September 5, 2007

Qualcomm sets the record straight on Penelope (Hint: it's not Eudora 8)

Author: Lisa Hoover

Last fall, Qualcomm announced plans to join forces with the developers of Mozilla's Thunderbird email client to produce an open source version of Eudora. Since some code in the original Eudora client is proprietary, engineers needed to rebuild the application from scratch. When the first beta release of Penelope -- a Thunderbird add-on developed by Qualcomm -- was announced this week, many people assumed it was actually a beta release of a new open source Eudora client. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Penelope is not supported on Linux systems. Jeff Beckley, co-project lead at Qualcomm, sets the record straight.

"The main source of confusion about this project seems to be Penelope vs. Eudora," he says. "Penelope is an extension to Thunderbird, and Eudora is a branded version of Thunderbird with some extra modifications. Some features we are working on can be implemented in an extension like Penelope, but some require changes to the core of the Thunderbird code and therefore have to be made in Eudora. It is our hope that many of our changes will find their way into the core Thunderbird code base, but we realize that not all of them will. The Mozilla folks have been positive about inclusion of our changes in to Thunderbird."

Another point of clarification Beckley stresses is the source code origins for Penelope and Eudora. "This project is being implemented with no source code from the previous versions of Eudora. The original Eudora source code contains some proprietary portions from third parties that we are unable to distribute under open source. So there is no easy way to 'move' features from Classic Eudora to the new Eudora/Penelope. All changes have to be reimplemented."

Beckley notes that the biggest obstacle the team had to overcome was the learning curve on the Mozilla/Thunderbird code base. "It's very large and therefore takes a while to comprehend how all of the pieces fit together," he said. The project currently has full-time engineers from Qualcomm working on its development as well as a variety of other part-time contributors working behind the scenes. All told, approximately four man-years have gone into the first beta release of Penelope.

Steep learning curve aside, though, Beckley says the ability to create a product like Penelope has been very exciting. "The fact that the Mozilla platform has such a great deal of extensibility has made this possible, and will allow Eudora users to continue to have an email application that feels comfortable to them."

So why isn't Penelope supported on Linux? Beckley says the team wishes it was, but it's a matter of finding the right help for the job. "Although the Penelope plugin does run under Linux, we don't really have the Linux experience to feel confident in making Linux releases. We'd be delighted if somebody wanted to contribute their time to helping us get it right for Linux."


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