Thunderbird leaving the Mozilla nest

I was a Eudora user in college and then switched over to Thunderbird in grad school. How times have changed! Ars has the details – the Mozilla Foundation is spinning off Thunderbird to an independent organization. It’s a good move since Thunderbird was always kind of an odd man at Mozilla; the old POP3 model seems so outdated now in this modern era of web-based mail. I exclusively use Yahoo and Gmail for 99% of my own email now, and there’s always Outlook/Exchange (or Notes) on the business front. Then there’s the internal messaging systems of Facebook and LinkedIn, and of course chat (fully integrated to gmail and yahoo). Finally there’s text messaging to round off things, and there are increasing bridges being built between these various platforms (such as twitter, or send email to [phone number]@ etc). Staid old POP just seems like a dinosaur in comparison, and from my experience the POP systems are the ones that are the most vulnerable to spam and virus threats.

Ultimately the desired end goal would be to drop email entirely and communicate entirely via messaging within closed systems. Thats a pretty controversial opinion Iguess, given that the trend has been precisely the opposite until now – remember the day when Prodigy email was finally compatible with Compuserve? how we cheered.. fully unaware of our spam overlord masters waiting in the wings.

But I think messaging systems and social networking sites are better for communication because you have a more trusted “network” and you can vet people before they ever are allowed to contact you. 99% of my email is from people I already know, and the remaining 1% can be referred to a web page or blog or something instead.

Ultimately the freewheeling nature of the web means that Identity becomes a form of currency; email was always identity agnostic and completely egalitarian, with no thought given to vetting or social networks. And that was a loophole that the spammers were destined to drive trucks through.

Mozilla is better off without the Thunderbird baggage; whether Thunderbird succeeds as an independent product will depend on whether they stay rooted in the old POP email model or whether they try to innovate around it and embrace some of the new forms of communication out there. There’s a niche waiting to be filled.

UPDATE: the Thunderbird team makes an appeal for developers to join them.