Ideas for the integration of Thunderbird with LibreOffice

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Introduction

LibreOffice currently does not have a personal information manager (PIM) module/client (eg. email/mail, address book/contacts, calendar/events and tasks). This page discusses several ideas and options for the further integration of Mozilla Thunderbird with LibreOffice. Thunderbird is a full-fledged Email/PIM-Software. Its cross-platform availability and feature set currently makes it one of the best options for email and calendar. A comparison of MS Outlook and Mozilla thunderbird is provided here. Potential alternatives are Evolution⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg, Kontact⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg, Nylas N1 and Mailpile⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg.

Please note that neither the LibreOffice developer team nor the Document Foundation gives any official recommendation for a PIM software replacement for LibreOffice. This wiki page is a pure collection of ideas and resources for better integration of LibreOffice and Thunderbird. It does not necessarily mean that the features will be implemented in neither Thunderbird nor LibreOffice.

General options for an email/PIM client in LibreOffice

A new discussion on an email/PIM client and LibreOffice has started in the comments of Charles-H. Schulz blog: Surprises claws and various articles.

There are several options for LibreOffice (loose collection of options):

  1. Focus on core office features and do not offer email/PIM software.
  2. Focus on core office features and loosely recommend an email/PIM software (e.g. Thunderbird) [This is kind of what happens today, when some user asks for an email/PIM solution for LibreOffice].
  3. Focus on core office features and strongly recommend an email/PIM software (e.g. Thunderbird, Nylas N1) and care about better user experience via some extensions/adaptations for LibreOffice or Thunderbird, respectively.
  4. Same like (3), but improving an alternative (e.g. Kontact, Evolution) to be an actual cross-platform solution.
  5. Same like (3), but improving an alternative cross-platform mail client (e.g. Nylas N1) to have PIM functionality (e.g. contacts, calendar, tasks, etc.)
  6. Develop own email/PIM module in LibreOffice.
  7. Transferring Thunderbird to The Document Foundation.
  8. “LibreOffice PIM” developed by The Document Foundation. Forked from Thunderbird. In collaboration with Thunderbird's current programmers. Perhaps similar to how OpenOffice was forked into LibreOffice.
  9. “LibreOffice PIM Project” from Thunderbird similar to The Document Liberation Project under the umbrella of The Document Foundation.

Potential cooperation between LibreOffice and Thunderbird

In comment 13 of aforementioned blog entry, R Kent James, the chair of the Thunderbird council expressed his openness to cooperate with TDF and LibreOffice. He perceives the The Document Foundation as a model of how Thunderbird could be operating in the future as he wrote at Surprises, claws and various articles on August 5, 2015 at 12:05 am:

“One of my personal goals is to get Thunderbird to join more broadly in the open source world and movement, rather than being isolated as a little brother of Firefox in a Mozilla cocoon. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time studying how TDF operates, as LibreOffice is in many ways a model for how we should be functioning in the future. We would be very open to cooperating with LibreOffice.”

In Thunderbird Planning on Google Groups, on 16 September 2015, the topic entitled “The Case for Thunderbird in Mozilla” by R Kent James had an excerpt of the letter he wrote to Mark Surman⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg, Executive director, Mozilla Foundation beginning a major push to reach some sort of decision about the relationship of Thunderbird to Mozilla:

“Thunderbird needs to be given the opportunity to make a case to the Mozilla leadership of why we believe Thunderbird should continue to be an official product under the Mozilla brand. Let's get a decision. If Mozilla wants us, there a few things we need - such as a financial home for donations, and links on key websites. The Thunderbird community does not want to leave Mozilla, but in case Mozilla does not want us, we have had serious discussions with both Software Freedom Conservancy and The Document Foundation (home of LibreOffice) about possibly aligning ourselves with them. We are also large enough to exist successfully as a separately registered organization.”

In Thunderbird Planning on Google Groups, on 19 September 2015 in the topic entitled Future Planning: Thunderbird R Kent James wrote:

Also, in my discussion with an experienced outsider (Michael Meeks⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg of The Document Foundation⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg), he had this to say after observing our situation, which is quite accurate:

"AFAICS⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg your fundamental problem is an engineering / community decision that doesn't match your resources whereby you run up this steep travellator trying to keep up with Mozilla⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg changes which ( in theory ) can provide a long-term benefit to make it easier to develop T-bird⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg, but in doing so you sacrifice actually doing the development on T-bird, so that future ~never comes =) Breaking that seems to me to be your top priority."

I fully agree with that, but I only see two choices: fork and freeze the Mozilla platform that we use, or migrate away from it. I am proposing the latter.

Excerpts from Mozilla's public governance forum under the topic entitled Thunderbird, the future, mozilla-central and comm-central:

1 December 2015
Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
Mitchell Baker⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg
At the same time, build, Firefox, and platform engineers continue to pay a tax to support Thunderbird. I believe Thunderbird should would thrive best by separating itself from reliance on Mozilla development systems and in some cases, Mozilla technology. The current setting isn’t stable, and we should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled. Also, I note that the point of my post is that relying on shared infrastructure – by which I meant build and release, etc – doesn't make sense. The question of whether Mozilla Foundation is the right infrastructure for a home for Thunderbird is a different question, and currently much more open.
1 December 2015
Executive director, Mozilla Foundation
Mark Surman⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg
3.2 We’re talking to at least one org who is considering supporting Thunderbird.
4 December 2015
Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
Mitchell Baker⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg
Thanks for the suggestion! We'll follow up. mitchell

On 3 December 2015 7:57 AM, Thomas Zimmermann wrote:
I understand that Thunderbird's future is currently under discussion and pretty much open.
If it is decided to move Thunderbird out of Mozilla, I'd like to suggest to reach out to The Document Foundation and ask if they are interested. It seems to me that Thunderbird might be a good addition to their LibreOffice productivity suite.

In Thunderbird Planning on Google Groups, on 18 December 2015 in the topic entitled Thunderbird: Paths Forward an excerpt from Gervase Markham⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg (Software Engineer, Mozilla Foundation):

2) Fiscal Homes: Hiring a Consultant

One question facing Thunderbird is that of where the best fiscal/legal home for the project is. There are several of these on the table (MoFo, TDF, SFC, Apache, ...), and Kent and others have already done some research into them. Mozilla has indicated that it is willing to pay for someone with expertise in this area to produce a public report listing the pros and cons of each option from Thunderbird's perspective, as input to the Council's decision on which path to pursue.

Mozilla will be engaging Simon Phipps to do this work. Those of you who know Simon will know he is an experienced open source community member and an expert in the particular area of legal structures for open source. He was previously President of the OSI, and while in that capacity entirely reorganized that organization for the better. I know of no-one else with a better grasp of the options and their characteristics.

Simon is already involved in this situation because he's been asked by The Document Foundation to work out a plan for how TDF⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg might become a fiscal home for Thunderbird⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg. We are asking him to expand his remit to consider the other potential options also. I feel that even though he is associated with one of the potential fiscal homes in question, he has the integrity to be objective in his assessments.

The decision on what path to take rests, of course, with the Thunderbird leadership.

Excerpt from a report entitled Finding a home for Thunderbird, dated 7 April 2016, prepared by Simon Phipps at the request of the Mozilla Foundation:

  • I believe there are three viable choices for a future home for the Thunderbird Project; Software Freedom Conservancy, The Document Foundation and a new deal at the Mozilla Foundation.
  • The Board has discussed the possibility of Thunderbird joining TDF as its third project, and has given its approval for discussions to proceed. TDF has not made a final decisions whether to host Thunderbird yet and would only take a final decision once the request to join was made.

In Thunderbird Planning on Google Groups topic entitled Introducing Myself, started on 28 April 2016, Italo Vignoli - LibreOffice Marketing & PR wrote:

I have just subscribed to tb-planning, to contribute - if possible - to the discussion. I am in charge of marketing and PR at LibreOffice, and a happy Thunderbird user since ages (actually, using version 45 on Ubuntu and MacOS). 28 April 2016

I would personally love to see Thunderbird within TDF, but - being a community member who has fighted for the independence of the software project I was contributing to as a volunteer - I completely understand the challenge faced by Thunderbird community council. 30 April 2016

In the blog article entitled The Thunderbird hypothesis, on 1 May 2016 Charles-H. Schulz, Marketing at TDF wrote:

I [Charles-H. Schulz] would be very happy to see Thunderbird join us [TDF]

Concrete ideas of further integration of LibreOffice and Thunderbird

Changes in LibreOffice:

  • Access to multiple Thunderbird address books (tdf#57873).

Changes/extensions for Thunderbird:

  • Provide a theme for Thunderbird to make look and feel more similar to LibreOffice.
  • Thunderbird currently does not provide a preview of documents (except for .txt and .html). A preview of ODF (and all other supported file types) could be possible via the integration of LibreOffice Kit into Thunderbird. This could be a joint Thunderbird & LibreOffice project for GSOC 2016.
  • Possibility to use LibreOffice Writer as email editor in Thunderbird.
  • Enable Contact Notes to supports complex formatting and pictures. Notes for a Contact in an Address Book could use LibreOffice Writer/Kit. Notes could be saved in OpenDocument format⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg.

Directions for Thunderbird’s legal and financial home

Summary of information available at Thunderbird Planning on Google Groups.

Country

Country Advantages Disadvantages Unknown
Germany
  • Zero tax on accumulated earnings
  • May require the Thunderbird client to be rebranded, see Icedove
Switzerland
  • Too much anonymity or privacy, a legal system where there are mechanisms for ultimate beneficiaries of an organization to get disclosure of operations, and ultimately sue for control, if a future rogue Thunderbird Council acts badly
  • Costs
  • Tax treatment on accumulated earnings
USA
  • Can function as a US 501(c)(3)⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg (that is, a public-benefit non-profit), which makes inter-organization issues with Mozilla easier (such as transferring trademarks should Thunderbird choose to do that)

Affiliate / Registered entity

Organization Characteristics
Mozilla Foundation
  1. Status quo.
  2. USA-based, see table above for advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Mozilla Foundation very reluctant to provide Thunderbird a financial home.
  4. No mechanism to allow donations directly to Thunderbird.
  5. Thunderbird is effectively a distraction for both the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation so any approach that involves active ongoing effort by either of those entities is going to be a problem.
Software Freedom Conservancy
  1. USA-based, see table above for advantages and disadvantages.
The Document Foundation
  1. Germany-based, see table above for advantages and disadvantages.
  2. An independent self-governing meritocratic entity, created by former leading members of the OpenOffice.org Community, in the form of a charitable Foundation under German law (gemeinnützige rechtsfähige Stiftung des bürgerlichen Rechts).
  3. No in-product donation links, just download page donations and articles.
  4. TDF 2014 Annual Report is an excellent annual report that is quite representative of where Thunderbird needs to be.
  5. One possibility is for the trademarks to stay with Mozilla, but for Mozilla to sign a long-term agreement with our new entity allowing Thunderbird to manage the product within the expectations of Mozilla.
Thunderbird Users Coop
  1. Use in-product promotion to strongly encourage users to join the coop as members paying annual dues (which would be USD10 – USD20 per year).
  2. Coop members would have benefits such as:
    • Voting on Coop governance, which would include priorities of how funds are used, possibly including technical direction for any hired staff.
    • Forums specifically for Coop members, which might eventually have paid staff to deal with support questions.
    • Thunderbird would try to negotiate member discounts for email-related services with third-party providers.
    • It is hoped that participating as a financial partner to keep Thunderbird viable would also be of value to people regardless of any direct personal benefit.
    • Some extra (non-essential) features, which could be pre-released to the paying customers and added for free in the next ESR, maybe participation in a vetting group.
  3. Mozilla is almost certain to not license the TB or Mozilla Trademark to the council if their goal were to start charging any license or subscription fee. Charging for software is contrary to the Mozilla Manifesto.
  4. Depending on how the TB community wants to enforce getting the money. Thunderbird will immediately disappear from every Linux distribution by definition. Especially Linux users would basically switch immediately. Windows users might stick to TB still.
  5. Ubuntu Convergence but in a nutshell Ubuntu has been planning to merge desktop and mobile. In this case apps that are not great on mobile will likely not survive as default apps.

Funding

Ideas to fund the development of the LibreOffice personal information manager:

  • A share of the savings mass deployments⁠Wikipedia logo v3.svg are realizing by using the LibreOffice productivity suite could be given to TDF;
  • Crowd-funding; and/or
  • Work with company/partner shareholders.

Quotes

Tweets on 23 September 2015 from CollaboraOffice:

  • “If our competitors are enormous, our vision must be too: we're targeting every cloud” – Niall McCarthy at LibOCon 2015
  • “At LibreOffice we now have 300 developers active on a recurring yearly basis; on par with Microsoft Office” – Italo Vignoli at LibOCon 2015

On 23 September 2015, Michael Meeks, General Manager at Collabora Productivity, presentation entitled “LibreOffice and Collabora” states on page 2: “Mission: Make Open Source the de-facto standard in the industry.”

Interview conducted on 18 August 2015, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst: “I use Thunderbird more than any other application.”

Italo Vignoli: “I have stumbled on free software when I was 50, searching for an alternative to Microsoft Office. I was fed up with Microsoft Outlook, the worst piece of software ever developed. I am now over 60, and after ten years in the free software trenches, I have some ideas to share.”

Italo Vignoli mail of 2 December 2015: One of the reasons behind the success of the LibreOffice project is the sharp focus on a single application, which is not going to change anytime soon. We are already working on the Android and the Cloud versions of LibreOffice, and this is more than enough - in term of global effort - for a community based project. So, please avoid any speculation based on rumors, as they might be intentionally created by our competitors.
Italo Vignoli tb-planning Google Group post of 30 April 2016: “I would personally love to see Thunderbird within TDF”.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that Outlook is successful because of the integration of email, contacts, calendar, etc. The product has become a platform.

See also