Mozilla says it will move the Thunderbird email client to a new, wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, called MZLA Technologies Corporation, which would allow it to monetise the project.
The company reckons the move will not impact the software's day-to-day activities or mission. "Thunderbird will still remain free and open source, with the same release schedule and people driving the project," wrote chair of the Thunderbird Council, Philipp Kewisch, in a blog post confirming the move.
Thunderbird's future has been on shaky ground for a number of years. Mozilla dropped development on the email client in 2015, saying that it would only deliver security and maintenance updates in the future.
Later that year, Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker said it was separating Thunderbird from Firefox in a post to a Mozilla newsgroup, saying she did not believe Thunderbird has the same potential "industry-wide" impact as Firefox.
Possible new homes for the email client suggested at the time included the Software Freedom Conservancy, the Document Foundation, or inking a new deal with the Mozilla Foundation, according to report (PDF) commissioned at the time. A separate Thunderbird Foundation was also considered, but ruled out as a first step.
Ha, ha ... business!
The company's new home ended up being its old home: the Mozilla Foundation, but with a fresh agreement that would ensure the company could keep its "focus" on its browser business. Thunderbird's development would be mostly independent of Firefox, but it would still receive some support from the mother nest.
This abode will give the Thunderbird project more "flexibility and agility, but will also allow us to explore offering our users products and services that were not possible under the Mozilla Foundation," said Kewisch.
It also lets the company "collect revenue through partnerships and non-charitable donations, which in turn can be used to cover the costs of new products and services."
Last year, Thunderbird hired six new employees - five engineers and a community manager - thanks to an increase in donations, which remains the company's primary source of funding. It released a new version, 60, which was said to improve security, stability, the user interface, and calendars.
Thunderbird's new home might help the email client chase after a larger market share. According to data from Litmus Email Analytics, the Mozilla email client accounted for just 0.5 per cent of all email opened across all devices in Q1 2019 - up from 0.1 per cent in Q2 2018, but well behind Outlook's 9.2 per cent or Apple Mail's 7.8 per cent. ®