Quick! Pick a platform and then count the web browsers that run on it. Firefox, Chrome, IE, Safari, Opera. The usual suspects. Those especially geeky might be needing a 2nd pair of hands. Now do the same for mail clients. How many fingers do you even need?

The demise of email is often predicted, but has never proven true. However, we just lost two birds in one week (Thunderbird and Sparrow), and the predictions may come true some day soon if this attrition continues. At the very least, consumer choice is becoming increasingly non-existent. Is there no money to be made in email?

Much is made of browser market share, but nobody ever mentions email and calendaring. It is a dial-tone service – as in, everyone expects it to just work – yet diversity & competition in the ecosystem are simply not there. There’s no shortage of full server suites (Exchange, Zimbra, Notes/Domino, FirstClass/OpenText), nor is the Cloud – both Public and Private – lacking choice (Gmail, Yahoo, SquirrelMail). I’m talking about standalone native GUI clients, quality tools for the desktop user.

If you are Mac, you’ve got the built-in Mail.app (or maybe Entourage). If Windows, it’s Outlook and its Express cousin. Linux has Evolution, and actually benefits the most from a variety of other obscure open-source POP/IMAP clients. But it’s slim pickings beyond that.

Netscape Messenger? Dead. Eudora? Defunct. Thunderbird? Mozilla just pulled their developer resources. And the latest casualty: the excellent MacOS/iOS Sparrow client was just acquired by Google and is likely soon to be an Internet footnote.

As a commercial offering, Eudora was perhaps ahead of its time from the standpoint of getting people to pay for what many offered for free. But clearly Sparrow showed that there is a market out there for standalone messaging/calendaring clients. Who will be next to step up?

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