Sunday, August 27, 2006

Italy Wins World Cup Of Programming

Today I received a link to an article describing how Italy won the World Cup of Programming. I am not surprised, but I am certainly very glad :-) Maybe I will not be the only one in the world saying that "Italians do IT better". By the way, the t-shirt is about ready, if you want one just let me know. You just have to prove me to have Italian heritage and be somehow related to Information Technology...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Got DSL?

An update for all the people that were so kind to share my pain about my DSL: it took me exactly 26 days, but I finally have DSL at home. It does not download big files (not sure why) and they have been charging me for the service for the entire month, but I am so happy to be back in the broadband world ;-)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mobile Ajax?

For my entire life, the word Ajax meant for me either a cleaning product my mom used or a pretty good soccer team in the Netherlands. Nowadays, it means Asynchronous Javascript and XML.
As Wikipedia would describe it: "intent is to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change. This is meant to increase the web page's interactivity, speed, and usability".
This week I hosted a panel at LinuxWorld, called "Got mobile?" and I invited Scott Dietzen, the CTO of Zimbra (and formerly of BEA). Zimbra is the poster child of Ajax and Web 2.0. Scott is the best person on the planet to talk about it.
When I was writing alpha Java code at HP Labs in 1995, I thought Java was going to be the language to make the browser more interactive, going beyond the concept of hypertext navigation. It did not happen, partially because Microsoft killed it (and Netscape) and partially because Sun never made true the statement "write once, run everywhere".
Many years later, DHTML and Ajax might be the way to make it happen. I still have doubts it make sense, because with Ajax you destroy the concept of hypertext navigation and the Back and Forward buttons on your browser become meaningless. However, the browser is an ubiquitous way to distribute software, people know how to use it... so I guess I can take it the drawbacks (I am a pragmatic individual).
During the panel, I asked the a couple of questions:
 - Where do you see mobile apps go, towards stored application and data with push capabilities or browser-based dynamic apps?
 - How much data would you store on the device? Is storage going to be always cheaper and bandwidth always more expensive or the trend will change?
The questions were targeted at understanding the future paradigm for mobile applications. Will we have stored apps on the device with local data or will we move the browser paradigm on devices?
I wrote time ago that I believe in the concept of mobile widgets. Maybe mobile Ajax could be the tool to make it happen. You could have applications cached on your device, that use asynchronous calls to the web, using the same tools developers utilize on desktops. Opera is already working on it. It might be what kills Java once again...
Scott did not seem much convinced we are close to mobile Ajax. He said we are not even at Web 1.0 on mobile, that the experience sucks when browsing on a device, that the devices are not powerful enough for the Ajax engine... Let alone thinking about Web 2.0 on mobile. However, he seemed quite sure it will be the way to go, eventually.
I have a doubt, which I expressed during the panel. The paradigm of browsing is user-initiated. You open the browser, you click. That works on PCs.  Your monitor is in front of you, turned on. You interact.
On mobile, it is different. In most cases, you just react. The phone is idle, then it rings: you answer. It beeps: you check the SMS your received.
You do not leave your monitor idle, but you do it with a cell phone. Actually, I would guess 90% of the time your phone is with you, it is in stand-by. Apart from people spending 4 hours a day on a train (which are the vast minority of people on the planet, let's not forget it), we use the phone to react to events. That's when it is useful. When I get off my car, I need that information right there. I turn the phone on, I read it, I do something about it (maybe just curse, if Ajax scored against Juventus).
Now, what is different? That's push. Push technology is the key for mobile applications to be useful. You need information to be pushed to you. Not just email. Everything. From weather updates to purchase orders to tickets to news to stock prices and exchange rates. You need push on devices that are mostly idle. You might not need it on your PC (remember Marimba?) because you are in front of it all the time. You react sometimes (e.g. when you get an email) but that's about it. You NEED push for mobile.
Scott, if we can mix together push and Ajax, we might be golden. Local data storage and apps plus a simple async mechanism to get updates, triggered via push. Push Ajax? PAjax? p-Ajax? Pajax? I am ready ;-)

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Honest Public License

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my way of doing dual licensing, keeping myself honest with the open source community. Today, I would like to turn the table and ask the community to be honest with itself.

The problem I am addressing is the famous "ASP loophole" of the GPL v2. Famous because everybody in the industry talks about it, but nobody has ever done anything about it ;-) The loophole is easy to explain: GPL v2 talks about distribution of software and includes a
copyleft clause that triggers when you distribute your code (that is, everything around the code becomes GPL as well). In 1991, we used floppies to distribute software. I still remember booting Linux with the boot and root floppies and getting the network piece of the OS with N1, N2, etc. Nowadays, the world of software is seeing a shift to distributing software as a service (SaaS). I believe 90% of the software will be distributed as SaaS in the coming years.

What's the ASP loophole? Some people interpret distribution of software as a service not as distribution of software (because GPL v2 was created before web services were on the horizon and therefore did not address them in the license). They believe that they can use open source software to offer services to the public, without returning anything to the community. That's taking open source software as free beer. It is just not being honest with the community, to the people who sweat to write the code to see someone running away with it and not contributing anything back. That's totally against the spirit of free software and the GPL. You have the freedom to use it for yourself or internally in your organization, but when you distribute it to the public, you have to give back to the community. It is that simple. That's the spirit of GPL. That's why open source will take over the world of software: it creates great software and phenomenal support.

I have always included distribution of software as a service in my interpretation of the GPL, but I am not a lawyer. And lawyers always find a way around something, if it is not spelled out in a clear way (I am talking about my brother, mostly ;-) Therefore, for my interpretation to be valid, a brief clarification of the GPL v2 is needed.

That's why we created the first draft of the
Honest Public License, a slight modification of GPL v2 with just an additional paragraph (here you can see the diff between HPL and GPL v2). We took that paragraph from the latest draft of GPL v3, relaxing it a bit (what's in GPL v3 was taken from AGPL, but I feel it to be too strong, since it is not based on trust -> I trust my community, I do not need to force them to open a service for me to suck up their code). The goal is to make HPL upward compatible with GPL v3 as much as possible (one note: the FSF is thinking about the ASP loophole, not just Affero or me ;-) We sent it to the FSF for review (I would love to keep the preamble, if they allow me to do it), to lots of open source luminaries (that gave it the thumbs up) and intend to submit it to the OSI.

The goal of HPL is to keep the community honest with itself. The use of the name "Honest" is ABSOLUTELY not intended to mean that GPL or any other licenses are dishonest. It is quite the opposite, actually. But some people are taking advantage of a GPL legal loophole and are defeating the spirit of the GPL. HPL is just GPL extended to cover the distribution of software as a service to the public. It does not take away any freedom (i.e. you can use it internally in your corporation), it just covers when someone distributes the code to the public (whether with a floppy or as a service). It is meant to keep people honest with their community.

What motivated this new license now? We have a general availability version of
Funambol coming out in September. I already know there are commercial companies that are live with our code and do not return anything. More than two years ago, we did something similar, switching Sync4j from BSD to GPL. There were companies taking our code and running away with it, without returning anything. One even managed to get public with software based on our code, and our community never saw a line of their modifications. Now is no different. On top of this, I followed a discussion on Matt's blog, which made me think that nobody has ever done anything about the loophole because large interests are at stake (I really would love to see the improvements to the Linux file system that have been made, I could use them for my open source project ;-)

In any case, this is a battle for open source, not against anyone in particular. It is a fight to keep the spirit of open source alive, more than anything else. We'll keep the license open for comments for thirty days (please click on comments below to leave your opinion) and then we will finalize it. My hope is that HPL one day will disappear because GPL v3 will supersede it. I plan to work hard to make it happen in the upcoming months.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The mobile time warp

I spoke at a very nice event in San Francisco on Thursday, organized by BAIA at Adobe. The title was "Mobile Platforms: The New Frontier for Software and Services". It was organized as a panel. Great attendance, lots of smart people, phenomenal gelato (you must trust an Italian when you hear good things about pizza and gelato ;-)

We all talked about the new frontier of mobile and - at times - I felt we were trapped in the mobile time warp. It is an interesting phenomenon that I observed in the last six years. Time is frozen in mobile.

We talked about m-commerce and people buying books with their phone, the phone as a wallet and paying for parking with your cell, the third screen and TV coming to your mobile device, the "look at how they use it in Japan" thing. I was on the same panel six years ago and I heard the same exact statements. Maybe the gelato was different, but everything else was exactly the same. That's the mobile time warp.

I tried to get out of the mobile time warp, saying that I feel the phone is mostly a messaging device (that's voice and text), that Japanese people spend four hours a day on a train with their phone in their hands (and I am lucky if I have 30 seconds when I get out of my car before entering the office) and that I need my couch to watch TV, that the phone will be perfect to receive tickets and get you in the opera and the stadium and on the train or even buy coke at the vending machine, because its value is the location and the fact you always carry with you. I even said that any uptake will simply be based on how carriers bill the services (it usually helps to get people out of the warp).

I failed, I got trapped in the mobile time warp. We have heavily marketed this thing for six years and people are still waiting for the dream to materialize. The reality is that the phone will be used by many different people to do million different things (but the killer app will boringly be messaging, anything else will be a niche). The phone won't replace my PC, my TV, and probably not even my iPod nano (which is the perfect specialized device). When will be able to get out of pure marketing, segment the market based on age and location, understand usability patterns (I bet all I had that launching 3G for videocalls in Italy would not have worked, and they actually made it thanks to lower voice tariffs) and listen to the users?

Will we ever break the mobile time warp?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Got Mobile? LinuxWorld Panel coming up next week...

If you are going to LinuxWorld in San Francisco next week, you can't miss this one (you could, but the three panelist I invited are really cool people that you should listen to...).

What: LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Panel
Got Mobile: Extending your project's mobile capabilities

Funambol CEO Fabrizio Capobianco will moderate a panel of other
open source leaders about their projects' mobile strategies.

To register for the event, please visit .

When: Thursday, August 17, 2006
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Where: Moscone Convention Center North
800 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Room # 305

Why: Open source applications are increasingly being deployed in the
enterprise, but many lack the mobility that is demanded in today's
business environment. Executives from companies Funambol,
Motorola, SugarCRM and Zimbra will share how they are giving
customers the flexibility to access and use applications anywhere,
anytime. Attendees will get new information that will help them to
easily and quickly extend the mobile capabilities of their

Who: Panel moderator
-- Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol

-- Scott Dietzen, CTO of Zimbra
-- William Maggs, director, Technology and Developer Ecosystem, at
-- John Roberts, CEO and cofounder of SugarCRM

See you next week at LinuxWorld!

Friday, August 04, 2006

My AT&T DSL nightmare

I am not sure how related this is to mobile open source, but it is pissing me off, so I would like to write about it (that's the beauty of having a blog, I guess). This blog is getting quite popular (I do not know why, but the stats are astonishing), therefore it might help solving my problem :-)
Few years ago, I moved from Silicon Valley back to Italy. In the new house, I requested phone and DSL to Telecom Italia. It was just after Christmas. It took them 2 weeks (two) to connect my phone line (it had the dialtone since day one) and over a month to get DSL. I thought "welcome back to the third world of technology". I moved back to the US quite fast, after setting up the development office in Pavia and the business office in Milan.
Last week, I moved from my house in Menlo Park to a bigger house in Menlo Park (I needed a family room all for myself to accommodate my SlingBox). I called AT&T to move phone line and DSL (AT&T Yahoo). The phone moved overnight, with the same number. I was amazed. At 7 am sharp, it ringed to tell me it was ready (it actually woke me up, but who cares?). Wow. That's great technology at work. See ya Telecom Italia.
The same night, AT&T called saying they had some issues with the DSL. I replied that it was strange, since I had DSL two miles away and the guy in the house had DSL up to the day before I moved in. They said "yep, we know, but...".
After a week of looking at my DSL router with the blinking red light, I called. The lady said that it was not their fault, it was the fault of the "phone company". Who the hell is the phone company, when I am calling AT&T? Telecom Italia?? Anyway, apparently they do not have enough capacity for my DSL. Once it was disconnected, they gave it to someone else. Now I just have to wait, but they sort of assure me it is going to be connected by August 25th (that's three weeks from now...).
I am checking email in the morning and night with dial-up. It is a step forward since Italy, because there I could not even do that for two weeks (I was going berserk). But this is Silicon Valley. Menlo Park is the center of capital for every technology company in the world. I live at the border with Atherton, where the rich people are. This is supposed to be the first world. It is not. I should have guessed looking at the poles carrying electricity, phone and DSL, falling down at the first rain. Does anybody else find that bizarre? I guess we removed our last electricity pole in the fifties in Italy :-)
Welcome back to the third world of technology, Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A nice Red Herring article

This week, Red Herring has a nice article on Funambol in the print edition. Unfortunately, the online version of the article is missing the most important piece, the picture of the Sync4j Bug ("the only Sync4j bug you can't catch"). I have no idea how the photographer managed to make it look so shiny, but I guess he is a magician. My bug really could use a car wash...