Image: Jack Wallen

The kitchen sink has been tossed out of the Mozilla offices…never to be touched again.

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. To be exact, Mozilla has officially announced it will cease work on Firefox OS and wants to split off Thunderbird so they can focus on one thing and one thing only.


Mozilla chairperson, Mitchell Baker said in an internal memo:

“The current setting isn’t stable, and we should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled.”

It should come as no surprise that they want to jettison Firefox OS. No matter how good or bad the platform was, it never stood a chance. In a world dominated by Android and iOS, any and all underdog mobile platforms face almost impossible odds. So this makes sense. It would, however, come as a surprise to know that Mozilla doesn’t discount continued work on Firefox OS for non-phone mobile devices. Why? Tablets are already on their way to irrelevancy and that leaves…what? Auto? Internet of Things? Televisions? From my perspective, Firefox getting into the mobile OS game sits in perfect parallel with Canonical developing the Ubuntu Phone. It was a great idea on paper, but the execution was poor and the battle only served to distract you from what you do best.

And that’s part of the problem. But that problem isn’t actually that simple.

Am I making sense yet?

Consider this: Mozilla tosses aside Firefox OS and no one bats an eye. We’re still good with Android and iOS. Everyone goes about their business and the world doesn’t come crashing down around us. In the same breath, Mozilla “splits off” (or “un-couples”, consciously or not) Thunderbird so it can “exist” on its own. Okay, Mozilla, let’s not mince words here. You stopped updating Thunderbird in 2012. Yes, you continued supporting the email client, but offering no direct development. Now, you want to let the little bird take flight and leave the nest all together. And that’s fine…if someone gives it a home, or forks it into another project.

Why is this so important?

There’s a very specific reason why this is so important. As I’ve mentioned before, the state of Linux email clients is sad. The one ray of hope was Geary, and Yorba dropped the ball on that (there is hope, however, that the Elementary OS developers might well pick up the development of Geary). As it stands, Thunderbird is the only logical option for many Linux desktop users. I realize I said that at the expense of Evolution, Claws Mail, and any other email client in existence (all of which are failing in one way or another).

Okay, back to the point. Said point being…

Mozilla is cleaning house. Why? Remember back in the 90s and the good old Browser wars? The browser was Queen because it was so new…and so cool! Oohs and ahhs were spread across the globe. Those browser wars…they never really went away. The only difference was that the web browser became the single most important tool on the desktop. When Google unleashed Chrome the game changed. At first Chrome was this majestic beast that no one could best. It was lightning fast, reliable, free from bloat, and a rendering genius. And then Google upped its game and developed an OS around its browser. And then the browser became Queen again and Firefox (a browser that most had brushed aside because of bloat and bugs) had a chance at becoming relevant once again.

And then things got in the way. Things like email clients and mobile operating systems. Now, Mozilla understands the only way they can stay relevant is to focus on the one thing they do best…Firefox.

And even though Thunderbird is very important (to Linux users), it pales in comparison to the significance of Firefox. Not sure about that claim? Imagine a world with only IE and Chrome as options. Let that scenario play out for a bit.

We need Firefox

Yes, we also need Thunderbird…but I have faith that someone is going to fork that project and create something seriously special. In the meantime, Thunderbird still works (and works well).

If you’ve been paying attention lately, Firefox has made massive strides in progress. It’s much improved over where it was just two years ago. But the browser wars are waged in a completely different time and space. Where operating systems are good to go with a slower update/upgrade cycle, browsers must keep pace with one another, innovation, user demands, website demands…you name it. So it makes perfect sense why Mozilla would jettison everything but it’s bread and butter.

Even so (and I know I keep coming back to this), someone has to either scoop up Thunderbird or the developers of Elementary OS have to put in some serious effort to get Geary situated to usurp Thunderbird as the premier Linux email client.

Okay, Mozilla, you’ve made clear your intentions for the future. Now it’s time to back them up and return the browser war crown to the open source community. You have a major battle ahead of you, but with this refocused effort, I have faith that you can pull it off.

The web browser is not going to release its death grip on the desktop. It is now (and will be for the unforeseeable future) the single most important desktop app on the market. Even though it pains me to see Mozilla further distance themselves from Thunderbird, this is the right move. As for Firefox OS…that project was destined for failure.

What do you think of Firefox’s future? What about Thunderbird?

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Mozilla jettisons everything but the browser