Mozilla shoots for quick Thunderbird 3.0 alpha

Developers talk over April code freeze to 'get the ball rolling'

The Mozilla Foundation's new e-mail spin-off is aiming at a quick delivery of the first alpha version of Thunderbird 3.0, according to discussions among developers.

Dan Mosedale, a former Firefox developer who joined Mozilla Messaging -- dubbed "MoMess" by some -- floated the idea of producing an alpha build as early as April in a thread on the mozilla.dev.apps.thunderbird group last week.

"I'd like to get the ball rolling on Thunderbird 3.0 Alpha 1," said Mosedale, who in January committed to a four-month stint with Mozilla Messaging. "I propose... we arbitrarily set a tentative code-freeze date for Thunderbird 3.0a1 of Tuesday, April 8.

"I believe that it's really worthwhile to get a release underway. Testers have only had nightlies for quite a while now, and the trunk is already notably better than [Thunderbird 2.0] in a number of ways," Mosedale continued. "Getting something that we're willing to recommend to a wider group of people is a great way to demonstrate real progress."

Two weeks ago, Mozilla Messaging CEO David Ascher announced that the new company -- the second for-profit spin-off of the Foundation -- would tackle Thunderbird 3.0 as its first project. Ascher said that the mail client would add calendaring and improved search as it worked toward releasing a polished version before the end of the year.

Reaction to Mosedale's call for an alpha was mostly positive.

"I'm with you," said Phil Ringnalda. "If we're going to ship something, ever, we have to start doing alphas, and giving people the feeling that they don't have forever to write the code of their dreams."

Gervase Markham, a Mozilla developer, agreed. "[An alpha] also gives a solid target for extension authors," he noted. "I am reluctant to test trunk Thunderbird because there are a couple of extensions I rely on whose authors have said 'I can't support trunk; it moves too much'. Doing a 'relatively stable' alpha release allows them a fixed target, enabling long-term testing by people who don't want to track trunk that closely."

Mozilla Messaging grew out of a call last year by Mozilla Corp.'s then-CEO Mitchell Baker to break out Thunderbird development from the work on Firefox, the subsidiary's big breadwinner. In July 2007, Baker said her company's first priority was the browser, and that Thunderbird should be cut loose "to determine its own destiny."

By September, Mozilla had seeded the new venture with US$3 million in start-up funds and tapped Ascher to lead the venture.

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Gregg Keizer

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