By the end of the year, Mozilla's open-source Thunderbird E-mail client will be ready to challenge Outlook on the business desktop. That's when Thunderbird should get a calendar.
"Calendaring is probably the biggest piece that we're missing when it comes to competing with Outlook in the enterprise space," says Scott MacGregor, lead engineer for Thunderbird. "So we actually have a project called Lightning, which is a community-driven calendar extension that you can bundle with Thunderbird to make an enterprise-level application suite."
There are other calendar projects in the works as well, including Mozilla Calendar and Sunbird. The former is a calendar extension that uses the open iCal standard, the latter a standalone calendar application. Lightning should be more tightly integrated than these other calendar options.
Despite the oft-repeated suggestion that spam is killing E-mail, messaging research firm the Radicati Group predicts the E-mail client market will continue to grow over the next four years for consumers and businesses. In a recent report, the firm noted that companies offering E-mail clients "are taking advantage of perceived security risks in Microsoft Outlook and are emphasizing the security features of their own clients."
The rapid adoption of Mozilla's Firefox Web browser has been driven by a similar perception. Yet the disclosure of two critical security flaws in Firefox over the weekend makes it clear that there's no monopoly on imperfect software.
Even so, upcoming features in Thunderbird should bolster the E-mail client's reputation for security. For the tentative July release of Thunderbird 1.1, MacGregor says, "The biggest thing we're focusing on is adding phishing-detection support."
Thunderbird will flag suspected scam E-mail in a status bar. Attempting to click on any link in that message will bring up a dialogue box with a warning.
"We're also adding the ability to strip and delete, or store remotely, attachments from E-mail, which is a big feature that Eudora has," he says. "And we're going to be adding better support for managing multiple SMTP servers, making it easier to configure and manage them."
According to the Radicati Group, Microsoft is the dominant provider of desktop E-mail clients, with roughly 58% of the business market share and about 49% of the consumer market share. IBM Lotus, the next closest competitor, holds about 20% of the business desktop segment and less than 3% of consumer desktops.
Despite nearly 7 million downloads since its 1.0 release in December 2004, Thunderbird remains underrepresented on business desktops. But MacGregor hopes that will change.
"The goal with 1.0 was really focused on consumers," MacGregor explains. "At the same time, we've been developing an enterprise business on top of that. A little over a year ago, we started our first big enterprise deployment--I'm not allowed to give you the name. But they're a Fortune 100 company, about 45,000 seats, and they actually rolled out Thunderbird last August before we even reached 1.0, they were so excited about it."
Thunderbird's enterprise ambitions can be seen in tools such as its Mission Control Desktop, which allows administrators to control desktop installations remotely. Admins can set Thunderbird to automatically download default account configuration information, preference settings, and LDAP directory settings to ease management of large deployments.
MacGregor says a lot of universities have been interested in Thunderbird and notes that Harvard and New York University's Stern School of Business have both started using the open-source E-mail client.
According to Matthew Gee, associate director of IT for the Stern School of Business, the fact that Thunderbird is free was the most important consideration, more so than its security features.