Planet Mozilla – MesQuilla Messaging with Mozilla by rkent Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:58:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Caspia Projects and Thunderbird – Open Source In Absentia Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:20:41 +0000 Read More »]]>
People of Thunderbird - Chinook Nation

Clallam Bay is located among various Native American tribes where the Thunderbird is an important cultural symbol.

I’m recycling an old trademark that I’ve used, Caspia, to describe my projects to involve Washington State prisoners in open-source projects. After an afternoon of brainstorming, Caspia is a new acronym “Creating Accomplished Software Professionals In Absentia”.
What does this have to do with Thunderbird? I sat in a room a few weeks ago with 10 guys at Clallam Bay, all who have been in a full-time, intensive software training program for about a year, who are really interested in trying to do real-world projects rather than simply hidden internal projects that are classroom assignments, or personal projects with no public outlet. I start in April spending two days per week with these guys. Then there are another 10 or so guys at WSR in Monroe that started last month, though the situation there is more complex. The situation is similar to other groups of students that might be able to work on Thunderbird or Mozilla projects, with these differences:1) Student or GSOC projects tend to have a duration of a few months, while the expected commitment time for this group is much longer.

2) Communication is extremely difficult. There is no internet access. Any communication of code or comments is accomplished through sneakernet options. It is easier to get things like software artifacts in rather than bring them out. The internal issues of allowing this to proceed at all are tenuous at both facilities, though we are further along at Clallam Bay.

3) Given the men’s situation, they are very sensitive to their ability to accumulate both publicly accessible records of their work, and personal recommendations of their skill. Similarly, they want marketable skills.

4) They have a mentor (me) that is heavily engaged in the Thunderbird/Mozilla world.

Because they are for the most part not hobbyists trying to scratch an itch, but rather people desperate to find a pathway to success in the future, I feel a very large responsibility to steer them in the direction of projects that would demonstrate skills that are likely to be marketable, and provide visibility that would be easily accessible to possible future employees. Fixing obscure regressions in legacy Thunderbird code, with contributions tracked only in and BMO, does not really fit that very well. For those reasons, I have a strong bias in favor of projects that 1) involve skills usable outside the narrow range of the Mozilla platform, and 2) can be tracked on github.

I’ve already mentioned one project that we are looking at, which is the broad category of Contact manager. This is the primary focus of the group at WSR in Monroe. For the group at Clallam Bay, I am leaning toward focusing on the XUL->HTML conversion issue. Again I would look at this more broadly than just the issues in Thunderbird, perhaps developing a library of Web Components that emulate XUL functionality, and can be used both to easily migrate existing XUL to HTML, but also as a separate library for desktop-focused web applications. This is one of the triad of platform conversions that Thunderbird needs to do (the others being C++->JavaScript, and XPCOM->SomethingElse).

I can see that if the technical directions I am looking at turn out to work with Thunderbird, it will mean some big changes. These projects will mostly be done using GitHub repos, so we would need to improve our ability to work with external libraries. (We already do that with JsMime but poorly). The momentum in the JS world these days, unfortunately, is with Node and Chrome V8. That is going to cause a lot of grief as we try to co-exist with Node/V8 and Gecko. I could also see large parts of our existing core functionality (such as the IMAP backend) migrated to a third-party library.

Our progress will be very slow at first as we undergo internal training, but I think these groups could start having a major impact on Thunderbird in about a year.


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Is Mozilla an Open Source Project? Tue, 21 Jul 2015 05:13:24 +0000 Read More »]]> At the 2015 Community Leadership Summit, keynote speaker Henrik Ingo asked what he intended to be a trick question:

Everybody knows that Redhat is the largest open source company by revenue, with 1.5 billion dollars per year in revenue. What is the second largest open source company?

Community Leadership Summit 2015

Community Leadership Summit 2015

It took awhile before someone came up with the correct answer – Mozilla! Why is this a trick question? Because people don’t view Mozilla as an open source software company! Even in an open-source friendly crowd, people need to be reminded that Mozilla is open source, and not another Google or Apple. The “open source” brand is getting ever more powerful, with hot new technologies like OpenStack, Docker, and node.js adopting the foundation-owned open source model, while Mozilla seems to be drifting away from that image.

The main point of Henrik’s talk was that projects that are “open-source” while dominated by a single company show limited growth potential when compared to projects where there is an independent foundation without any single dominating company. Mozilla is an odd model, with a company that is dominated by a foundation (at least in theory). It seems though that these days, what has emerged is a foundation that is dominated by a company, exactly the model that Henrik claims limits growth. As that company gets more and more “professional” (acting like a company), it gets harder to perceive Mozilla to be anything other than another big tech company.

Something has changed at Mozilla, that I don’t really understand. Not that I have any inside knowledge (Thunderbird folks like me don’t get invited to large Mozilla gatherings any more), but is this really the brand image that Mozilla wants? I doubt it. Hopefully people smarter than me can figure out how to fix it, as there is still something about Mozilla that many of us love.

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Fixing QuickText addon for Thunderbird Wed, 15 Jul 2015 17:01:45 +0000 Read More »]]> The popular QuickText addon has not been updated for Thunderbird 38 and no longer works. As a user of that addon, I wanted to make it work again. This post provides instructions on how to do that.

The addon has no license mentioned, and unfortunately that defaults to “all rights reserved”. That means that I cannot provide the modified source to download, but I can under “Fair Use” describe the needed changes, that you can do yourself. They are trivial (at least for my use case). I will describe the changes for the non-Pro version but presumably they are the same for the Pro version. The only problem is that the template file is written in one format, but is read in a different format so that it does not work.

To edit the source, first you need to uncompress it. The QuickText .xpi file is just a renamed .zip file, so extract this file with your favorite zip utility (I use 7-zip). Find the file named components/wzQuicktext.js Find the line (near line 570) that looks like this:

if (bomheader == "\xFF\xFE" || bomheader == "\xFE\xFF")

Modify that line by adding an additional condition to be this:

if (bomheader == "\xFF\xFE" || bomheader == "\xFE\xFF" || bomheader.length == 1)

That’s it! Now you just have to select all of the files in the addon, and put them back into a ZIP archive re-named as .xpi

I changed a few other meta details such as the version number and compatibility, so here is a link to the actual patch that I use:

I’ll keep contacting the author trying to either get the official version modified, or a release that allows me to modify it. But you should be able to do this yourself and run a modified version.

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Thunderbird Summit in Toronto to Plan a Viable Future Wed, 15 Oct 2014 04:17:31 +0000 Read More »]]> On Wednesday, October 15 through Saturday, October 19, 2014, the Thunderbird core contributors (about 20 people in total) are gathering at the Mozilla offices in Toronto, Ontario for a key summit to plan a viable future for Thunderbird. The first two days are project work days, but on Friday, October 18 we will be meeting all day as a group to discuss how we can overcome various obstacles that threaten the continuing viability of Thunderbird as a project. This is an open Summit for all interested parties. Remote participation or viewing of Friday group sessions is possible, beginning at 9:30 AM EDT (6:30 AM Pacific Daylight Time)  using the same channels as the regular weekly Thunderbird status meetings.

Video Instructions: See for details.

Overall Summit Description and Agenda: See

Feel free to join in if you are interested in the future of Thunderbird.

Thunderbird’s Future: the TL;DR Version Thu, 31 Jul 2014 20:16:34 +0000 Read More »]]> In the next few months I hope to do a series of blog posts that talk about Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client and its future. Here’s the TL;DR version (though still pretty long). These are my personal views, I have no authority to speak for Mozilla or for the Thunderbird project.

Current Status

  • Thunderbird usage is growing, we have a strong core team, and expect to remain relevant to the internet for the foreseeable future. Thunderbird is mission critical to tens of millions of users.
  • The last two “community-developed” Thunderbird releases, 24 and 31, while successful as stability releases, had few new features. The enormous effort required to maintain that stability left little time for feature development.
  • Thunderbird is an important piece, under the Mozilla Manifesto, of maintaining an open internet. But it is not “The Web” and is outside of the current Mozilla Mission of “Our mission is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web.” Mozilla and the Thunderbird team need to better define the implications of that.
  • Mozilla’s strategic focus on a “Web” that excludes Thunderbird has indirectly resulted in dis-empowerment of the Thunderbird team in a variety of ways. This is becoming an existential threat to the product that needs addressing.

Where We Need to Go

  • Thunderbird should be a full-featured desktop personal information management system, incorporating messaging, calendar, and contacts. We need to incorporate the calendaring component (Lightning) by default, and drastically improve contact management.
  • We should be actively promoting open internet standards in messaging, calendaring, and contacts through product implementations as well as advocacy and standards development.
  • Our product should continually adapt to changing internet usage patterns and issues, including messaging security challenges and mobile interoperability.
  • We need to focus on the needs of our existing user base through increased reliability and performance, as well as adding long-requested features that are expected of a full-featured application.

How We Get There

  • Three full-time developers are needed to ensure a stable core base, and allow forward progress on the minimum feature set expected of us.
  • We cannot reasonably expect Firefox and MoCo to subsidize our operations, so we need to raise income independently, through donations directly from our users.
  • We are proudly Mozillians and expect to remain under the Mozilla umbrella, but the current governance structure, reporting through a Web-focused corporate management, is dis-empowering and needs conversion to a community-focused model that is focused on the needs of Thunderbird users.
  • We should ask MoFo to fund one person on the Thunderbird team to serve as an advocate for open messaging standards, contributing product code as well as participating publicly in standards development and discussions.

The Thunderbird team is currently planning to get together in Toronto in October 2014, and Mozilla staff are trying to plan an all-hands meeting sometimes soon. Let’s discussion the future in conjunction with those events, to make sure that in 2015 we have a sustainable plan for the future.


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Following Wikipedia, Thunderbird Could Raise $1,600,000 in annual donations Thu, 17 Jul 2014 06:31:26 +0000 Read More »]]> What will it take to keep Thunderbird stable and vibrant? Although there is a dedicated, hard-working team of volunteers trying hard to keep Thunderbird alive, there has been very little progress on improvements since Mozilla drastically reduced their funding. I’ve been an advocate for some time that Thunderbird needs income to fulfill its potential, and that the best way to generate that income would be to appeal directly to its users for donations.

One internet organization that has done this successfully has been Wikipedia. How much income could Thunderbird generate if they received the same income per user as Wikipedia? Surely our users, who rely on Thunderbird for critical daily communications, are at least as willing to donate as Wikipedia users.

Estimates of income from Wikipedia’s annual fund raising drive to users are around $20,000,000 per year. Recently Wikipedia is reporting 11824 M pageviews per month and 5 pageviews per user. That results in a daily user count of 78 million users. Thunderbird by contrast has about 6 million daily users (using hits per day to update checks), or about 8% of the daily users of Wikipedia.

If Thunderbird were willing to directly engage users asking for donations, at the same rate per user as Wikipedia, there is a potential to raise $1,600,000 per year. That would certainly be enough income to maintain a serious team to move forward.

Wikipedia’s donation requests were fairly intrusive, with large banners at the top of all Wikipedia pages. When Firefox did a direct appeal to users early this year, the appeal was very subtle (did you even notice it?). I tried to scale the Firefox results to Thunderbird, and estimated that a similar subtle appeal might raise $50,000 – $100,000 per year in Thunderbird. That is not sufficient to make a significant impact. We would have to be willing to be a little intrusive, like Wikipedia, it we are going to be successful. This will generate pushback, as has Wikipedia’s campaign, so we would have to be willing to live with the pushback.

But is it really in the best interest of our users to spare them an annual, slightly intrusive appeal for donations, while letting the product that they depend on each day slowly wither away? I believe that if we truly care about our users, we will take the necessary steps to insure that we give them the best product possible, including undertaking fundraising to keep the product stable and vibrant.

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The Thunderbird Tree is Green! Fri, 11 Jul 2014 19:05:21 +0000 For the first time in a while, the Thunderbird build tree is all green. That means that all platforms are building, and passing all tests:

The Thunderbird build tree is green!

The Thunderbird build tree is green!

Many thanks to Joshua Cranmer for all of his hard work to make it so!

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Real Men do Build Engineering (A Real Threat to Thunderbird) Wed, 23 Oct 2013 18:09:29 +0000 Read More »]]> When I was first getting involved in Thunderbird, I recall reading a post from early leader Scott MacGregor that puzzled me. When the project was essentially a two-person project, he said that the next person they needed was a build engineer. I had always thought of that as a backwater for people who couldn’t do real coding.

How my thinking has changed! As we look to the future of the Thunderbird project, it is clear that the main threat at the moment is losing control of the build process. These days, it takes a PhD candidate in computer science (Joshua Cranmer) to understand building Thunderbird, and keep it building. I’m not sure we are winning the battle, though  Joshua assures me that he and Standard8 have a Grand Plan to make it all better.

As for me, I’ve committed myself to improving my record in doing code reviews, which so far has been dismal. I’d like to give 20% of my time back to the core project, and a significant fraction of that should be doing code reviews. But I can’t keep comm-central compiling in 8 hours per week, which makes it very hard to do reviews.

<rant>It seems there is some project over on mozilla-central to replace the build process with some python-based thingy. “Just do mach (insert short command)” is the answer to everything in mozilla-central world. If it works, great. If it does not work (and it never works on comm-central), then you have to call your PhD-candidate build expert to make any sense of the problem. In the old days, where standard unix tools were used, you at least had a hope of googling your problem, and getting some hint of the issue. Now you have to pour over multiple files of python with multiple levels of abstracted variables, none of which I understand.</rant>

Here is today’s typical error:

Reticulating splines...
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "./config.status", line 881, in <module>
  File "c:\tb\1-central\src\mozilla\build\", line 126, in config_status
    summary = backend.consume(definitions)
  File "c:\tb\1-central\src\mozilla\python\mozbuild\mozbuild\backend\", line 194, in consume
  File "c:\tb\1-central\src\mozilla\python\mozbuild\mozbuild\backend\", line 333, in consume_object
    CommonBackend.consume_object(self, obj)
  File "c:\tb\1-central\src\mozilla\python\mozbuild\mozbuild\backend\", line 87, in consume_object
    self._test_manager.add(test, flavor=obj.flavor)
  File "c:\tb\1-central\src\mozilla\python\mozbuild\mozbuild\backend\", line 68, in add
    assert path.startswith(self.topsrcdir)
configure: error: c:/tb/1-central/src/mozilla/configure failed for mozilla
*** Fix above errors and then restart with               "c:/mozilla-build/python/python.exe c:/tb/1-central/src/mozilla
/build/pymake/pymake/../ -f build"

So, are there any Real Men out there (or even Real Women) that want to be a hero, and save our project? Or am I going to have to become a Python build expert to do anything at all in Thunderbird?


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The proxy debate over paid addons Thu, 17 Oct 2013 23:17:45 +0000 Read More »]]> I recently received a review of my ExQuilla addon for Thunderbird with the glowing report “It works well, I’ll give you that. No more, no less”. Should be 5 stars, right? No, the addon got 2.

This is the proxy battle over whether there should be paid addons in the Mozilla ecosystem, fought by trashing the ratings of paid addons. The reviewer gave me 2 stars because he believes “Please find purchasers from paid email software, not in an open source software.” He also complained about my response to an earlier reviewer who gave ExQuilla one star because, even though it “works great”, but “i’m really angry against Mozilla for not highlitning (sic) the paying extensions when you download it” (My earlier comment was: “It’s unfortunate that ExQuilla reviews are being used a a proxy for a debate about the philosophy of paid extensions. A better venue would be to send emails to”)

ExQuilla provides support to allow Thunderbird to work with Exchange server. Anyone using Exchange server and ExQuilla is already embedded in the paid software world.

So what do you think, Mozilla? Is it really such a sin to seek to earn some income?After all, I’ve spent years doing patches in Thunderbird without pay, and I have plenty of other free addons for Thunderbird. “I don’t believe we should subsidize businesses who want free software” was how Mitchell put the situation to me privately when Mozilla drastically reduced their support for Thunderbird, and I agree with that completely. Is it so terrible to ask users to pay for their software with cash instead of indirectly by selling their privacy (which is what most so-called “free” open source software apps do)?

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Mesquilla is releasing a Calendar EWS Provider addon compatible with ExQuilla Thu, 26 Sep 2013 22:43:13 +0000 Read More »]]> Recently we learned that the “Exchange 2007/2010/2013 Provider” addon is no longer being developed, and the final version did not fully support Thunderbird 24 and Exchange Server 2013 & Office365. While eventually we intend to fully integrate Calendar and Task support into ExQuilla, at the moment that support is incomplete and experimental, so many of our customers had relied on the now-abandoned addon. So as a convenience to our customers, we have forked and updated that addon to provide a version that works with current Thunderbird and Microsoft Exchange, as well as includes better compatibility with ExQuilla. We call this new fork the “Calendar EWS Provider”. Since the original addon is released GPL, so is this one, with code on Bitbucket here.

This addon is currently considered to be beta quality (version 3.2.0-Beta47 as of today, continuing the versioning of the predecessor addon), but you may download the current version from this link:

Calendars configured using the previous addon will not work with this fork, so if you are a current user of the Exchange Provider addon, you should remove any calendars from that and uninstall it before installing the “Calendar Ews Provider” addon (also called ewscalendar for short).

Calendar EWS Provider differs from its predecessor in the following ways:

  1. Because ExQuilla already includes Contacts and GAL support, that was removed.
  2. The storage of passwords has been made compatible with ExQuilla, so if you use ExQuilla on the same account the password is only stored once.
  3. Naming has been changed to remove support links to the previous developer, and replace them with current links.
  4. Various issues and bugs that we have uncovered have been fixed, including issues of compatibility with Office365 and Thunderbird 24. The new xpi file claims compatibility with both Thunderbird 17 and Thunderbird 24.
  5. Because this is a fork with changed capabilities and not a continuation of the existing addon, we felt that internal identifiers needed to be changed to reduce the possibility of conflict with the original addon, though we still do not recommend that you attempt to run both at once.
  6. When creating new calendar entries, the EWS server parameters are copied from the equivalent ExQuilla values if an ExQuilla email is selected. So you should not have to do autodiscover again or manually enter server parameters when adding calendars to existing ExQuilla accounts.
  7. Addon updates now follow the standard Mozilla addon UI (while the previous addon had a custom solution), with updates coming automatically from the site if you download from there.

Although it would be convenient if the Calendar EWS Provider addon was distributed directly with ExQuilla, the GPL license prevents that, so users must do a separate download and installation. But at the same time, ExQuilla is not required for its operation, so you are free to use this addon for Calendaring without using ExQuilla.

We would appreciate testing of this addon by potential users and reporting of experiences. However, this is new code for us, and considered to be a temporary solution (where “temporary” is approximately 1 year), so we may not be able to immediately attend to all reported issues. Please use the new “Calendar EWS Provider” forum here for any comments or support requests.

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