Thursday, April 27, 2006

Free time-shifted mobile TV rocks!

I have never been a fan of mobile television. My friend Russell Beattie (BTW, please Russ go back blogging, we miss you) has been telling me it is going to be big, showing me these videos on a cramped screen. My answer has always been "if I can't see the ball in a soccer game, I am not interested". Also, when do I have the time to watch TV on my mobile device (I do not live in Japan, I do not commute with a train)? Would I ever watch TV sitting on something different than my couch? Why would I pay for that?

Now, I slightly changed my mind... I am still not a believer in paying for getting my TV on my mobile. But if it is free... I guess I could find five minutes of my life, while sitting in my car and waiting for my next meeting, to watch something.

That "something" is the key. I still do not believe in live TV. If an event is live, you have to tune in when it starts and leave when it ends. If I had the luxury to do it, I would do it sitting on my couch like a potato. The key is time-shifted mobile TV. That is TiVo on my mobile. Watching something I recorded before, when I have those five minutes.

So... now I am a believer in free time-shifted mobile TV.

Why is simple: my friend Brian, Product Manager at SlingMedia, sent me a SlingBox. It is a hardware device that streams your TV over the Internet. No subscription. Buy the box (or get a friend to send you one ;-) and you are good for life. You can watch live TV (or your TiVo or any other DVR or a real-time video from a camera overlooking your child's room) from your computer, where you install the SlingPlayer. The quality of the signal on the PC is incredible. Still, there is no couch in my office...

SlingMedia has also a player for Windows Mobile (version 1.0 is out this morning). If you have a data plan - as in my Verizon Treo 700w - you can watch your time-shifted TV on your mobile phone. You just need a data plan, that I have anyway to get my Funambol push email.

For free. I get to watch the Champions League on my cell. Just the highlights. Just five minutes. When I have them. I can barely see the ball, but I see it. The quality is good enough. I love it. Free time-shifted mobile TV rocks!

Once you have something cool in your hands and you are a geek, you also start coming up with stupid way to use it. On Saturday, my daughter woke up early as usual (anybody has a tip on how can you teach a kid the difference between weekdays and weekends?). She wanted to see Dragon Tales. I got out of bed, went downstairs, fired Tivo. While walking upstairs to get back into bed, I grabbed my Treo. Half an hour later, Lisa shouted "Now I want to see Plaza Sesamo!" (the spanish version of Sesame Street). I took my Treo, clicked on it and started Plaza Sesamo from my bed. She shouted "Daddy, it started by itself!". I went back to sleep. Better than laying on my couch.

SlingMedia is the best thing that happened to television after TiVo. Go out and grab one as soon as you can. If Big Brother can prove streaming = copying, they will be shut down fast (I really hope not :-) But you will still have your SlingBox... Do not wait a minute.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

About convergence and getting your MySQL data on your mobile device

When we started Funambol, back in 2002, our idea was to create an infrastucture to distribute data between mobile devices.

I never believed in the convergence of everything in one single great device. I just got a new one this week and I am very happy about it. I do think that single specialized device do better than multi-purpose tools. Granted, I used the swiss knife in emergencies. But it is not my everyday tool. I do not really believe my MP3 player, my DVD player, my cellphone, my camera and my laptop will converge one day, just because it bothers me to bring them all with me.

I would love a converged device the keep my money and my keys in one place, though I still have a wallet and a separate keychain. I believe I will always have both (until ALL my doors will open thanks to biometric authentication).

So... I believe in divergence. I believe in multiple devices doing one thing very well. Something is certain, though: the data on all the devices will overlap. You will have your address book in Outlook, on your RAZR, on your Blackberry, in your car, on your home phone. It is the same address book, with some segmentation (I do not care to have my entire company address book on my home phone). The same for music, video and so on. Everything is shared between all your devices.

If the data is shared, it must be synchronized. If I change a phone number in Outlook, it must change on my cell. And vice versa. I do not have to do it twice or it is game over.

Hence, we created Funambol as an open standard synchronization engine. Synchronization will be a basic commodity powering the next computing shift towards mobile. Open source is the best way to address a commodity. So... we are golden :-)

That said, where is the data stored in open source? In a MySQL database. How do you get it out of there and put on a mobile device is a question a lot of people are asking (at least, they ask me ;-) The answer is in my speech at MySQL User Conference, next Tuesday April 25th, at 5:20 pm in Santa Clara (BYOB, bring your own beer because you are going to be tired).

The title is "Synchronizing MySQL-based Applications with Mobile Devices". The content will include a description of our cool tutorial "Creating J2ME Applications with Sync4j 2.3, MySQL, and Eclipse".

I'll see you there.

V3 beta 3 is out: a WAP Mail Server is in

Good news from our product team this week: they released the third beta of Funambol v3.

It includes some updated modules: DS Server, Windows Mobile Client Plug-in, Client API for C++, Admin Tool for Windows/Linux.

It also includes a brand new module: a WAP Mail Server. It comes from my quest to distribute great Italian software to the world. It has been contributed by Comvalid, the US counterpart of Inrete.

Our WAP Mail server allows anybody with a WAP broser (that's almost 100% of cell phones out there) to access its email (POP or IMAP). There is no push, for that you have to use the other modules of our product.

The WAP Server is of a very high quality and it is capable of doing things that Gmail Mobile is just dreaming of. For example, the way we manage attachments is really cool. Powerpoint slides are converted in jpgs, that you can browse with a click (page by page), with the ability of zooming into the slide. Granted, you are going to need a powerpoint on your cell only once a quarter. But when you need it, you'll see how important it is to have it.

I am very glad we got this release out. It is a great step. The next one should come around the end of May. With that, we'll release the first version of the Enterprise package. It is going to be interesting.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

How much open is dual licensing?

While on the slopes, I had time to think. There is an interesting discussion going on in our mailing list, about how open Funambol is. I mean, we are obviously open source. But are we really an open project? That is an interesting question, valid for every open source project but more so for dual licensing projects.

Is Linux really open? Can you contribute to the core if you want? Yes, but there is a benevolent dictator that will allow you to do it or not. So... you can, but... Well, maybe Linux is not really open. It is close, but you have to demonstrate to be good and the doors of paradise will open up for you.

What about dual licensing projects? We also have a benevolent dictator (in our case, it is Stefano). The difference is that his motives might also be linked to commercial goals. The community might not have full visibility of those motives and feel we have a evil purpose.

To avoid looking "close", you have to be very open on your goals and define what you do for the project and what the community should do. It is called a Social Contract. We published the Funambol Social Contract some time ago. It sets the rules. It is a forever-changing document that adapts to the community input. It is a crucial document.

Dual licensing is always at risk not to look open. Sometimes people forget that open source does not mean chaos and random development. The good open source project (including Linux) have a rigid organization. It is the only way to build good quality software. The same is for dual licensing open source projects. If you are running one or you are thinking about starting one, my suggestion is to make sure you sign a contract with your community. Make your process open and you will end up being as open as any open source project. Keep your process close and your community will leave you. It is a tight-rope walk. Every single day.

We are half a way there...

I spent a few days in Deer Valley, near Park City (Utah). Amazing spring skiing. For someone who grew up in the Alps, fifteen minutes to the slopes, it feels weird to take a flight to go skiing. But it was worth it.

Anyway, I paid half of my bet. I skied with the crappy Arsenal jearsey for three days in a row. So many people made fun of me... Even Kenny G, who told me "next time bet that you won't have an haircut forever, and you'll end up like me". Matt showed up only for lunch and not skiing, claiming he had three kids sick, while in reality he was busy preparing the sunscreen to leave for Costarica.

Anyway, with respect to the bet I lost, I am half a way there (as Rony uses to say). I'll have to deliver the Funambol server to Alfresco, but I will wait for the Enterprise version of v3, due in the next few weeks.

Small question for my US friends: why do Americans only use green, blue and black to label runs? In Europe we have also red, which means quite difficult (but not black). Instead, here they have blue with two squares... Was red not politically correct and they decided not to import it?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Open source my ass?

I love open source. I love the community. You put together a large group of very smart guys and you can get anywhere. I am sure we'll change the mobile market forever with Funambol, because when you have so many brains working together... you'll end up creating something great.

Unfortunately, having so many smart people sometimes fires back ;-) Today, I spent some of my cycles on thinking about an email in our mailing list, titled "Open source my ass". I love the title and the content was really interesting. It was all about the tight-rope walk we are trying to do with Funambol. It goes down to what is "free" and what you have to pay for. As usual, people forget that open source means open, not free. But that is a different story I will leave to the smart brains behind the concepts.

In this case, the discussion was about support. Free support (from the mailing list) vs. paid support (to Funambol). If you really want to create a community, you need to help people to start working on your stuff. However, where do you stop? Where do you set the line and start telling people "hey, you have to pay for this"?

If Funambol people answer all the questions, the community will be developed around lurkers, just waiting for a cooked meal. Nobody will step up to the plate and say "I know the answer, here it is" because you'll know someone from Funambol will answer. That will be unhealthy. That is not a community. It is a commercial company giving away some free code to convince people to buy. That is not what I want the Funambol project to be. This is not how we change the rules in mobile.

I asked my team (reinforcing it today) to be more involved in answering to the community. But they have to do it in their spare time (if they have some ;-) 15 minutes a day. No more. It is 35 people growing fast, so it is a good amount of man hours...

Now, where do we put the line? If a question requires more than 15 minutes for an answer, does it make sense for someone in our team to do it in its spare time? Or does it land you in "you are asking too much, so you probably do not have enough time to do it yourself and maybe you could pay for it, so we get your money and put it back in the project"? What is too much? How do you quantify it? What should the metric be?

I do not know. I am throwing the 15-minutes-a-day rule out and see if it works. We'll find it out soon. That's the beauty of open source. That's the beauty of a community of smart guys. If it is not going to work, I'll get a "15 minutes my ass" email and I'll change it until I get it right.

I love open source.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Lost my bet :-(

I hate Matt. Juventus was kicked out of the Champions League. Arsenal is in the semifinal. I should have never started this blog. I jinxed it.

I tried to recover in Vegas. Made few bets on the roulette with Daniele. He lost. I won. But he cheers for Inter Milan and he is used to losing. I am not. Juventus always wins. I hate losing :-)

I hate you Matt. I'll see you next week in Utah. Let me know where to buy the Arsenal jersey. I am going to wear it while skiing.

Does LinuxWord Conference still make sense?

I came off a long week, flying to Boston to speak at LinuxWorld, then to Las Vegas for CTIA, where we had a booth.

It felt strange. I am open source guy, but I felt uneasy at LinuxWorld. I just could not understand the reason for people to be there. Linux is cool, but does a new kernel release justify a conference (and more than one)? Traffic seemed slow at LinuxWorld. People looked bored.

On the other side, as the mobile open source company we draw huge crowds at CTIA. Everybody was excited about open source (in mobile). Interest. Excitement. I did not find that at LinuxWorld. Ok, maybe Vegas is more exciting than Boston. But it was not just that.

I am starting to feel LinuxWorld does not make sense anymore. I reminds me of that winter in 1995 when I flew to the same place (Boston) for the third World Wide Web conference (man, it was cold!!). Back then, I started feeling a conference about the web was useless, because the web was becoming mainstream.

Open source is becoming mainstream, the risk for it to become boring is significant. Let's spread out open source in vertical conferences and keep the excitement up. Let's shut down LinuxWorld and then OSBC in a year or so (open source and business is still somewhat interesting, but it will get boring soon, and there are too many OSBC Conferences). If we really want to do something in open source, let's create a Mobile Linux conference. I know I am biased, but the mobile track was quite interesting (and we had a fire alarm evacuation in the middle of my speech, which was exciting ;-)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

LinuxWorld: mobile is here!

There is a new thing at LinuxWorld in Boston: mobile. It took us a little bit, but open source finally hit mobile. Big time. And LinuxWorld is recognizing it.

So much that one of the four tracks this year is Mobile and Embedded Linux. The big guys are here to talk about mobile Linux: Motorola will speak, Nokia will speak. Montavista and PalmSource (yep, they are open source buddies now) will also speak. Mobile Linux is really hot.

Funny enough, I am the only guy speaking about mobile applications and not the OS. Great to see we are ahead of the pack. I am not sure why they put my speech to open the track, before anybody else, but I take it as a compliment.

If you are in Boston next week, "It's Not Rocket Science: Open Source Makes Mobile Email Real" is at 10:15 am on Tuesday. I'll be landing on Monday night, be around all day on Tuesday to then fly to Vegas for CTIA. Give me a buzz if you are around and want to talk.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Karting is addictive for open source people

I just got this picture from Rony. It is a portion of the Funambol team in the US after the traditional go-kart race. Unfortunately, only men showed up. Otherwise, it would have been much more interesting.

Just to make sure Alberto does not forget the final result, here you find a copy.