"The challenge is how do we evolve the platform?" said Ascher. In the long term, he said, Mozilla Messaging wants to beef up Thunderbird's back-end architecture and its development tools. In a long post that Ascher wrote for his personal blog, he noted that "Thunderbird hasn't had the resources devoted to it that Firefox has, and it's time to catch up, so that we can implement many of the features we have planned."
One thing not at the forefront of Messaging's corporate mind, according to Ascher, is how to pay the bills. The $3 million from Mozilla gives the new venture breathing room. "[A revenue stream] isn't a huge priority right now," he said. "We want to make the best product possible, and then we'll think about a revenue model on top of that." Ascher declined to give a deadline at which point Mozilla Messaging will have to be self-supporting, saying, "There's not a real sharp deadline there."
Mozilla, which posted revenue of nearly US$67 million for 2006, the last year for which figures are available, makes the bulk of its income from the deal it struck with Google that assigned the search giant's engine as Firefox's default and from click-throughs on ads placed on the ensuing search results pages. It's unclear if Thunderbird could tap into the same stream.
Money will at some point become important to the new spin-off, however. Last October, Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker remained vague about whether the company would continue to support the mail project. "We would like the new mail company to have its own revenue source rather than it continuing to come out of Firefox," she said then. "It's our hope that it finds other sources of revenue. But do we expect that it would be 100 per cent? Not necessarily. Will we fund it for a while? Absolutely."
In a blog post of her own, Baker -- who is no longer CEO but retained her position as chairman of the Mozilla Foundation board -- urged Messaging to get cranking. "I am exceedingly eager to stop thinking so much about how to organize the Thunderbird/mail effort and to start seeing all that energy go to improving our product. That day has come," Baker wrote.