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Do we need email software anymore? That's the question raised by the turmoil at the Thunderbird project, an open-source effort run by the Mozilla Foundation, also the backers of the popular Firefox Web browser. The foundation runs the Mozilla Corporation as a separate, for-profit business, and spun off a similar company three weeks ago to house Thunderbird. But no sooner than Thunderbird gained its wings did it go into a swan dive. Scott McGregor and David Bienvenu, Thunderbird's only paid developers, are leaving David Ascher to head up a company of none. Neither developer gave a reason for departing the company that Mozilla set up, but Ascher tips his hand that the pair will be starting their own venture. Perhaps a wise move. Why, after all, do we need Thunderbird?

Web-based email is, more and more, what most people use. Firefox might as well be people's email software; we can get by without special email software, but not without a Web browser. Thunderbird, naturally, drew a much smaller base of volunteer coders. And, more importantly, while Firefox makes money by directing users to Google and Yahoo's search engines, Thunderbird has no easily tapped source of revenues. While setting up Thunderbird with its own company may force Ascher — now on his own — to address these realities, it does nothing, by itself to change them.