I read a bunch of posts on how Mozilla is setting the Thunderbird client free to pursue a semi-independent destiny (I’ll cite Om’s piece as I thought it was good and succinct). I think this is a really interesting move for Mozilla to make for a couple of reasons:
1. Most application development is so focused on the web that desktop clients are becoming orphans. What is the last desktop application you downloaded and said “wow” in terms of its impact? In particular, the email client space has been ceded to Microsoft in much the same way the browser market was ceded to them back in the day. I think the barrier for making a great desktop messaging application is quite high because a lot of Outlook users live by it in the enterprise and would have a hard time switching to a new mail client unless it supported all of the basics (group calendaring, email, tasks, etc) and offered some real benefits. The email client space is ripe for innovation, even if the value of winning in this market is no longer as clear as it once was. Despite the trend to move more and more email into the cloud, there are a meaningful number of people who still enjoy a rich client experience.
2. While the volume of useful email I receive is more or less constant, the number of total communications streams I’d like to monitor increases every day. I now subscribe to about 200 feeds, have a few hundred friends on Facebook, have a few friends who Twitter, and have lots of other information sources I’d like to track. A centralized messaging client (which did something nifty with email, RSS, instant messaging, and social network updates) would be a nice application to have.
So, I think the Thunderbird team has its work cut out for it but there is certainly an opportunity to do more with email clients.