The sad state of free software collaboration tools

My post yesterday sparked a little conversation on G+. The content of that conversation reminded me that free software collaboration tools are in a very poor state. Email clients for Linux (well, also on Mac OS X and Windows) suck badly, address book managers are awfully ancient, voice/video chat systems compare poorly to proprietary alternatives (technically, not just because none of our friends use them).  Some fellows of FSFE recently tried to hunt for Skype alternatives. The published results are depressing.

It’s a hard to solve. Hopefully we can put behind the quest for the ‘perfect desktop’ and start building tools for the free digital citizens again.

Mozilla Foundation drops Thunderbird

I’m sad to read that finally Mozilla Foundation realized that Thunderbird is a lemon: Mitchell Baker announced on her blog that “continued innovation of Thunderbird is not a priority” so its evolution will stop and putting the project in ‘maintenance mode’. The Foundation will only provide for security fixes starting from November 2012 and leaving the future evolution of this free software email client to ‘the community’.

As I wrote on G+, I never liked Thunderbird. There is no email client today that I like: they’re all based on very old concepts developed at the time when people had to deal with few messages per week. The only innovation I’ve seen in email came from Google’s Gmail, with the convenient conversation view and with the great integration of chat and addressbook with Circles. Gmail is not the email client I use: I never bought into that sort of convenience. I always wished that somebody would develop a new, modern, email client for my desktop.

With Thunderbird at its sunset and GNOME Evolution its only viable substitute, I’m starting to despair. I have some hopes on Geary, Yorba Foundation’s new email client.

Leveraging the address book as your social network

Think about it: your list of friends, family, colleagues and casual acquaintances is not on Facebook or Linkedin. It’s in your pocket, in your phone’s address book and your email address book. If you’re smart you keep them in sync, too. Your address book is your social network.

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I’ve talked about this often, including developers of GNOME Evolution and Thunderbird because I felt that both groups are missing an opportunity. The address book is one of the most important features of an email client as it can enrich the reading and writing experience. The list of people you have in there can be used to sort out priorities for reading your mail. For example, the client could automatically sort messages from family and put them up in the queue when you read email in the early morning while email from colleagues are demoted to low priority until you have your coffee. The address book could also fetch information about your contacts from the web and show you what that person on that mailing list has been up to lately.

I realized today that Google has finally started leveraging the address book on Gmail adding the “people widget” to the conversation view. Imagine you’re reading a discussion in your inbox: the widget shows the information you have about them in the address book, their recent activity with them and more. I think it’s awesome use of your original social network. Too bad you have to surrender your list of friends, colleagues, family etc to Google in order to use this feature.

Hopefully Thunderbird and GNOME Evolution developers will invest more energy into making the address book more meaningful than just a place to dump data in.
 

 

About the people widget – Gmail Help.

Contacts for Thunderbird looks great

Contacts for Thunderbird is the Mozilla Labs extension that was first developed for Firefox and now ported to Thunderbird.

Thunderbird Contacts lets you pull in your “web contacts” from sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. It also lets you connect to your mail contacts inside of Yahoo or GMail. As each contact is extracted from a site, the Contacts add-on tries to merge the contacts from different sites together into a single contact on your system.

I have played with Contacts for over a year and have been waiting for its integration into Thunderbird. Watch it in action: pure awesomeness! Go get Contacts for Thunderbird.

Three reasons to follow Mozilla Thunderbird development

Since Mozilla Messaging launched Thunderbird 3 I started using it to see if this new version is better than GNOME Evolution, the email/calendar application I used in the past 4 years. Evolution is a decent email and calendar client and I love the integration in GNOME, but it stopped evolving and its GUI has many annoyances. I’ve used Thunderbird 3.0.1 for a couple of weeks and here are three reasons to choose it and why I decided to postpone the adoption.

Search and indexing: Thunderbird 3 indexing is fast and very good. The interface for searching and drilling your mailbox is fantastic, very well done and fast. Check the screenshot.

Tabs: I like to be able to read messages in different tabs. Lightning calendar and tasks conveniently open in a tab and it’s also possible to run Google Wave in one. This shows the power under the hood of this client: it has the potential to become a messaging hub for all services.  It’s annoying that Addressbook and compose new mail open in a new window instead of tab though.

Add-ons: just like Firefox, there are many ways to add functionalities to Thunderbird. The first add-on I installed is Funambol in order to test it and help its development. Then ThunderBrowse, in order to avoid opening Firefox only to check a link in an email and EnigMail to add GPG/PGP support. Nothing mind-blowing yet, but I hope somebody will develop a replacement of the Addressbook with more ‘social’ features. A topic for another post 🙂

Bonus reason: finally! There is an “Archive” button: once you’re done with a message or a thread, and you don’t want to delete it, you hit a button and the message goes into the archives (archiving criteria can be specified). A neat solution for Capo’s problem 🙂

The Addressbook, on the other hand, is pretty lame. It doesn’t contain enough fields, it still has space of a ‘pager number’ (anybody  still using them?), it opens in a window and not in a tab. I hope it’ll improve in next version.

I’m still using Evolution as my main source of data, especially address book and calendar. Even if Funambol add-on for Thunderbird 3 works decently, it’s still unstable and it has other small issues (if you want to help, Funambol offers Code Sniper grants).

Messaging, not email

During the past weeks in the mobile world at Funambol I’ve started deepening my thoughts about how computers are still inefficient and largely too hard to use. One thing that I hate is how the whole online things are separated from the file system.’  I keep my hard disks organized in folders separating my work projects from my home/fun activities.’  Down the tree the classification is done by clients and individual projects.’  I’ve always found this strict classification too limiting, because after many years I have now duplicate files and finding things gets harder.’  Software like beagle or spotlight are only a partial solution.

What is really annoying me though is the separation of all web activities from the files on the disk. Is an email related to a project and a client?’  Why are bookmarks and web pages so difficult to retrace? I would like to find such information grouped in the project folder, available on my disk, tagged properly. I don’t like Google’s idea to move everything online and keep my files there, out of my hands and off my disks.

I look forward to see the new Mozilla Thunderbird. They seem to start on the right foot: it’s not just an email, it’s messaging.

The name Mozilla Messaging is supposed to indicate that it’s focusing on the Internet messaging and communications space as a whole, not just e-mail.

My hope is that within a short time frame Thunderbird will innovate messaging as much as Firefox did in the browser world.

Mozilla Thunderbird Gets Its Own Company @ ENTERPRISE OPEN SOURCE MAGAZINE