Saturday, May 27, 2006

ActiveSync, SyncML and the evil empire

I have always admired Microsoft. I guess I am one of the few open source people with sincere admiration for Microsoft. Not really for the quality of their software (you need open source for that), but because they have been able to hold on a cash cow while they could afford to make a lot of mistakes to find the new revenue stream. When they have been successful, they have made it with a Trojan horse.
What is the last success of Microsoft? I would say Internet Explorer. It was ten years ago. And it was free (as in beer) software. Mediocre quality, never improved for lack of competition (now it is coming, so they are moving again). But it was its Trojan horse to control the web. And they still control it (even if Google is putting up a good fight).
The cash cow are Windows, Office and Exchange. Period. Enough to create a monopoly of insane magnitude.
What's next? Mobile, of course. There is a paradigm shift to mobile, they cannot miss it.
What is their Trojan horse there? ActiveSync. Forget about Windows Mobile, they know they will not be able to control the mobile OS market, as they did with the desktop market. They tried with the server market and failed. Nobody will allow them to succeed in it. I heard a nice story once: "I told my daughter not to use the hammer because she could get hurt. She used anyway. She got hurt. She cried. She came back and said she won't do it again. I know she won't." Mobile device manufacturer will not allow Microsoft to do what they did to PC manufacturers.
So... why ActiveSync? Because it is the link between the mobile and the fixed world. It is the glue that ties the two worlds, which cannot live separately. Because data synchronization is for mobile what the browser is for the Internet.
On ActiveSync, you move your PIM data (contacts, calendar, etc.), you do messaging (Pocket Outlook), you move files, you move applications, you develop the new crop of mobile software. Applications will be resident on devices. ActiveSync is the trick that Microsoft is using to power the mobile Internet, based on mobile widgets.
ActiveSync is not only on Windows Mobile devices. They are licensing it around like crazy. Symbian has licensed it. Nokia has licensed it. It is on Palm. They are playing with the hammer in their hands...
How good is ActiveSync? Mediocre, as usual. It has been built for desktop synchronization over serial and USB. They extended it to over-the-air synchronization but it was not built for it. It is ugly. The Microsoft Direct Push technology is even worse. It drains the battery on the device and requires an IT Manager to expose Exchange on the Internet. Though, it is getting everywhere. Monopolies have some power.
Now, who is fighting ActiveSync? Is Sun doing it? Is Google doing it? Is IBM doing it? Is Red Hat doing it? Is Oracle doing it? Nope. They haven't seen it coming. The only alternative in the market is SyncML, an open standard by the Open Mobile Alliance. It is installed on 700 million phones, 80% of the devices sold last year. It does what ActiveSync does and much better (built for over-the-air sync from day one). It is a grass root movement, probably also because of Funambol with our huge community and our 500,000 downloads. It is a phenomenal success. We are fighting the evil empire on its new battle. We discovered the Trojan horse. We are pointing to it. However, we do not have the marketing power of Microsoft... I guess we could use some help ;-)
Do not let ActiveSync get into your network...It is the new Trojan horse of the evil empire. Go with SyncML. Do not let them lock you in once again. Man, they are good!!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Funambol named a Red Herring 100 company

Pretty cool news today. We have been named one of the top "100 Private North American Firms Driving the Future of Technology" by Red Herring. Looking at the list, I am very glad to be in with Sling Media, Zimbra, Jajah and Mozilla. Red Herring claims they picked Google and eBay in the past and they are good at this: let's hope they are right :-)

One thing I noticed on the list: there is a pretty good amount of companies building solution around open source. Together wth Funambol, there is Zimbra, Pentaho, EnterpriseDB, Mozilla, BlackDuck, Collabnet. Probably even more that I never heard about. Or at least, I would guess that 99 out of 100 are using open source software. I should put a prize up for the person who finds the one not using open source...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My 2c on Sun, Java and (mobile) open source

JavaOne is in town. Everybody is excited about the announcement that Java will be open source. "It is not a matter of if, just how", said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun new CEO. I actually feel "when" matters even more than "if and how" these days, but that's a different story and many are writing about it ;-)
When I look at Sun, I see a big hole. They have the greatest tool of all time (Java), both on the server side (JavaEE) and the mobile side (JavaME). The JavaEE application servers are the backbone of the Internet. JavaME commands a 60% market on the device side. That's a lot of devices, considering we are close to sell one billion a year. Sun is potentially the Microsoft of both backend infrastructure and mobile. Sadly, they are not... Where is the hole? There is nothing in their product line to get data from a JavaEE server and put it on a JavaME device. Nothing that makes JavaME really useful and bridges it with the world of the JavaEE application servers.
Forget Java open source, this is way more interesting. You own two markets and you do not take advantage of that.  This is juicy stuff.
Obviously, I am biased. Funambol is the missing link in the Sun product offering. We have a JavaEE backend and we move data to JavaME devices. One day, someone called our product a J2ME server. I found it bizarre then, but it makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Without data, a J2ME app is close to useless. If the future is in mobile widgets, as I believe, you need to pump data to a JavaME app. We have it all, we can get everything from a JavaEE server to a JavaME app. Funambol is the mobile open source application server with the largest mobile development community. We can make the strategy of Sun a reality... Scary, we can help them become Microsoft :-)
Anyway, I love Sun. I always did. I was one of the dumb people that developed code with Java alpha back at HP Labs. That screamed when beta came out and had nothing to do with alpha... I sold Sun boxes in Italy and I was heavily involved in an agreement with Sun while at Reuters, when we were selling E10K to financial institutions like they were lollipops (good old 2000 :-)
I heard Jonathan Schwartz for the first time at JavaOne, back in 2002 (I guess, I am getting old...). I was in a room for a press conference, faking to be a journalist since I had a monthly column on a wireless magazine. Scott McNealy was silent, Jonathan was doing all the talking. Crisp vision, great message. I thought: "this guy with the ponytail will be the next CEO, he is too good". I rooted for him since that day. It took him some years and he made it. Give him some time and he will figure out the hole. I just hope he will give me a call to plug it :-)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

WAP client or mobile widget?

The talk before mine at MobileMonday Global Summit was given by Christian Lindholm, a VP in Mobile at Yahoo. I met Christian a year ago in Helsinki for the first time, when he was still working at Nokia on Lifeblog (a very cool product, using SyncML). He then moved to Yahoo and is coming to live in the Bay Area, the coolest place on earth when the weather is good.
His talk was full of Yahoo!, but still interesting. In particular, he outlined Yahoo plans to bring to mobile phones the Soccer World Cup (the most watched sport event on the planet). They are going to have a WAP site and a J2ME app. The Java app will include live stream of results, but looked less rich in content. It is targeted to the hard-core fan.
As you might know, at Funambol we built a mobile World Cup application in 2002. Built for Palm OS, it allowed people to get updates on scores and standings, while HotSyncing. It was a phenomenal success and our first large deployment of Sync4j. It was a fat client, obviously. Today, I would call it a mobile widget.
I find the decision of Yahoo to build a WAP site quite interesting. They have a fat client (collection of widgets) for the Yahoo experience, but they still decided to go with WAP in this case. We all know browsing on a mobile phone sucks. However, when you have a ton of content ready, going with WAP makes your life much easier. You can transcode or use mobile CSS. I suspect this was their main reason (the other one was serving the non-J2ME market, which is still a good chunk of the market, but they could have chosen to build separate clients for Brew, Windows Mobile and PalmOS).
They built a mobile widget with J2ME. I would bet the Funambol server I am delivering to Alfresco that the user experience on that client will be much better. Real time updates being one reason. Local storage of results, instead of download at every click, being the other reason. Instant access to content, without the need of downloading it from the web. However, they might not have spent the necessary amount of time to build a proper app, since it is not an easy task.
The tradeoff between a WAP client or a mobile widget is clear. One is easy to develop, only requires to adapt existing web content easily but delivers a horrible user experience. The other one is harder to develop, requires a way to import pieces of existing web content (easy to do, if the web content is well designed...) but can deliver a great user experience.
My feeling is that company will try to go for the easy route. We will have tons of seldom-used mobile web content. At the end, the companies that will make it in mobile will be the ones that will take the time to build widgets and deliver a great experience (not WAP crap). Google and Yahoo started big in this category. All the others will follow. Stay tuned, it is going to happen fast.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Entiva Group report on Funambol

Entiva Group has recently published a report on Funambol. It is very nice. If I were not the CEO of Funambol, I would guess Funambol paid them to write it. We did not. It is totally independent. They really wrote what they think about the mobile open source company. Looking at the conclusions, obviously I totally subscribe to what they say :-)

MobileMonday Global Summit

I am in Helsinki today, speaking at the MobileMonday Global Summit about how open source changes the game in mobile email. Very interesting crowd. Very international. I keep picking up a very good vibe, every time I am at a mobile conference. We had some tough years, but we have definitely turned the corner.

Russ and Mike are not here, though there is a picture of them on the wall... I guess I am representing the Silicon Valley MobileMonday and I am doing my best. But it is not the same thing without them...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Italians do IT better

I am speaking at an interesting event in Italy today. We are talking about University and Entrepreneurship. Carlo De Benedetti, formerly CEO of Olivetti, is giving the keynote. We are discussing about education and how to apply what you learn, in order to create a great company.

Italy is a great country. Not just for art, food and fashion. We had and have great minds, but we are missing the attitude to use them to export our technology. Ferrari being an exception (that's actually the best example of great Italian fashion and fantastic technology combined). I started Funambol to create another exception, exporting Italian software to the world. Software is creativity. That's the best characteristic of Italians. The problem has always been how to distribute it worldwide. Open source is the answer. Open source destroys any barrier for distribution. It allows European software to show its competence in software, for the first time in history (SAP excluded).

Think about Open Source. Linus is Finnish. MySQL is Swedish. Marc Fleury (JBoss founder) is French. SUSE was German. Funambol started in Italy. The best open source stories are European. Then we all moved to the US to create commercial open source companies. But this is a different story. The technology started in Europe and open source allowed us to distribute it worldwide and make it known.

Open source also contributes to dispel myths and legends (a.k.a. common sense). I heard once a person say about his public company in the Valley: "we have an Italian CTO, it is like having a German chef" (two countries insulted in one sentence ;-) I better do not talk about German food, but the great thing about open source is that the code is out there. Everybody can see it. If it is good, people use it. If it sucks, nobody uses it. Funambol has been downloaded half a million times. It has to be good. Italians must be good at software and IT, after all.

My next t-shirt is going to have "Italians do IT better" on the front. If you work in IT and have an Italian ancestor, give me a buzz and I will send you one. Girls might look at you and think you are not just a geek :-)