as well as technology. "Firefox was getting attention and downloads because of the vulnerability scares in the past surrounding Internet Explorer," Anderson noted. "Mozilla struck while the iron was hot, and benefited from Microsoft's browser woes."

The story takes a different turn with e-mail, Anderson told LinuxInsider.

Outlook Still Popular

"We haven't had a lot of buzz or noise around something inherently wrong with Outlook that would create an opportunity for a small client like Thunderbird," he said. "Coupled with the popularity of Exchange and the client/server's capabilities when used in tandem, it will be difficult for a small, open sourced client to become a threat to the 800-pound gorilla in the e-mail market that is Microsoft."

If the gorilla is not to be roused, one might at least speculate that open source-based e-mail vendors might be jostled. Mozilla's MailCo is seeded with (US)$3 million in funding. Its lofty intent is to "stimulate innovation in Internet mail and communications."

Innovation Challenge

All the same, innovation will need to be at "surge" level, Anderson said.

"For the longest time, Thunderbird was left without integrated calendar functionality, which has become a must for desktop e-mail clients," Anderson said.

Even groundbreaking e-mail players have not wrecked Outlook's user stronghold. Recently, Yahoo acquired Zimbra, which bills itself as "the leader" in open source messaging and collaboration. Zimbra's Collaboration Suite Network Edition is positioned as a competitor to Microsoft Exchange.

"Innovative clients, such as that offered by Zimbra, with its mash-up technology, are considered trail-blazers, but are still dwarfed in market share by Outlook," Anderson said.

A partnership with other desktop application developers is where the MailCo e-mail story might get interesting, Anderson said.

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