With the recent news that Mozilla will no longer be innovating with new versions of Thunderbird, many Ubuntu users might be left wondering what this will mean for their favorite distribution’s default suite of software. In fact, it seems like Canonical has had it’s hands full over the last two years trying to find a winning combination. Canonical has thrown it’s hands up in the air before and changed default software on a whim, most famously switching from enterprise friendly Evolution to user-friendly and mainstream Thunderbird. Also, it chose to abandon the stellar Banshee player in favor of the more homely and less feature-rich Rhythmbox.
This of course is not a terrible trend. Canonical has been trying to differentiate itself for years and is just now finding it’s style-stride with Unity. As releases come and go, you can expect that Unity will continue to distance itself from it’s birth-mother, Gnome, and move in an independent –literally less dependent — direction, as it continues to fork the projects it is built on. Ubuntu’s recent decision to fork the Gnome Control Center is pure evidence of this. Thunderbird should be part of that cord-cutting process too.
Now it is not exactly the best PR move to stand on the proverbial shoulders of giants, only to take that enormous effort and repackage it. Canonical has already suffered this once with its move to Unity. Of course they have completely recovered from it and Unity is now an accepted and familiar desktop environment. One that sets Ubuntu apart from the pack and that users of Ubuntu are finally coming to terms with. Now that Thunderbird will only be receiving maintenance updates with no new features, this is the perfect time for Canonical to strike.
It seems like the best move possible to gain a little more face with the mainstream. Take over development of a massive open-source project and mold it to fit Canonical’s idea of what an email client should be. In fact, what better way to get your name out to Windows and Mac users of Thunderbird! ‘Hi, we’re Ubuntu and this is our mail-client. It’s feature-rich and there is a version available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and iOS. Oh, by the way, we have an operating system too.’ It’s not a bad way to get new users of Ubuntu One either. What a perfect pairing of software and services that could be.
Looking back at the not so distant past when Thunderbird became the default client in Ubuntu, the move was obvious. They needed a name. They wanted to be able to say that they shipped with a world-class, famous email client, while users of Mac OS X were stuck with the over simplified Mail and Windows users with Windows Live Mail. Of course, users who are interested in Thunderbird have always just been a download away from having it for their platform. Everything is a PR move, right?
It Just Makes Sense
Thunderbird integration in Unity is a hack-job. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but they have simply done what needed to be done to make it attractive and increase the perception that it is actually an integrated product. Forking Thunderbird and bending it to fit the will of Ubuntu, makes sense. Forking a project that is essentially dead will only make them look like heroes. Forking the project and making a version available for Android and iOS to gain adoption, increase mind-share and raise the visibility of it’s cloud services is simply genius. Canonical would be foolish to not be considering this path right this very minute.
As it stands, adoption of Thunderbird across platforms has been steadily dropping for some time. That’s because the experience is polarizing, especially is you use a mobile device to check your email. Doubly so if you are a user of Gmail. For one thing, Gmail as a web client is simply wonderful. Second, Gmail labels are exclusive to Gmail and that is easily the single best feature. Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you had a client for Android that supported Gmail labels. Not only that, but this client supported multiple emails addresses and had the ability to apply labels within those accounts as well. Better yet, imagine that your labels and accounts and all other configurations are synced across all the platforms that you use with Ubuntu One. It’s that sort of unique offering that will not only set an Ubuntu-forked version of Thunderbird apart from everything else, but also Ubuntu One. Canonical has a real chance to shine here.
Everything you just read is wishful thinking at this point. Obviously Canonical forges it’s own path and the ultimate fate of the Thunderbird code-base is up in the air, but there is one one other organization that should be dripping with saliva to continue development of Thunderbird. The Document Foundation. Libre Office is surrounded with nothing but positive press lately. They’ve taken an archaic and patchy codebase and are gradually turning it into a clean, innovative and stable suite of applications. As the only real competitor to Microsoft Office, they are missing one key component. An enterprise quality e-mail client with exchange capabilities.
The existing codebase of Thunderbird would be a great starting point for them, but only time will tell.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below. What are you using now to manage multiple accounts on a mobile device? We want to hear about it.