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Mozilla Is Hiring a Developer to Work on Thunderbird Full-Time (blog.mozilla.org)
338 points by azdle on Jan 26, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 190 comments

I have to say I think Mozilla is a complete shambles of an organisation. It must be one of the richest charities in the world with the billions of dollars of commission it earns from search from Google et al.

I can't actually believe this is something they're excited to post a blog about. Charity with 9 figures revenue is hiring a developer (finally) to work on a product which has 25 million users.

I think Mozilla's mission goals are fantastic but something is going seriously, seriously wrong with the way they allocate resources.

I was apprehensive of your comment at first since you start with fierce criticism of Mozilla. But on reflection, I concur that regardless of the high esteem I have for Mozilla generally, it is disconcerting how little attention Thunderbird sees despite its regular use by so many people. I've never agreed with the neglect it has received from Mozilla and, in fact, feel that Mozilla is missing an opportunity to help resuscitate and modernize email.

Email, for all its faults, is among the most successful distributed protocols. And as a champion of protocols over centralized services, Mozilla should be emphatically in support of keeping email relevant, modern, and productive. Not only is Thunderbird part of that, but I'd like to see Mozilla expand their email vision to include tackling client-side encryption (ala GPG, but made user friendly).

Desktop native clients will be in declining use, and Mozilla will know this.

I handle most personal email on my phone, and corporate email increasingly requires MFA via a web-client, for which there is no standard for native clients.

I have native desktop clients for email installed, and prefer them, but in reality I hardly ever use them.

Thunderbird is a great project, but relative to other things Mozilla have their sights on, I can certainly see why it's lower priority.

I don't want to discount your experience and preferences. I hear and understand that you are using desktop email less frequently. I use desktop email extensively, and I suspect others do as well.

I do not know where Mozilla sourced the metric of "25 million users," but let's assume it is within the right order of magnitude. Even if that number is projected to fall, it's sufficient to warrant significant resource investment. I'd argue, as I did above, that the mission statement of Mozilla aligns well with email, so from my perspective a healthy full-time development team seems reasonable for this product category. I don't want Mozilla ceding desktop email as it did desktop browsing; and I especially don't want Mozilla by way of inaction helping cede email generally to centralized alternatives.

Your concern about desktop clients is an echo of Mozilla's challenge with web browsers—namely, they can't achieve a solid foothold on mobile because mobile is (currently) a walled garden. Until that is sorted out, Mozilla should redouble effort in the desktop space, where it is strongest. But for whatever it's worth, having not yet seen something like PAO [1] from Microsoft, I would love to see Mozilla move in that direction.

[1] http://tiamat.tsotech.com/pao

I use native Outlook on my Mac for work, connected to an Office 365 mailbox, and whenever I change my password, native Outlook pops up a little webview (instead of native username/password widgets) with our ADFS SAML flow [0]. We use Duo Security as our MFA solution on another SAML IdP we have (not ADFS, but Shibboleth), and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work within that Outlook webview in the event that we hooked it all up [1]. We also use some native Android/iOS apps (vendor apps, not in-house) where users log in with SAML, and thus could use Duo MFA.

TL;DR: web-based authentication is not just for full-fledged browsers that users type URLs into.

[0] https://blogs.office.com/en-us/2015/11/19/updated-office-365...

[1] https://duo.com/docs/adfs-30

If MS contiues the way they are going, anyone stuck using Outlook web client and has to do anything mildly advanced, like copy text, will be seeking out a desktop client.

Who says that Thunderbird can't become a mobile app too? Given more developer power, of course.

This is your experience, certainly not representative of any meaningful trends.


We don't have data, but Mozilla probably do. In lieu we can only guess based on our experiences.

How would Mozilla have the data? Do they embed analytics into all their products now?

Just one datum, but...download counts?

And call to update servers?

Especially since most emails worldwide aren’t decentralized since they rely on centralized webmails. As in, Google and fastmail could decide to swipe you and all proofs you’ve ever saved in your emails from the history. Thunderbird is the last way to download emails (...at least in an open format).

Both Google and fastmail support IMAP (and IIRC POPv3). There are a great _many_ clients (and backup scripts) that support these protocols. In light of this, how is Thunderbird the last way to download emails?

> Thunderbird is the last way to download emails

Google Takeout supports one-click exporting of emails to an open format; you just need to make sure to actually do it if you're interested.

You can archive your email by using something like this: https://github.com/gaubert/gmvault

If you're looking for something like fetchmail, I find fdm to be superior in just about every way: https://github.com/nicm/fdm

Most people use personal email for newsletters and when they forgot their password.

In the professional world, you either use some form of webmail or Outlook.

And here I was thinking I have been a professional developer for last 2 decades. But since I only touched Outlook at the very beginning of my career and still use webmail rarely, I guess I was only fooling myself ;)

Not all professionals are developers.

Your comment is incredibly mean. Mozilla isn't competing with other "charities", they are competing with Google, Apple and Microsoft, the world's largest corporations.

The Mozilla Foundation might be a not-for-profit corporation, but they have the same constraints as normal businesses ... they have to secure reliable sources of funding, they have to preserve their resources, they have to be smart about investments, they have to pay salaries because people need to put food on the table and they have to plan further than the next quarter.

And given the incredible progress of Firefox, I for one am glad that they've cut unproductive projects.

The current Thunderbird is terrible. It has been a good browser, it might still have life in it, its developers might manage to evolve it and make it awesome, however I haven't been able to use it for more than a week and believe me, I tried doing so, repeatedly.

I was sad to hear that Mozilla is dropping it, but then again, when I heard this news, I was already long gone as a user. Nowadays I'm split between FastMail's and Gmail's web interfaces and MailMate (freron.com), all of which are so much better for my needs, the difference ain't even funny.

Seriously, a web interface and a desktop client made by one guy from Denmark are better than Thunderbird. Thunderbird basically needs a complete overhaul, but then ask its 25 million users how they feel about that, after all, if they wouldn't want the current Thunderbird, they would've switched to something else.

Either TB has been critically underfunded or it hasn’t.

They are not competing against Google, they live mainly from their funding.

With the rise a Chrome and the fall of Firefox, I wounder why Google is still giving them money. Maybe the PR loss from pulling the plug would still be too big?

The best way to control your opposition is to organize it.

Perhaps that's the problem. Why are they "competing". Surely the facts of being a charitable organisation should make their focus working for the charitable aims rather than competing with anyone.

>The current Thunderbird is terrible. //

What cross-platform desktop clients are better [I note MailMate is Mac only]. I use a mix of webmail (Outlook, Horde on private server), and Thunderbird (connecting to IMAP accounts) and can't say it's that different an experience for me; it does seem very sub-optimal however.

How many full time devs work on TB?

> Why are they "competing"

You should probably read a book on how our economy works.

IMO claws-mail is better than thunderbird for e-mail.

Any specific features you believe makes it better than TB?

First impressions aren't great -- is Claws an "email should be text only" advocate? -- brief look and the default mail format being non-standard; and all the screenshots on the website showing text only emails; tools including a special script to order threads by date (how else would you order them?); and the latest amendments to those scripts being over a year old; most recent theme links to a website that's offline.

...um, the downloads are from a server without a cert (cert is self-signed for a different domain; and their bugzilla is http only too), think that's a nope from me. Not because of the cert exactly but because not getting that write for a group that are supposed to be dealing in internet security seems like an indication of neglect.

What do you mean with non-standard default mail format? Most mail I receive from Claws users seems perfectly fine, which is something you can't say for most other popular MUAs. Outlook and certain web mailers probably being the most egregious examples, only topped by some (thankfully rare) Android vendor mobile apps.

The TLS setup certainly sucks but OTOH, the actual distribution archives are all cryptographically signed. Most users don't get Claws Mail from the website anyway, but use their distro packages, whose maintainers have hopefully verified the signatures before importing a new release.

You need to enable a plugin for html mail, but the plugin ships with claws. Up until 2013 the best option was a janky GtkHtml based plugin (about as good as average html e-mail renderings from early 00s, so not good), the current one is webkit based and works great[1]

What do you mean by "default mail https://www.colino.net/wordpress/archives/2013/03/14/claws-m... being non-standard"?

you don't need a script to order threads by date, it's an option in the main menu.

It doesn't offer downloading over HTTPS, but a GPG signature is provided. Old-school, but not at all insecure.

Things it does better than TB:

TB has corrupted it's mail store on 3 separate occasions, in 3 different releases spread out over a decade. Claws has never done that. That's the reason I switched.

It's builtin filtering, sorting, &c. tools are really great. Full-text search is slower than I'd like, but header based searching is plenty fast (the mode I use most searches all of from/to/subject, which is mostly what I want to do). When I need to do full-text searching I fall back on notmuch.

My requirements for an e-mail client are fairly simple (in order of importance):

1) Let me read my mail

2) Don't lose my mail

3) Give me some reasonable way to automate the parts of my workflow that it makes sense to.

TB has failed so bad at #2, that I've not spent the time to explore how it is at #3. It's about equal at #1.

1: https://www.colino.net/wordpress/archives/2013/03/14/claws-m...

Excellent, thanks for such a detailed response.

Actually every e-mail client I've used has had its issues, including commercial ones. TB isn't great for composing fancy formatted e-mails; I haven't figured out how to bottom-post such e-mails at all.

Outlook seems to change lots of little things I don't care about every release, making it harder to use, since I can't gain familiarity well. Furthermore I hate corresponding with people who use it, since it puts a lot of effort into breaking threading.

Thunderbird is just not a reliable store of data; perhaps it's fine for people who IMAP and store data on the server, but it's not for me.

Which leads me into trojita; this is actually a fairly nice imap client, but I tend to keep my e-mail local, so I haven't used it much as my daily driver.

mutt is terminal-only which rules it out for a lot of people (note that terminal only doesn't rule out reading html e-mail, it just rules out reading html e-mail in a manner that looks any better than lynx/links2).

All of the notmuch frontends I've tried are kind of "the 10% of gmail that's easy to implement" and then abandoned. Bower has been both the most performant and the most stable, but it, like mutt, is terminal only, and is relatively feature-poor. I'd hack on it, but it's written in a statically-typed dialect of prolog that will probably take me weeks to learn.

Note that I actually use a modified form of notmuch-web for handling mailing-lists; threads come in tagged as unanswered, so people can easily see what needs to be responded to.

Pine is better than Thunderbird at this point.

Perhaps I'll go with mutt again?

You probably should. Unless you manage to find some other, more modern, MUA that you can programmatically integrate with your development workflow and that handles large volumes of mail without slowing to a crawl. Then use that, and please tell me about it.

> It must be one of the richest charities in the world with the billions of dollars of commission it earns from search from Google et al.

It's not even in the top 20 of U.S.-based charities:

Mozilla’s consolidated reported revenue (Mozilla Foundation, Mozilla Corporation and all subsidiaries) for CY 2016 was $520M (US), as compared to $421M in 2015.[0]

The Largest U.S. Charities For 2016[1]

1. United Way Worldwide, $3.708 billion.

2. Task Force for Global Health, $3.154 billion.

3. Feeding America, $2.150 billion.


20. American Heart Association, $634 million.

[0] https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/foundation/annualreport/2016/

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampbarrett/2016/12/14/the-...

When I read that comment, I thought "I see where you are coming from, but clearly you are exaggerating". Then you left your comment, which claims to disprove it, but has in fact conclusively demonstrated its truth. Mozilla is apparently competing favorably with the 20th largest charity in the entire US?! Yeah: this is like the American Heart Association saying "we finally have managed to allocate one full-time employee to look into the connection between sugar and heart issues" :/.

You do realize that there are a lot of non-profits, right? I went to a meeting in Santa Barbara that was just people representing various local non-profits (or people who were thinking of starting a non-profit), and the room was packed. I remembered them saying something like "there are almost a thousand non-profits right here in Santa Barbara". I just did a quick search, and found a site saying that there are estimated 400-1000 non-profits in Santa Barbara.

So yes: it is (apparently, as demonstrated by your "rebuttal"), entirely fair to say that Mozilla "is one of the richest charities in the world".

I was soo ready to agree with GP, in fact I upvoted them, because the rebuttal stands in my opinion (they aren't the richest in the world and they don't make 9 figures), but you are also so very right...

Why the eff haven't they hired a $120k/yr rounding error to work on the application? Maybe they have tried, but no one wanted the job (especially to do solo). There could be plenty of answers to this, but I wish they would have hired a team of developers.

My best guess is that Thunderbird has no internal sponsor: email is not sexy tech - Mozilla is made up of people, and people would rather work on cutting-edge compiler research, "IoT" or the money-maker (Fx).

You're probably right about having no internal sponsor, but I'm sure you could find some people that still find an email client sexy. Old boring tech seems to get some modern, trendy traction every once in awhile; Google Inbox, Sparrow, Airmail. For awhile Twitter clients were pushing the boundaries of UX and recently chat applications seem to have steam.

Firefox makes money for Mozilla. Thunderbird does not. QED.

> with the billions of dollars of commission it earns from search from Google

That's the Mozilla Corporation. That's not a charity. It also explicitly does not work on Thunderbird.

The charity is the Mozilla Foundation. It has a lot less money than that.

The developer position in question is being effectively paid by the Thunderbird Council (but officially hired by the Mozilla Foundation, which has the infrastructure to do legal compliance like payroll taxes in place). The Thunderbird Council has even less money than the Mozilla Foundation.

> I can't actually believe this is something they're excited to post a blog about.

The Thunderbird Council is excited to post about this, because this is the first hire they've done as far as I know.

> seriously wrong with the way they allocate resources.

Well, "Mozilla" (both the Corporation and the Foundation) has decided to not allocate resources to Thunderbird, period, though some Mozilla employees contribute to Thunderbird in their spare time, like any other open-source project. You can disagree with what the two Mozilla organizations are focusing on, but it's a pretty deliberate decision, not something falling out by accident or something, or a result of the organization being a "shambles".

Perception is reality, and a list of technical reasons why Mozilla won’t modestly support TB fails to impress.

I'm really not sure what you're trying to say.

"Mozilla" as an organization (both of the organizations involved) is providing pretty minimal support for TB, if any. They've been very upfront and explicit about it.

I was addressing why the blog post exists: it's not posted by "Mozilla", but by the people who are actually supporting TB.

This thread is about Mozilla failing to support apps which are crucial but perhaps not profitable, in contrast with their stated values. Tiny amounts in comparison to their other recent failures.

Being “upfront and explicit” doesn’t magically popularize unpopular choices.

This whole comment is incorrect.

Firstly, if you bother to read the OP, Mozilla hasn't chosen to hire anyone:

"The Thunderbird Project is hiring for a software engineer! [...] Please note that while the Thunderbird project is a group of individuals separate from the Mozilla Foundation that works to further the Thunderbird email client, the Mozilla Foundation is the Project’s fiscal home."

Secondly, Mozilla is not "one of the richest charities in the world"; the Mozilla Corporation may have $300 million a year in revenue, but the Mozilla Foundation, which is the charity, has revenues that are a hundredth of that. And US law is very specific about what charities may spend revenue on, and developing email client software is not on that list (nor is developing web browser software, for that matter).

When I saw the headline on HN, my first thought was: "Just the one?!"

A typical startup might deploy anywhere from 3 to 15 engineers on a product such as Thunderbird. Considering the amount of legacy it's saddled with, let alone the competing interests around e-mail in general, hiring a single engineer to work on this thing sounds like a token move at best, and likely a terrible waste of that person's time.

I had the same initial reaction, but in the post, it says "Since we are looking to fill one or more positions.."

I too believe they are neglecting a significant user base. Thunderbird could be a rock star product for Mozilla with many times more users (if not revenue.) It is very useful now, but the potential is immense.

So why is it being neglected? There is some history here; way back when Netscape was a kitchen sink, factoring the mail client out of the browser was an important and successful decision. The mail part, Thunderbird, became persona non grata for some; it certainly lost the bulk of the mind share to the browser.

However, I think the ongoing indifference is because there isn't a workable business model. Firefox is an advertising platform from which Mozilla earns hundreds of millions. It isn't clear how Thunderbird is supposed to earn.

> However, I think the ongoing indifference is because there isn't a workable business model. Firefox is an advertising platform from which Mozilla earns hundreds of millions. It isn't clear how Thunderbird is supposed to earn.

Wow, I’d wondered about that for years as well. I think you hit the nail on the head.

Mozilla likes to paint itself as a charity but it won’t even allocate .1% revenue to a non-profit project that it created and millions rely on.

Or was it Jamie who sank the ship?

Is it a charity? It's the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation. Despite some explanations I've received, I've never quite understood how the money flows there. I suppose I could look up their financial statements, but my understanding is that if you donate money to Mozilla, it won't be directly used for developing software.

A charity can't function like a normal business. Income to the charity must be donations, and it's OK to give something of low value back but you can't just "sell" stuff and make money. Hence, "Donate $250 and get this T-shirt".

But what you can do is have a _for profit_ company that makes T-shirts and sells them for $10, and then a charity which _owns_ the for-profit company and receives all of the profits as a donation from the for-profit. That's legal.

So, Mozilla has a corporation to do all the stuff a charity isn't allowed to do, and then a foundation which owns the for-profit corporation. Getting paid a pile of money by a Search Engine to make their engine your default is not a charitable donation, because there's a quid pro quo, so the Mozilla Corporation takes all the Google money, for example.

I think I'd describe the situation you give as "charities can make and sell stuff for profit but have to structure themselves as owners of a for-profit in order to do so".

I'm not familiar with US charity law, but it's worth noting that a charity in the UK can '"sell" stuff and make money' the key thing is what happens to the money made, it has to be directed to the charities registered aims - eg paying staff. They can't disperse profits, but they can pay phenomenal wages, some charity CEOs take home 7 figure wages [£3M was the highest wage in 2017, to a non C-grade too, https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/charity-pay-study-2017-highest...].

There are restrictions, charity shops can't get reductions on business rates if ordinary selling is a large part of their income, for example.

Correct. If you donate money it goes directly to the Mozilla Foundation, whereas it is the Mozilla Corporation who hires developers to work on Firefox, etc.

Yes, specially it’s “hourly contract”. Seems a cheap way to do business.

To piggyback off this how does their corporate structure work? Mozilla Foundation, 501(c)(3) owns a for-profit wholly? What is the purpose or advantage of this organization?

501(c)(3) literally means the Mozilla Foundation is tax exempt. That is what the section of the law establishes.

That places limits on what sorts of commercial agreements the foundation can make, among other things.

Mozilla isn’t trying to tax dodge like certain other companies; the Mozilla Corporation is taxable, hires engineers, and enters into search agreements.

The corporation being owned by the foundation means it is obligated to follow the foundation’s public benefit goals.

I'm familiar with tax exemption - my question is more surrounding any benefits of the way they're organized. They, for example could just be a benefit corporation. I doubt this would be better as donations would no longer be tax exempt, among other things.

I guess I'm just curious to the pros and cons of the way they're organized as of now.

Mozilla has always reaped a lot of benefits, PR-wise, out of the impression people form when they hear that it's a non-profit.

Are you implying it somehow is meaningfully different? Also, I actually tried asking my technically inclined friends and none of them were aware that Mozilla was a non-profit, to my surprise. So I can’t agree with either your premise or your conclusion.

> Are you implying it somehow is meaningfully different?

I don't know what you're asking. Different from what?

You think the fact that your friends have never heard that Mozilla is a non-profit contradicts what I wrote? I did not say that most people know that Mozilla is a non-profit. I didn't even say that most technical people would know that.

> one of the richest charities in the world with the billions of dollars of commission it earns from search from Google et al.

Care to elaborate? Genuinely interested.

IIRC they got at $300m/year for having Google as the search provider in the top right box.

Not only that, but they added a clause to their contract with Yahoo that let them get out of it while still forcing Yahoo to pay if Yahoo was purchased by another company. When Verizon bought Yahoo, Mozilla switched their default search engine back to Google. I believe they're receiving double pay from both search companies for the next year or two.

I remember when the Vz-Yahoo deal was going down, and realizing how all this would play out. That they got that deal, and now are reaping double pay like that...incredible.

Every year(?) all the big search engine providers make an $$$ offer to Mozilla to become the default search engine in Firefox for anyone who newly installs it.

richest charities? not even close? look at ikea.

How is Ikea a charity?

IIRC the brand is owned and licensed by a Dutch organization – legally a charity – created by the founder for tax avoidance purposes.

Yeah it's some blackhole of companies holding each other i don't even know how to picture how all this works without pen and paper.


Minute MBA has a really good explanation of their set-up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvxRePIv85Y

Great video, that's genius - good job to the lawyers and financial advisors

The issue is where the MONEY for Mozilla is coming from. It certainly is not from email clients. Firefox is the reason why Mozilla receives so much money, and it is obvious that they want to capitalize and concentrate their efforts on the browser. Considering that they're getting a lot of success on this effort, it is difficult to criticize them for doing this.

> The issue is where the MONEY for Mozilla is coming from. It certainly is not from email clients.

Maybe Mozilla ought to change their mission statement to "Maximize revenue" then: neglecting Thunderbird does not jibe with "Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all." The Internet is much more than the web - email is a huge part of it. Maybe I'm being naive, but IMO, money ought to be a means to an end for Mozilla, not the end unto itself.

Also, how much money did Mozilla get from IoT/FirefoxOS? I think it's close to $0, and yet they spent way more money on it than Thunderbird. I don't think your theory holds.

> The Internet is much more than the web - email is a huge part of it.

The sad part is that the vast majority of people have no idea this is the case. Email? Oh I just use gmail in my browser (rather than a client with SMTP and IMAP). Discussion groups? Oh I just use Google groups or some person's private walled forum in my browser (rather than usenet with NNTP). Chat? Oh I use Slack in my browser (rather than IRC with an IRC client).

You must be fun at parties.

Personal attacks will get you banned here, regardless of how wrong or un-fun someone else is. Please post civilly and substantively, or not at all.


With how unrealistic experience expectations can be for positions, It's nice to see they're looking at junior and senior candidates and have this line:

B.S. in Computer Science would be lovely, but real-world experience is preferred.

This title is inaccurate. Mozilla is _not_ hiring a developer to work on Thunderbird full-time. See below:

From the post:

" The Thunderbird Project is hiring for a software engineer!


Please note that while the Thunderbird project is a group of individuals separate from the Mozilla Foundation that works to further the Thunderbird email client, the Mozilla Foundation is the Project’s fiscal home. The Thunderbird Council, separate from Mozilla, manages the Project and will direct the software engineer’s work."

Do I understand correctly by interpreting that to mean:

"Mozilla is allocating funding to The Thunderbird Project to hire a developer to work on Mozilla Thunderbird"

i.e. the distinction is only relevant in terms of the direction of day-to-day work on the project. Or are Mozilla not funding this at all?

The following quotes seem to indicate that the distinction isn't really relevant in the context of the hiring process at least:

> send us your resume with a cover letter to apply@mozillafoundation.org.

> The successful applicant will be hired as freelancer (independent contractor) through the Mozilla Foundation’s third-party service Upwork

> By applying to this job, you are agreeing to have your applications reviewed [...] by staff members of the Mozilla Foundation.

No, the funds are Thunderbird's alone, originating from donations. Mozilla Foundation is just their fiscal home. Thunderbird Council went shopping for a new fiscal home for a while, even considering The Document Foundation, but decided to stay with MoFo: https://blog.mozilla.org/thunderbird/2017/05/thunderbirds-fu...

Isn't it Upwork are hiring a programmer to work a contract for Thunderbird?

Incidentally there was a post that was heavily critical of Upwork but is now "dead", it included points like:

>Then they take a 2.75% cut from the client, a 20% cut from the freelancer //

It seemed, factual, apposite, and informed; definitely strange it was killed.

> Isn't it Upwork are hiring a programmer to work a contract for Thunderbird?

The Mozilla Foundation just forces Thunderbird to use Upwork as the channel to hire people. I think it's obvious that if Thunderbird Council was able to decide, they would never use Upwork.

Good to know. The post really isn't too transparent about this...

The most important thing here is that there's now a serious plan in place to move Thunderbird off of XUL and XPCOM. If Thunderbird builds can happen without incurring the expense of building Gecko (and there's no reason that shouldn't be the ultimate goal), then community contributions in the form of code changes would likely increase several times over.

I have fond memories of XPCOM and XUL... Back in 04 we had a desktop application mostly a collection of C++ bindings to the Firebird database and for silly reasons I started the GUI with Gtk+ but as we continued to struggle with porting to Win32 (like we sell this to people in Win32 not Linux) and I started to find a need to embed web content (cause like we should have written the whole thing as a web app - native apps are silly). I recall hacking the event loop to get Gtk+ and gecko to play nice in Win32. Anyways, XPCOM allowing me to write IDL files and expose my C++ work as JavaScript was at the time amazing and allowed me to quickly rewrite most of the UI in XUL and keep all the SQL work we'd done such that if I recall correctly we were able to port the application some 500k lines of code over to XUL. This was right before XulRunner... I still to this day feel good things about IDL/XPCOM and XUL for converting to see the light with JavaScript and HTML. XUL is just like a basically less well supported version of HTML and so is that MS markup language and event Gtk+'s Glade is just an XML editor for a UI... I beleive even OSX via xcode has an underlying XML format to describe the UI... and IMO HTML is light years ahead for UI.

> and IMO HTML is light years ahead for UI

LOL. Last time I checked you still couldn't make an image fill the available space while keeping its aspect ratio :D

    img {
      width: 100%;
      height: auto;

That won't work right; it can overflow vertically. Consider the case of a 10x10 image in a container of width 500px and height 100px... Ideally you would want it to end up 100x100, but it will end up 500x500 with that CSS.

Wouldn't it be setting both "max-width" and "max-height" to 100%? Or the background-image / background-size hack.

Believe this is what people are looking for:


Nope. This determines how the image is rendered within the img element. The img element itself won’t be constrained in its aspect ratio. E.g. try adding a border or drop-shadow to the img and you’ll see the problem.

This works if you set "width: 100%; height: 100%", yes (and "object-fit: contain").

Nope. See my comment above.

Cyberdog: Now THERE was a cool web browser, email and news client. OpenDoc FTW!



This would not fit a skinny image to a fat container.

But yeah, HTML is like lightyears ahead of anything else :^)

> The most important thing here is that there's now a serious plan in place to move Thunderbird off of XUL and XPCOM.

Well it is only a six month contract for a single developer.

Sure, but the big thing is the "serious" part. We're basically talking about the patch paradox[1]. At any point in time, someone could have stepped up and made it known they were willing to do the necessary work to move off XUL. But without a similar commitment from upstream to accept a future involving a mail client built on web standard tech, it would be a wasted effort. Heck, Nylas even built their own such email client, relicensed it to a compatible license (GPL -> MIT), reached out to say, "please use this" and ask how they could help, and still nothing happened.

1. https://www.colbyrussell.com/2017/08/06/contributors-dilemma...

There're many decent web-based proprietary mail solutions, and I was really excited once Nylas Mail showed up, even though it's Electron-based. And then instantly disappointed by its license. Later, I was considering switching to Nylas Mail when they re-licensed their open-source client, but turned out by "please use this" they still require you to opt-in with Nylas Identity tied to Nylas Cloud[1] They could only help replace free (from mail vendors) Thunderbird, playing by the rules of the Thunderbird.

[1] https://github.com/nylas/nylas-mail/issues/3484

> but turned out by "please use this" they still require you to opt-in with Nylas Identity tied to Nylas Cloud

We're talking about Thunderbird development. When I wrote that they changed to a compatible license and reached out to say "please use this", that's not referring to their attempt to get users. That's a reference to their attempt to donate their code and energy towards improving Thunderbird.

> They could only help replace free (from mail vendors) Thunderbird, playing by the rules of the Thunderbird.


> That's a reference to their [Nylos]* attempt to donate their code and energy towards improving Thunderbird.

(*My edit in brackets) You meant towards improving Nylas Mail, not Thunderbird? If not, I don't get any sense in this argument, it sounds like Nylas was reaching out Mozilla to replace Thunderbird with their re-licensed Nylas Mail. I'm not sure that ever happened (and I'm not sure GPL is a totally suitable license for Mozilla Foundation[1]). If you made a typo and meant "Nylas Mail", then I get your argument about development, but I see how community (me included) would be reluctant to make any contributions into a not entirely free product without forking.

> Huh?

Simply put, I'm fully agree that upstream Thunderbird could clearly indicate their will to move off Gecko to stimulate code contributions from community. I see how it might work out for the already popular, long time-tested, free Thunderbird, but I don't believe Nylos Mail is the same case here.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Public_License

> My edit in brackets) You meant towards improving Nylas Mail, not Thunderbird?

No. What I wrote is what I meant.

> it sounds like Nylas was reaching out Mozilla to replace Thunderbird with their re-licensed Nylas Mail

Yes. (But not "replace", necessarily. Replace parts. Merge. Improve.)

> I'm not sure that ever happened

Uh, okay? If you hadn't heard that before, that's... fine. But, I mean, now you have. And I don't know what else to say.

> I'm not sure GPL is a totally suitable license for Mozilla Foundation

You're right; it's not. Thunderbird is MPL. They can't accept GPL contributions and continue to make releases available under MPL. That's why I specifically mentioned how Nylas relicensed their code to one that is compatible (MIT).

> I'm fully agree that upstream Thunderbird could clearly indicate their will to move off Gecko

I didn't say move off Gecko. I said dropping XUL. Moving off Gecko is almost definitely not in plans for the short term, and probably not even in the long term.

This conversation has been excruciating.

> Nylas relicensed their code to one that is compatible (MIT)

I was sure it's GPL, I missed that point.

> Uh, okay? If you hadn't heard that before, that's... fine.

> But, I mean, now you have. And I don't know what else to say.

> This conversation has been excruciating.

LOL, too much drama for the product below the radar. I can't even google anything about this proposal.

Sweeeeeeet. Maybe they'll be competitive with Mail.app. if they could match the speed and design of new Firefox, and support loading a bigger set of past emails than Mail.app can without performance issues, i'd love to use Thunderbird.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo! XUL is really cool. Still one of my favorite GUI kits. It is like electron (but actually native!) and had a good reason to be slow (spidermonkey wasn't super fast) :(

XPCOM kinda sucked but it is still better than MS COM

It's not that XUL was bad, exactly. But priorities have changed to security, battery life, and multi-threaded performance. The weight of XUL cruft that has built up over time was holding the project back.

Do you think using XML external entities declared in DTD files for localization was a good idea?


How was XPCOM better than MS COM? Feature set? Nope. Tooling? Nope. Language support? Nope. Ecosystem? Nope. OLE components? Nope. Distributed COM? Nope. Doesn't trigger knee-jerk anti-Microsoft reactionaries even though it's a shallow clone of Microsoft technology? Check.

Did you know that "decomification" was a word?


XPCOM was better mainly because it was Mozilla docs instead of Microsoft. I was doing MS COM in a previous job and I swear MSDN is written in sanskrit

I miss the old easter eggs Firefox had. https://www.mozilla.org/keymaster/gatekeeper/there.is.only.x...

about:mozilla still works.

Thank you for this. I had forgotten about the about: pages.

about:about shows that about:robots still works, at least

Thank you. I hadn't seen the about:robots page before.

and about:robots

Thank you for this. At least we can hope that Mozilla's version of SkyNet should at least be human friendly.

>The successful applicant will be hired as freelancer (independent contractor) through the Mozilla Foundation’s third-party service Upwork (www.upwork.com).

Not knowing much about Mozilla, is this the norm there?

It is the norm for the Foundation, yes. I was thinking of writing to them to let them know about the shady practices of Upwork, discussed in this blog post https://medium.com/@AdShadlabs/why-you-should-never-use-upwo... and its HN thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12773282

Looks like there was a downside to staying with MoFo after all.

It's a way to be cheap. And honestly hiring through Upwork is a terrible idea.

Lobsters has a nice little rant on upwork's humiliating experience.


> For hourly contracts they take random snapshots of your desktop in 10 minutes intervals and they measure your mouse movements and key presses to show your activity

I thought you might have been exaggerating, but that truly is utterly absurd! I just can't believe people actually work under such conditions!

I've used Upwork as a freelancer. The last part is false: they never charge transfer fees (at least in the US), and you typically receive funds in 1-2 weeks.

Being cheap is inconsistent with Mozilla's aims, surely? Value for money, yes, but not if it greatly risks employee satisfaction (for example).

I'm considering applying for this as I use Thunderbird for all my email, wrote a couple of XUL applications years ago, and have an Upwork account, and the first thing I need to do is to see what the source code and build process looks like: I've built Firefox and FirefoxOS before, and it was not trivial.

Their post has nothing about that, and the Thunderbird page at Mozilla also has no "Developers", "Source code" or similar link anywhere. That should be there at least in the page footer.

Ok, so here is the Mercurial repo and build instructions: https://hg.mozilla.org/comm-central/ https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Mozilla/Developer_g...

That link should be part of the job description.

The directory size (du -sh) is 148 MB after "hg clone", and 5.4 GB after "./client.py checkout".

7 million lines of code, Windows, Mac and Linux support… looks a lot of work for a single person.

There is likely a team working on this. The job posting said for someone to come on board.

And yes, hiring a single developer to work all alone by himself would be akin to killing the project itself as just understanding the codebase, design, technology and architecture would be too much for one person to handle.

We’re looking for an amazing developer to come on board to help make Thunderbird the best Email client on the planet!

Thunderbird was moved to "community development" with Mozilla providing only stability and security updates. https://web.archive.org/web/20161003075603/https://blog.mozi... In the interview it says that employees might only work on the project part-time.

Quite a bit of that code was shared between Thunderbird, Firefox and Seamonkey. But now Firefox don't want to play along any more, and dragging the other two along for the ride...

I fully believe that people should be wary of "just rewrite it mentality". However, in this case, when we've had a mostly-dormant Thunderbird for a long time, based on what is now an outmoded development toolkit (the outmoding of which supposedly had a non-trivial amount to do with security) backed by a very complex and large upstream codebase, which is itself in the process of being abandoned for next-gen solutions, is it really wiser to resurrect the old code?

I've used Thunderbird off and on since it was announced and I know that it has many advanced features. It's no slouch and I deeply respect that there's still a local mail and news client that somewhat works and sometimes gets a little bit of TLC. But the ecosystem is in shambles, and this is only going to get worse as Firefox diverges.

It would obviously take time for a serious revamp to reach parity, but Thunderbird needs a total skeletal reconstruction to pull it off life support and get people excited again. This is just upping the cholesterol meds.

All the other "client-side email software" applications in recent memory have been Electron apps. Surely Mozilla can do us one better, and build a revitalized Thunderbird with staying power on an appropriate modern stack? This seems like a great pilot project for a serious Rust-based desktop toolkit.

Here's how a Corporation like Ericsson fixes Thunderbird to make ends meet: https://github.com/Ericsson/exchangecalendar

IMHO Mozilla is missing out majorly by constraining themselves to the development of open source software, rather than services. With everything moving to the cloud, why doesn’t Mozilla build an awesome email cloud to compete with google but with perhaps better privacy and encryption features?

They could charge for this to recover operating costs and remain a “non profit”.

> They could charge for this to recover operating costs and remain a “non profit”.

Whether or not such charges were only to recover operating costs, they'd probably be treated as “unrelated business income” and thus taxable, at the gross amount, if Mozilla retained it's charity status.

It would make more sense to have the non-charity subsidiary do that.

Of course, finding the kind of money it would take to go head to head with Google would be a challenge in any case.

>They could charge for this to recover operating costs and remain a “non profit”. //

AIUI they could locate in the UK and charge as much as they like above the cost price and remain a charity. They couldn't pay shareholders as a charity however.

So... a ProtonMail clone?

Sure, why not?

Seems like a lot of effort just to recreate something that already exists.

This is good news to hear. I use Thunderbird daily and it's not a pleasant experience.

I've been using Thunderbird for the last 11 years daily at home and at work. Generally, it has been a remarkably stable and pleasant ride.

I remember a few bumps around 08..2010 where I ran beta builds because of some bugs. Also, I used to have extensions that colorized patches and highlighted quotes/threads... but those eventually broke and disappeared.

So, right now I am running a stock Thunderbird with a few profile customizations that tweak fonts (colors and sizes). Hitting GMail (work) and Fastmail (home) servers every minute or so.

Go Thunderbird!

It really needs to have the ability to add arbitrary numbers of physical addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers to a contact in the address book, as well as give each field an arbitrary name. Every other address book on the planet allows this. The fact that it can't makes it unusable for me.

It would also be nice to have a proper three vertical pane view. The way it currently works is horrendous.

>a proper three vertical pane view //

What's wrong with View > Layout > Vertical view? Not my preference, just curious what's different as superficially it looks like other such programs.

What makes your experience unpleasant? My pain point is that dragging attachments to folders doesn't work in Linux. It's been an open bug since 2007 and I've lost hope on that. https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/mozilla-thunderbir...

Everything else works as it should. I'm not using calendars or syncing address books which probably places me in the long tail of the user distribution.

It breaks the model that nearly every other email client uses where you can enter email1@example.com, email2@example.com, ...

and instead it provides an input box, one per line, per email address. When you have a large to list, this gets painful.

Works for me, it doesn't then separate the emails graphically before sending but it does send them to the multiple addresses (the sent, and received messages can be opened as "Edit as new" and the addresses appear on separate lines).

Did Thunderbird ever get the major rewrite that was talked about several years ago?

I don't have any details. I just heard they were planning a major rewrite when I reported a bug a long time ago (over 10 years ago) and in the bug tracker the conclusion was that fixing it should be done as part of the major rewrite that was upcoming.

For anyone curious, here's the bug (from memory).

I had a host with a POP3 mail server running on the normal POP3 port. That host also had a second POP3 mail server on a different port [1].

I tried to set up two email accounts in Thunderbird, one for a POP3 account for user tzs on that host on the standard POP3 port, and the other for tzs on that host on the second port.

The second account could not be created because it said that I already had a tzs POP3 account on that host. Thunderbird was using user/host as a unique account key, rather than the more correct user/host/port (or the even more correct user/host/protocol/port).

I reported this as a bug, figuring that this would be an easy fix. At worst somewhat tedious but no challenge. Soon someone marked the bug as a possible duplicate, linking to a bug from a couple years earlier that was also due to user/host being assumed unique.

In the discussion one of the developers said that the user/host as key assumption was hardwired into the code in too many places, but that was one of the things being redone in the upcoming rewrite.

[1] The second server wasn't actually on that host. That host was using an SSH tunnel to make my work POP3 server appear on my LAN.

The most practical, logical, obvious move would to be to reimplement Thunderbird as an Electron app.

But of course that would be untenable for Mozilla because it would be admitting defeat to Chrome.

The problem is that Mozilla has no alternative to Electron. There are a number of false starts and head fakes, but none of them have any buy in or support or future.

What would it take for Mozilla to build an Electron-like runtime with Firefox?

They tried: "This project is an Electron-compatible app shell for creating desktop apps based on Gecko, the rendering engine used in Firefox." https://github.com/mozilla/positron

but they failed: "As noted in the blog post Positron Discontinued [1], this project has been discontinued. The source remains available, and you're welcome to reuse it." [1] https://mykzilla.org/2017/03/08/positron-discontinued/

That's exactly what I meant by false starts and head fakes.

In fact, xulrunner was another much earlier attempt at developing an Electron-like platform, but Mozilla's heart just wasn't in it, and they didn't care about or adequately support third party developers who were trying to develop applications with it, like TomTom Home for example (which I worked on).

Xulrunner was never meant to be a platform for desktop or embedded apps the way WebKit was -- its singular purpose was to support the desktop version of Firefox.

Which is exactly how Thunderbird got into the hopeless dead-end situation it's in right now. Its best move would be to switch to Electron, which is impossible only because of the obvious political reasons.

There's no reason to expect Mozilla to ever support any other Electron-like platform any better than they did xulrunner.

Will, commitment, follow through, etc.

I dream that someday Mozilla will fully commit into developing a similar platform on the basis of the Servo/Quantum. This would allow to quickly mockup highly parallel and fortunately high-performance applications based on web-technologies, e.g. Rust engine via WebAssembly and HTML5+/CSS3+ layout.

Just like we dreamed that Mozilla would someday fully commit to supporting xulrunner, when we were working on TomTom Home.

In the mean time: wake up, smell the coffee, and use Electron. Problem already solved!

Can't graphene be used for that in the future?

I wonder if they will oxidize(oxidate? rustify) it...

There need to be a very compelling reason to rewrite 7 million lines of code in a different language. The fact that there were enough of those to rewrite Firefox doesn't mean that it makes sense for other projects.

Does that 7 million lines include the browser? I know an email client is a big project but even so that seems a lot.

As I said to the sibling, the nice thing is you don't need to rewrite in rust, you can refactor into it slowly

Firefox hasn't been rewritten, only parts.

They listed C++ in the description, but not Rust. It would be cool if they did do a Rust re-write though.

They also mention XUL, which as I understand it isn't part of Firefox any longer.

XUL is still part of Firefox and will be for a long time to come. However, add-on authors can't use it any longer.

Well, the nice thing is you don't need to rewrite in rust, you can refactor into it slowly

I prefer the term "rusticate".

It'd be nice if they mentioned how much the position pays.

I asked around about that, and the consensus was: 'As far as paying contractors, the answer is probably "not enough", since they generally seem to consider "warm fuzzy feelings from working on the Open Web" to be part of compensation".'

As much as I think the action is commendable I have my questions about the role of an email client in today's market

Maybe they should think about how to make a mobile version of it. Still a mail client is a "solved problem". Most of email's problems are behind the client, not on it (like spam control)

I'm asking this as a legitimate question. If it's a "solved problem", what's the solution?

I'm personally a reluctant Thunderbird user. I use it, I don't mind it all that much, but I can't say it's a delightful experience to use. But it does give me access to my email when I'm offline, and it lets me do GPG for sensitive email.

If Thunderbird solved your problem there's your solution

And I agree, it's not very nice to use

But at some point, there isn't much a mail client can do as it's limited by the tech and the stack

A solved problem is not a sports car, it's the 10year old car that costs 1k. Very few people want to pay for a mail client

Meanwhile paid email clients are probably the most successful group of apps on macOS store...

But I'm sure you have analytics sources to prove your assertion :)

> And I agree, it's not very nice to use

That's... that feels like the road to accepting mediocrity.

> A solved problem is not a sports car, it's the 10year old car that costs 1k. Very few people want to pay for a mail client

I fully admit that I drive a '91 Ranger :). I don't know that I call it a solved problem though, because 4WD would be really nice to have in the winter.

The mail client thing is interesting re: paying for it though. I guess I technically pay for Outlook as part of my Office 365 subscription, although I don't think much of it. The really hard part for me paying for a mail client is that most of the new paid ones I've seen come out in the last couple years have all been Electron-based, and memory/battery hogs. Outlook's not much better on that front (I think the Mac one, which I use occasionally, idles at about 900MB of RAM).

Thunderbird isn't a great solution to my problem. It's just the least bad, and there doesn't seem to be anyone willing to take my money for something better.


Almost certainly not. I imagine it's going to go the same route Firefox went when it dropped XUL.

Huh, I was going to post this story, but I thought it was not allowed because it's a job posting and I had to wait until the Who is Hiring thread.

So, if posting jobs for working on free applications is ok outside of Who Is Hiring, let me try to advertise this job for another free email client, Mailpile, which got killed when I tried to post it earlier:


I currently use Evolution for email, which is ok and I've gotten used to its limitations, but I would love a more modern client!

Edit: I guess it's not ok. I'm confused.

Thunderbird is a popular mail client that has at times had a pretty uncertain future. I imagine that azdle posted this less as a notification of a job listing and more as a sign that Thunderbird is going to stick around and evolve. That's the difference.

I see. Those things, except for the popularity, also apply to Mailpile. I guess that's the big difference.

The Mozilla foundation is also a registered 501(c)(3). Is Mailpile? I don't see anything about that on your page?

No, Mailpile isn't a charity.

But the Mozilla foundation isn't the one fronting money for this job, is it? Doesn't that money come from the Mozilla Corporation? Hm, the job ad says that MoFo is the fiscal home, but the candidate will be hired via UpWork.

I'm really a bit confused about how money flows around Mozilla.

The money does not come from Corp, TB is moving away from Corp infrastructure. The money comes from donations: https://blog.mozilla.org/thunderbird/2017/05/thunderbirds-fu...

>The money comes from donations //

The money presumably came from selling FF users to Google but Mozilla Corp decided spending on TB was wasting money.

Whose driving this at Mozilla Corp? Seems like a sea-change to very money & business orientated position, like Mozilla's is basically being privatised and unprofitable (in the financial sense) parts are being ditched.

The "Key Issues" of the Mozilla Foundation (https://www.mozilla.org/en-GB/foundation/issues/) appear to fit well with providing a FOSS email client, as otherwise people are going to go with Google/MS/Apple primarily which moves email in a way that contradicts the aims laid out there.

[Interesting that the Mozilla Foundation use Google for hosting files (eg https://mzl.la/foundation-strategy), seems a bit contradictory.]

If you think something is a bad post, you can flag it and/or mail the mods. It shouldn't be too confusing that making your own bad post isn't the optimal response.

For what it's worth, I agree with you this thing is a bad post - it's just a job ad. You can try to divine what Mozilla's Thunderbird plans are from it but that's true for lots of job ads, they're still job ads. An article about Mozilla's actual Thunderbird plans could be a good article, even if it had links to job ads.

I think the original article is ok, since it is generally interesting (news about Thunderbird, opens discussion about Thunderbird, Mozilla, their technologies) and not just a job ad.

I don't know of a rule against job ads in general. I would guess generally such would be mostly just not interesting.

YC company job listings are a special case though, they appear on the front page without voting possibility. This had been the case since the beginning of HN.

Well, the Mailpile job ad also says that they're trying to make it easier to install on Windows and macOS and that they got the funds from the bitcoin fluctuations. It's also not "just" a job ad.

Mailpile is interesting because it's trying to give a convenient frontend for encryption. Maybe if encryption had a better UI, more email would be encrypted.

Jobs post are not allowed. From the FAQ: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

> Can I post a job ad?

> Please don't post job ads as submissions to HN.

> A regular "Who Is Hiring?" thread appears on the first weekday of each month. Most job ads are welcome there. [...]

> The other kind of job ad is reserved for YC-funded startups. [...]

But IMHO this is an special case that deserve an exception. (Usually following the rules the 100% of the time blindly is not optimal.)

This is a very big/popular project, and it is the first hire, so the are changing the internal organization of the developers. (The #87 hire will not be interesting.)

Thanks - I was obviously too lazy to check our the FAQ.

Edit: I guess it's not ok. I'm confused.

Your post is essentially offtopic. You should submit it as a separate topic.

I switched to Kmail around the time Mozilla said they stopped actively developing Thunderbird. Is it a change in their attitude?

Does Kmail have full support for sending html email yet? I stopped using it when the dev response to requests to add it was "email should be text only". Genuine question, I try to audition a new client each year, this year perhaps I'll give Kmail another go?

Kmail sends HTML just fine.

I now use em client, but I'd love thunderbird interface to evolve to go back to it.

Finally, a full time developer on Thuderbird? What was it all thsi time, zero fulltime developers? Embarrassing!

Holy moly!

Maybe now we can finally have the bug fixed where Thunderbird displays random stuff from the email body in the Inbox tree's From and Date fields (instead of the proper envelope sender and MTA timestamp from the Return-Path and final Received headers).

I hope they hire a full-time Firefox developer next. I'm going to upgrade to Quantum (currently my apt-get is holding Firefox 54) as soon as accidentally hitting CTRL-Q instead of CTRL-W on Linux doesn't activate a magical Linux-only hotkey that blows up the whole Firefox browser and looses all of your web-related work.

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