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Mozilla Labs absorbs Thunderbird group

Mozilla will continue to develop the standalone e-mail software, but a lot of the new attention focuses on Web-based communications.

Mozilla, which had hoped its Thunderbird e-mail software would rise to financial self-sufficiency like its better-known Firefox project, unveiled a Plan B yesterday that instead increases the organization's focus on other communication technology.

The Thunderbird group, called Mozilla Messaging, will become part of Mozilla Labs--a research center rather than a profit center--and lose its official name. David Ascher, who has led the Mozilla Messaging group, "now will lead a new innovation group within Mozilla Labs focused on online communications and social interactions on the Web," said Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, in a blog post yesterday.

Mozilla will continue to develop Thunderbird under the new organization, but Baker made it clear that the vanguard of online communications is on the Web, not standalone e-mail software.

The Web has changed a lot in the last few years. One of the big changes is how much we now use the Web for messaging, communication, and social interactions. We post messages on social networking sites, we tweet, we get messages (often known as "notifications") from applications, we use Web-based mail systems. The pace and importance of innovation in this space is enormous and growing.

Mozilla has an unusual structure. At the top level, it's a nonprofit called the Mozilla Foundation, but that includes a corporate entity, Mozilla Corporation, that develops Firefox and garners the browser's search-related revenue from Google and other partners. In an attempt to make it more financially self-sufficient, Mozilla Messaging had been set up in 2007 in the same way, as a corporate subsidiary.

But now that's over as Mozilla centralizes its focus on communications within Mozilla Labs. Baker described the consolidation this way:

Mozilla has been exploring new ways to put people in control of their online communications and social interactions for a couple of years now. We currently have two teams. One is the team at Mozilla Messaging, which produces Thunderbird and messaging innovations such as Raindrop and F1. The second team is within Mozilla Labs, and has been working on identity, contacts and related topics.

Thunderbird will be built in the new Mozilla Labs home, with Ascher overseeing the work.

"Thunderbird users and contributors should see no difference in their experience. Email is a solid and foundational technology which retains immense value," Baker said. "We intend to continue our work with the Thunderbird email product to meet this need."

Related links
• Mozilla tries to build the ultimate in-box: Raindrop
• Mozilla tries Firefox recipe with Thunderbird
• Mozilla develops social skills with F1