Is This a Very Good Thing?

Mozilla getting serious about mail by launching a new company to develop Thunderbird?

Is this a very good thing?

Why is this such a good thing? Let me count the ways... Currently, the company that owns most of the world's mailboxes--Microsoft--has done little to nothing to improve the e-mail experience. E-mail today is essentially the same as it was 10 years ago. This is almost criminal, given how much time we spend in it.

A good friend with access to Microsoft's Exchange team suggested a reason for this, which came from Microsoft: the Exchange code is so old and so crumbly that Microsoft doesn't dare to fiddle with it. Yes, it would make perfect sense to centralize collaboration and social networking in the address book/e-mail client, but Microsoft apparently can't do this without risking the stability of its omnipresent e-mail client and server.

And so the world suffers because of early design decisions.

Enter Mozilla. Mozilla has an excellent track record of taking Microsoft head-on, and winning (or, at least, competing vigorously).

Or not?

Most Thunderbird users blasted Baker and Mozilla Corp. for wanting to ditch the e-mail program, which competes with Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook and IBM Corp.'s Notes, as well as with Web-based e-mail services such as Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail, and Google Inc.'s Gmail.

Just a quick few things, firstly, are wa talking email here or communication? Email hasnt changed much at all over the past X years, but it has had a significant number of mods and bolt-ons, encryption, digital signing, various sender verification mechanisms, html formatting (ugh) etc..

The problem is that much of it hasn't caught on, the common issues seen with pure email are spam, security (interception etc..) and spoofability, both of which can be dealt with, for example using PKI for encryption and signing. The problem is that whilst the PKI infrastructure is there, it is under utilised (and sometimes tricky for the average user to use) and sender verification is a mess as there are too many schemes. The end result is spam and scams. It would be nice to see an email client that \*by default\* generates a cert, uploads it to a PKI server and then uses it by default. If people start identifying their email we can start filtering (still at the borders of our networks) the worst of it.

What I think you were talking about though the whole communication experience, currently generally provided by Microsoft through Exchange, and more recently other elements like Sharepoint. The key here, is that Microsoft technology is already massively entrenched, Microsoft provide not only the server solutions but also the client end (in Outlook) and so it is difficult to have a product that operates differently (even if significantly better) gain traction.

The open source world, as well as other companies, notably Sun and IBM (although both are now clearly key players in the open source world) have all the components to create an Exchange killer, all the open standards to make any solution truly useful, innovative ideas and a pool of people with an incentive (who wants to manage Exchange....).

But still the task is massive, presumably this explains why Microsoft are loath to try and recreate anything radically different. Not only do you need to have a mail system (relatively easy) you also realistically need to be providing directory services (LDAP/NDS Style), potential OS integration (so you get SSO), uniform and usable collaboration tools, calendering etc...

The task has potential to be massive, it is effectively requires the creation of a Active Directory like base (with all or much the user and client manageability) as well as all the useful end user applications and associated back ends.

Oh and when you have all that and it works beautifully, scales better, offers more redundancy, is cross platform, is usable from multiple client apps, is available for mobile devices, is more stable and more secure than Exchange and the rest of Microsoft's stack of services, all you have to do is get a large number of companies that are entrenched in a technology to give it up and jump ship.

So what is needed is a brand name (or better yet a group of industry titans) delivering a product that is better than the current standard and running a marketing campaign that puts it on every CEO's, CTO's and CFO's list of things to ask IT about.

It needs to be done, but is there a will to do it?

Posted by Andy Halsall on September 19, 2007 at 10:44 AM MDT #

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