One of the reasons that Firefox has been successful is the extraordinary way that users have been mobilised as part of a vast, global marketing group without precedent.
The main vehicle for creating and sustaining this distributed marketing team is Spreadfirefox, which effectively applied the open source software development methodology to the sphere of promotion. That is, it has made ordinary Firefox users feel engaged in the propagation of the software, just as they can become engaged in its development through bug reports.
This can only really happen for free software – can you imagine users of Vista getting similarly enthusiastic about the code they use, and twisting their friends' arm to use it?
No, I thought not. However much proprietary companies try to enfranchise their customers, the latter will, understandably, ask why they should help the former make more money, and what's in it for them.
In other words, absent the fundamentally altruistic nature of free software, the social dynamics found in Spreadfirefox are simply not transferable to the world of traditional applications sold for profit. Sorry, Microsoft.
Against this background, I have been wittering on for ages about tapping into this amazing phenomenon for Firefox's email sibling, Thunderbird. And now what do I find? That in the odd moment when I turned my journalistic back, someone has now gone and launched Spreadthunderbird:
Welcome to Spread Thunderbird! You are our marketing department -- a diverse community of people tired of email overload, spam, viruses, identity theft, and software that just doesn't work. You have a vision of the 21st century of how we can better communicate and we can not let monopolies dictate what that looks like.