December 22, 2004 5:32 PM PST

Mozilla's Lightning to strike Outlook?

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The Mozilla Foundation is hatching yet another software project to challenge a key Microsoft title.

The new project, code-named Lightning, aims to integrate Mozilla's calendar application, Sunbird, with its recently released Thunderbird e-mail application. That integration is aimed right at the heart of Microsoft's widely used Outlook software.

"I think Outlook leaves a lot of room for a fast competitor," said a Mozilla volunteer involved in the project, who asked not to be named. "There's a lot of user dissatisfaction out there, and it will be interesting to see what the market looks like once there's a strong open-source alternative."

After years of delays and miscues, Mozilla has made some market inroads this year with its Firefox Web browser. Web surfers have downloaded more than 12 million copies of the software since its version 1.0 launch last month, nudging Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser below the 90 percent market share mark for the first time in years, according to one survey.

Whether Thunderbird, released this month, can have a similar impact on the Outlook juggernaut depends in large part on how quickly Mozilla can match some of the calendar features Outlook ties into the e-mail application.

Mozilla today released the first Sunbird 0.2 release candidate for Windows, Linux and the Macintosh.

Sunbird was donated to Mozilla by corporate volunteer OEone, now called Axcentra. The calendar has seen development in fits and starts, with more attention focused on it, now that both Firefox and Thunderbird 1.0 are out the door.

The mandate of Lightning, headed by longtime Mozilla volunteer and current Oracle technical staffer Mike Shaver, will be to integrate Sunbird features into Thunderbird so that users can do things like search across e-mail documents and calendar entries, and click a button to turn an e-mail message into a calendar task or reminder.

Mozilla isn't the only open-source group cooking up a potential Outlook competitor. The Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF) is concentrating on an application called Chandler that is also focused on tightly integrated calendar and e-mail functions. Lotus Development founder Mitch Kapor is president of both Mozilla and OSAF.

Microsoft dismissed Mozilla's pretensions to its Outlook throne, noting that the vast majority of enterprise Outlook users rely on Outlook's integration with Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server.

"Thunderbird does not offer an equivalent comparison to Microsoft Office Outlook," Microsoft said in a statement. "Customers expect much more than simple calendaring and the ability to send and receive e-mails. The integration of Exchange and Outlook far outweighs any feature that Thunderbird may deliver, and we don't see it as being applicable for serious business use."

Mozilla engineering director Chris Hofmann said enterprise demand for Thunderbird was off to a good start and that an unidentified company recently installed Thunderbird on 44,000 desktops.

Mozilla, which posted information to its Web page about Lightning, plans a general release of some version of the software by the middle of the new year.

8 comments

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Here's why MS should watch it's back!
A MS rep in this article actually says: "we don't see it as being applicable for serious business use" simply because Mozilla's calendar doesn't play with Exchange Server. Well, sorry guys, but not every business is an enterprise. I run a one man show, and I need a calendar. Am I not serious? If they dont value me as a customer, I'll go somewhere else, thanks. Come join me: www.mozilla.org
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Small Business
Although do keep in mind there is Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, which do include Exchange Server.
Posted by Yuhong2 (27 comments )
Link Flag
Applies to any small to medium size...
Well, any small to medium size business can benefit greatly from
the Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird combination. Not just
individuals.

Microsoft's software tends to be complicated...poor usability,
faulty architecture, ugly user interfaces and high prices.

Just take their e-mail application Entourge for the Mac. This
thing is a disgrace! Horrible user interface! Clutter everywhere!
The simplicity, beauty and power or Thunderbird cannot be
compared to this garbage (Entourage).
Posted by (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OpenConnector.org
Microsoft stated that there is no
open source replacement for
Exchange that integrates with
Office Outlook.

We have work underway on a
Open-source Outlook Connector at
[ <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://openconnector.org/" target="_newWindow">http://openconnector.org/</a> ]

Their statement may not be true
in a quarter or just about.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This MS response reminds me of something...
Oh yeah, they said similar things about Linux for the last several years. They're not saying that now, of course. Funny thing is, with open source, they have no idea how big the threat is. I have a few Linux workstations, and many Linux servers running at work. I've never registered them, never purchased anything that would indicate that we use Linux so heavily. Microsoft probably gets the credit, as all but 3 servers used to run Windows. And at home I have 2 desktops and 3 laptops running Linux, all formerly Windows systems. Could never have been able to afford what we are doing at work or at home if we used Windows. Legally, anyway. I'll bet it's not the research that's been done on who buys Linux, or the number of Linux sales that worry MS, but rather that which they cannot do.
Posted by (1 comment )
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MS response
MS's response on these Mozilla projects lately sound vague and uninteresting. As if the interviewer caught a MS representative on the bus and asked him/her a question while at the same time the representative is half eating a donut and reading a newspaper and just wanted to mutter anything to have some privacy.
Posted by nrlz (98 comments )
Link Flag
Thunderbird will not over take outlook until they can get it to sync with Blackberry.
Posted by maineshire (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You'd get a lot more usage if you leveraged Google. Get Calendar &#38; Contacts integration with their API. Then you can sync with mobile phones and Outlook easily. I'm so ready to dump Outlook due its poor IMAP support but Thunderbird is missing fast indexed search (search thousands of e-mails in under 1 second).
Posted by bald_buddha (62 comments )
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