The Thunderbird mail client developers have recently posted a Thunderbird 2 page
describing the changes they anticipate for the next major release.
According to the
, this release is expected in the "late Fall 2006" (presumably
northern hemisphere) time frame. The task list is ambitious, but perhaps
not sufficiently so.
One of the planned changes is to introduce multiple views of the folder
pane - the list of mail accounts and folders which appears on the left of
the window. Thunderbird users with vast numbers of folders would evidently
like to be able to filter the display in various ways to make the list
easier to work with. So there will be options to display "favorite"
folders, the most recently used folders, or those with unread messages.
Current Thunderbird implements "labels" for messages; the user can mark a
message as being "important," "work," "personal," "todo," or "later."
There is no facility for adding new labels, so those which might be useful
to your editor ("muchmuchlater") are not available. For 2.0, the
developers have realized that (1) any self-respecting application must
allow users to apply tags to objects, and (2) labels are really just a
form of tags. So labels will be "rebranded" as tags, and users will be
able to create their own tags. The association of colors with tags will be
possible, preserving the color-coding capability that Thunderbird has now.
Another new feature is called "improved phishing support," which, one
assumes, is not exactly what the developers intend to implement. Plans
include integrating the Firefox2 safe
browsing extension and making use of both local and network
blacklists. There are also (unspecified) plans for improving the internal
bayesian filter for spam filtering.
Then, there's the animated new mail
alerts and a tooltip-like popup which can provide a summary of new
messages in a folder without actually opening that folder. Your editor
must confess to being unconvinced that inflicting even more little popup
windows on the desktop will truly improve the overall experience.
There are a few other things which might be nice to have on this list.
Your editor has been using Thunderbird with a (non-LWN) account for a while
now, on the notion that there must be something to these graphical
mail clients which makes them worth using. Based on this experience, he
has a few suggestions for features he would like to see implemented ahead
of animated alerts:
- The ability to configure the printing of messages - or, at a minimum,
a realization that, most of the time, there is little value in using
half a page of paper for every single header, causing even short
messages to be split between two pages.
- Some flexibility in the on-screen header display would be nice as
well. Why should it be necessary have all headers displayed just to
see who a message was sent to?
- A provision for feeding a message to a shell command.
- Replace the confusing "Junk/Not junk" toggle with a non-modal
- In your editor's experience, the internal bayesian filter is
not as effective as it should be. Rather than try to improve it, why
not fill out Thunderbird's fledgling support for integration with
external filters? Being able to easily train SpamAssassin, say, from
Thunderbird would be a great thing.
- Make it possible to send plain text (such as a patch)
without having to go through strange
rituals to keep it from being reformatted.
- Cause Thunderbird to not send HTML mail by default.
- Somewhere along the way, a bit of attention to reducing Thunderbird's
memory footprint would not be entirely misplaced.
Thunderbird is a nice mail client in a number of ways, and its developers
look like they plan to make it nicer yet. Your editor supports this work,
but hopes that attention to some basic usability issues will not suffer as
new features are added to this application. In many ways, graphical mail
clients are still slower, more awkward, and less powerful than the
text-oriented clients they ostensibly replace. Sooner or later, it would
be nice to close that gap.
Comments (24 posted)
The Linux world hears relatively little from Eric Raymond these days, a
fact which maybe bothers some people more than others. Be that as it may, Eric recently
broke his silence
, in classic form, on the
Fedora-devel list. It seems that Eric has come to save the Fedora
distribution and set it back onto the path of Total World Domination.
There are a few small details that Eric would like to see fixed, including
the FC5 artwork ("...backgrounds that look like a Teletubby hocked
loogies into a dish full of soap scum."). But the real issue is in
a different area: media support - DVD playback, Java applets, Flash media,
For a consumer OS to be unable to play MP3s and handle podcasts is
just plain not acceptable, not in the world after iTunes.
The problem, of course, is that MP3 is a patented format. Since Fedora is,
by design, a 100%
free distribution, it is unable to include patent-encumbered software. So
no MP3 format in Fedora. Adding MP3 support to an installed Fedora Core
system is not a particularly difficult task for somebody who knows where to
look (or how to ask a search engine), but it does require some extra
steps. Red Hat's lawyers do not even allow Fedora (or its web sites) to
even include a pointer to where this software can be found for fear of
"contributory infringement" charges. As a result, adding MP3 support is
too hard for many desktop users, especially home desktop users.
One option might be to get a distribution license for the GStreamer MP3 plugin. With
such a license, Fedora could ship a fully licensed MP3 decoder, with
BSD-licensed source. There remain issues with just how that plugin could
be shipped with certain GPL-licensed players, but the real problem is
elsewhere: a Fedora distribution with this plugin would no longer be
redistributable by others. It would, in other words, no longer be a 100%
Another option would be to put together some sort of third-party,
repository with a carefully-chosen set of Fedora additions, a few of which
just happen to include MP3 support. Said repository would naturally be
hosted in a carefully-chosen country. Fedora could come with instructions
for configuring the system to use that repository as a source of "useful extra
software," with no mention of what is to be found there. Such a scheme
might be vague enough to make the lawyers relax - though they have not made
their feelings known on the matter.
Yet another approach would be for Eric to make his own, MP3-enabled Fedora
offshoot distribution - call it Fully-Armed Fedora or some such. Eric,
however, has declined that opportunity,
I don't have the money or the lawyers to pull it off. This sort of thing
is why we have commercial partners with office buildings.
What is really being called for here, in other words, is for Red Hat to
stick its neck out and take the legal risk that comes with providing easy
MP3 capability to Fedora users. Red Hat
is understandably reluctant to do that. The company's relatively high
profile and significant cash pile (around $800 million) make it a more
likely lawsuit target than many others. Red Hat management probably sees
much risk and little benefit in inviting lawsuits by including MP3 support,
directly or indirectly.
Eric's claim is that companies like Red Hat need to make a business
decision to solve the MP3 problem in one way or another, even if it means
making deals with patent trolls or shipping proprietary software. A Linux
desktop which cannot deal with MP3 files is simply too crippled to be taken
seriously by a large portion of the potential user base. If Fedora is ever
to succeed in that market, it must do what the target users want it
There is a point here. Using Ogg for one's CD collection is no sacrifice,
especially if one's portable player (running Rockbox, say) also supports that format.
But there is an increasing amount of interesting content on the net which
is only available in the MP3 encoding. All of that content is inaccessible
using a stock Fedora Core system. That is, indeed, an unacceptable
situation for many users.
Solutions must be approached carefully, however. Future systems are likely
to present other problems: DRM-encoded video formats, broadcast flags,
locked-down computers which only run officially-signed software, and more.
Any solution which does not also offer at least some hope of addressing
those issues will not get us very far. So, in other words, to properly
solve the MP3 problem, we must (1) continue working to encourage the
creation of content in free formats, and (2) face the legal issues
which are at the root of these problems. Those goals will not be helped
much by bolting proprietary or otherwise encumbered software onto our free
Meanwhile, some other issues may be amenable to easier solutions. To that
end, Warren Togami has announced the
creation of a new mailing list for the discussion of artwork for future
Fedora Core releases. Fedora Core 6 still won't play MP3 files, but
maybe it can look a little nicer.
Comments (36 posted)
is a small company which
makes its living by selling supported versions of Linux-based firmware for
a number of wireless routers. Paying subscribers can download current
versions of the firmware, which adds a number of features not normally
found on those routers. They can grab updated versions as they become
available, and participate in support forums as well.
Sveasoft's products are based on free software - Linux in particular. The
company's approach to GPL compliance has raised eyebrows for a couple of
years now. One tactic employed by the company has been to terminate
support accounts for any subscriber who further redistributes the Sveasoft
binaries or source. The GPL says that customers are entitled to that code
(for the GPL-licensed portions of Sveasoft's products, at least),
and that they have the right to pass it on to others. Sveasoft has
responded that, when this redistribution happens, it is no longer obligated to provide
future versions of the software. The company has employed various schemes
for determining which subscriber has redistributed any particular version,
and has been quite aggressive at shutting down accounts.
To some, it looks very much like Sveasoft is attempting to add restrictions
to the GPL-licensed software it uses for its products. It is, in essence,
imposing a penalty on anyone who redistributes its products. In the end,
however, challenges to this model have not gotten far, and the Free
Software Foundation has stated that Sveasoft is in compliance with the
GPL - at least, with regard to its support agreements.
It seems that the story does not stop there, however. Sveasoft makes
"pre-release" versions of its firmware available to subscribers. In
practice, it seems that these "pre-release" releases are the actual
product; the "public" releases tend to lag far behind. It also seems that
the corresponding source is not made available to anyone - not even
subscribers. Sveasoft argues that, since this is a limited, "pre-release"
distribution, it is not obligated to provide source as well. The GPL,
however, makes no exceptions for "pre-release" distribution.
The OpenWRT Project, on whose work
Sveasoft's product is based, has had enough. So, in March, the project notified Sveasoft that its OpenWRT license
was terminated due to GPL violations. From OpenWRT's point of view,
Sveasoft no longer has any rights to be distributing OpenWRT's work in any
form. Sveasoft responds that it remains in compliance with the GPL, and
that OpenWRT has improperly incorporated Sveasoft code which was never
meant to be licensed under the GPL - a charge that OpenWRT developers deny.
Since then, there has been a great deal of discussion, and Sveasoft's
proprietor has come forward with an offer
to create source tarballs on request for any subscriber who has received a
copy of the binary firmware. There is also apparently an updated source
tarball available to subscribers, though there has been no independent confirmation, yet,
that it contains all of the source it should. The OpenWRT project has not,
in any public way, rescinded its revocation of Sveasoft's license. Still,
it would appear that public pressure has helped to move things in the right
For now, at least. History suggests that Sveasoft will continue to push
the boundaries of the GPL. Recent history also suggests, however, that
Sveasoft may become less relevant in this area; by many accounts, the
fully-free alternatives - beyond OpenWRT itself - go beyond the Sveasoft
offerings in a number of ways. See this
page on LinksysInfo.org for a detailed comparison of a few projects.
Comments (5 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: .desktop files and security; New vulnerabilities in dia, kaffeine, mailman, mediawiki, mysql, php, samba, ...
- Kernel: Two new system calls; Priority inheritance; The safety of the sysfs interfaces.
- Distributions: Debian Project Leader elections - who votes; Debian Live Initiative; The end of the Fedora Foundation
- Development: The first alpha release of Python 2.5,
new versions of Bizgres, Samba, GnuPG, LASH, MusE, Covered, Armagetron
Advanced, Wine, ccHost, DIVA, Python, wxPython, Remake, Aegis, lbDMF.
- Press: LinuxWorld keynote, Microsoft to support Linux, LinuxWorld coverage,
Penguin Day Seattle, Linux to be top Oracle platform, eBay patent
case, Eben Moglen interview, Ruby developments, Wireless Security,
GNOME 2.14 review, VoIP on Linux.
- Announcements: IBM provides PPC64 to universities, Software Freedom Conservancy,
OS Reviews launches, LPI Ubuntu certification, LinuxWorld Announcements,
RuxCon CFP, SESS06, Richard Stallman at Torino.
- Letters: RSSOwl