Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tales from a user

I was browsing around sites and I found one comment titled "How to do over the air sync with your own server" that matches nicely my stance on ActiveSync and Microsoft. I thought you might enjoy it ;-)
Thanks to someone here, I took a look at funambol (an open source SyncML server with associated client plugins for Outlook, Smartphones etc).

I have to say that so far it RULES. I am going to delete active sync from my machines. Ding-dong the witch is dead !

Funambol just works (except for encryption, presumably a bug
in the version I'm using). It syncs notes, tasks, contacts and
calendar over TCP/IP. It will use either WiFi or CDMA on the
VX6700. You install a server (I have it on our linux mail server),
and clients for all your devices (I use two PCs with outlook,
an iPAQ PDA and the XV6700). Each client pushes and pulls
its changes to the server. They all stay in sync, all done over
the network.

This is exactly the product that Microsoft should have made
but did not. Activesync is the spawn of the devil by comparison.

This makes the VX6700 so much nicer to use because I can
keep it my pocket at all times (never forget it when I go
to a meeting, plugged into the cradle). But yet it can keep in

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Phone Sniper launched: "You give them cash???"

A few weeks ago, we launched a program called Code Sniper. The goal was to accelerate development of open source code from the community, giving a cash incentive (1,000 to 3,000 dollars). Last week we launched Phone Sniper. The goal here is to formalize the unbelievable amount of input we get every day about phones working with our platform and the development of "Synclets", small pieces of code that make a particular phone (with a certain firmware version, on a specific carrier on the planet) work with Funambol. If you do it and share it, we pay you 25 dollars.
Now the question: wait, are you giving them cash??? Isn't this open source, where everybody works for free, you love each other and just want to topple Micro$oft because it is evil?
Yes, this is open source. The source is open. Everybody benefits from it. We love each other because of this.
Nope, not everybody works for free. Some need food on the table for their kids. And we do not care about Microsoft, we are just building the best platform possible for mobile. Actually, we would love to work with Microsoft (although they might not like our open standard approach, because they might actually trying to be the evil empire afterall...)
With our honest dual licensing approach, we are not upselling to our community. We are building the best platform possible, together. The community is us. Many make money bundling the solution and giving it to their customers, with the professional services around it. Some do not, they are single individuals just helping for the sake of it. Funambol though keeps making money with the Carrier Edition, selling it to mobile operators. Our customers are giving us cash (not Playstations). Why should we keep it all for ourselves or give the community yet-another-gadget?
Therefore, yes, we are giving them cash. There is nothing evil in that. It helps us making cash. Some comes back. The software improves even more. We make more cash. More comes back. Is that simple. There is nothing dirty in cash. Cash is great.
And, by the way, it works phenomenally. Code Sniper attracted developers now building a Google Calendar and Address Book connector, a Yahoo one, a Symbian one, a DB4O integration and so on. Phone Sniper got to 50 phones in two days. Good luck to any proprietary company trying to do this. Open source rules.
In case you are interested to hear more, I wrote about Balancing Open Source and Commerce in the Enterprise Open Source Magazine which is out this week (I believe). It is a long article, I warn you. But it might give you the entire story of the tight-rope walk in a single piece. So you could stop follow my blog and save some time ;-)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Red Hat, Oracle and (again) dual licensing

A week ago I was writing about RedHat... Quoting myself (I feel can do it, since just a week passed, otherwise I would look like a old grumpy man ;-) "They [Red Hat] do not control it [Linux]. There is nothing they can do about it. They then take it and wrap it around as Red Hat Enterprise. It is still GPL (they have no chances, they must release it as GPL, they do not own the IP of Linux) and people can take it even for free and build an identical product (see Centos). The only way Red Hat can defend itself is by enforcing its copyright on the Red Hat logo (and they are really aggressive on it, rightly so). Pretty weak but it seems to be working well for them - for now."

Well, pretty weak it was a week ago... Working well - for now - a week ago...
Today Centos became Oracle... Red Hat price collapsed (their market cap is half of what it was six months ago). Oracle has a bigger support organization than Red Hat... They will support the same exact identical precise code. At half the price (!). Now it is very weak and not working well... That's scary stuff if you are an investor in Red Hat.

Honestly, I am not convinced Oracle can really do it. Taking a product from someone else and support it is not an easy task (although this is what Red Hat is doing with Linux...). My bet is that Mr. Ellison is going to let Red Hat stock price slip a little bit more, than buy it with another hostile takeover. That will make him quasi-Microsoft, which has always been his goal. And he will buy JBoss in it, which would be a nice revenge.

Anyway, my point is that - once again - dual licensing is the only viable option to build a defensible business with open source. Anybody can take Funambol Community Edition, but I can give mobile operators my Carrier Edition and be sure that nobody will hijack my business. The mobile operators will get the source code, not my competitors. It is licensing, not just support.

As Marten once said (I guess it was him, I have a veneration for Marten so anything smart must come from him), my mobile operators want the source code of my product as much as they want the airbag in their car. It must be there (who would buy a car without airbag?), but they hope they will never use it. What's the point to give them the instructions to build the car? Just give them the airbag, which is what they want. And your competitor will not benefit from the instructions to build the car...

Let me just be clear. That does NOT apply for the Community Edition. There, the source code is everything. We are building the city car together, the one that everybody needs, cheap but reliable. On top of it, we are taking that design and we are building a race car for the mobile operators. That's what they need. They race cars. They do not build them. They do not care about building them. They want the fastest, most affordable, most secure, most reliable race car. They will pay top dollars for it. Our community is different from our customers. That's my honest dual licensing. Not weak and working well (hopefully for a while ;-)

Walking the tight-rope walk in open source is everything. Building a defensible business model is the only way to get open source companies to the famous billion dollars in revenues. Being disruptive is cool, but being smartly disruptive is better. That is, I guess, what Mr. Ellison is all about.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Microsoft to dominate mobile? They do not think so

I was looking at an article today titled "Microsoft sees fast growth in Windows phones: report" and I started to wonder a bit about "fast growth" and control of the market by Microsoft.

Some people - just the ones that do not know/understand mobile ;-) - are telling me that Microsoft will dominate this market as they dominated the PC market (BTW, I just bought the third Mac laptop for my employees because they asked for it and I could not find one single reason to say no...).

I do not think Microsoft will dominate mobile, sorry. They do not think it either...

Check the numbers: they had 6M devices last year with Windows Mobile. They plan to grow 100% this year. It looks like a big number... That's 12M devices. Maybe they will do 100% next year and the following one. That's 48M devices at the end of 2008. Wow.

In Q3 of this year, there were 245M phones shipped worldwide. We'll have 1B (one billion) phones shipped in 2006, still growing in the next two years.

If Microsoft is right and they make their numbers, they will have about a whopping 3% of the mobile market by the end of 2008. Apple is at 7% today on the PC market... Is Apple dominating the PC market??

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mobile TV and the inevitable lack of bandwidth

As you might remember, I am now a fan of mobile TV. No, I do not believe I will spend hours watching TV on my phone, but I feel I occasionally can spend few minutes watching something I taped before on my TiVo (if it is free). My SlingBox has been helpful for my father too, when we were visiting my younger brother in Washington DC and he could watch live soccer while I was driving from the airport (until my daughter at home started watching Sesame Street, but that's a different story...).
Two stories crossed my path today. The first one: "Video-hungry users could push Net to brink: Nortel". The second one: "TV on Mobile Phones: Heat or Hype?". They made me think (out loud, as usual).
If the net, that has been around for ages, cannot support the YouTube crowd, what makes we think Mobile TV will be different? The bandwidth is scarce... So scarce that, as soon as four people in my network cell have a SlingPlayer going on their mobile phone, the data traffic collapses (and I have EVDO). Unfortunately, the success of mobile TV might simply kill it. And I do not think networks will have more bandwidth that fast. That puts me in the Hype category, for now... I am grateful to be in the low bandwidth world of push email and synchronization ;-)
Please, do not get a SlingBox and, mostly, try to stay away from my network cell. I want to be the only one watching TV on my mobile phone, as long as I can. Thank you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I want to thank my mom again (but I need you this time)

Ok, you win something and you get greedy. It happens. I want to win the World Cup again, for example, but I have to wait...
I just found out my blog has been nominated in the top 50 by Fierce Wireless "based on editorial quality, site usability and penetration among wireless industry executives". Yeah, right.
Anyway, thanks for reading this. If you want to vote for this blog you can click on the icon on the right, chose "Mobile Open Source" and do your math (that is quite funny, BTW). I do not think the rules allow me to give away t-shirts to everybody voting for me, sorry. But I am Italian, therefore flexible by nature :-))

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I want to thank my mom...

Funambol won big at the Mobile Star Awards this week. We won Gold Star (that's the #1 prize ;-) for both our consumer email and our PIM solution. That's very nice and much appreciated. Thanks to all the people that voted for us. And all the crazy ones out there that voted for me and made me a Bright visionary in consumer mobile software. You should not have but I will definitely take it. To show my appreciation, I will spare you the acceptance speech :-)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MySQL, dual licensing and Red Hat

As you might have noticed, MySQL today announced a new offering. In a nutshell, they now have a Community Edition and an Enterprise Edition. The first is free and has external contributions. The second is something you pay for and fully owned by MySQL. That looks a lot like Red Hat, but - in reality - it is still really different. I have been exchanging emails with Marten in the last few days about the topic and I am fully convinced this is a smart move. It actually creates a model which is an improvement over Red Hat, in my opinion.
On the surface, it looks like MySQL is moving into the Red Hat model. The difference is that the source of Red Hat is Linux. They do not control it. There is nothing they can do about it. They then take it and wrap it around as Red Hat Enterprise. It is still GPL (they have no chances, they must release it as GPL, they do not own the IP of Linux) and people can take it even for free and build an identical product (see Centos). The only way Red Hat can defend itself is by enforcing its copyright on the Red Hat logo (and they are really aggressive on it, rightly so). Pretty weak but it seems to be working well for them - for now.
In July, I wrote a post about my way of doing dual licensing. That is working nicely for Funambol, with our Community Edition and our Carrier Edition. Nice separation of church and state. Everybody is happy.
MySQL is doing something similar. MySQL controls and owns its code. They are now opening the Community Edition to the world. They will still control that, though. And decide what goes into the Enterprise edition. That is the product they will sell. They can license it, not just get subscription for it. This can still generate revenues of a different scale (I am still a fan of software licensing and its margins, sorry), way beyond Red Hat (which is a nice business, do not get me wrong). It is a defensible strategy with full control of their future (they can change it when and if they want). The risk is that the move might screw up their ability to do dual licensing, if they are not careful. They won't control the full IP anymore on the Community Edition, so they will have to cherry pick for the Enterprise Edition (or buy out developers, but it did not work out that well with InnoDB...). It is called tight-rope walking (or funambulism), but Marten and Zach are two of the smartest people in the open source world and I know they will make it happen, no matter what.
Go dual licensing. Go MySQL. We just want to see you public before the end of 2007 ;-)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Holy Grail of Synchronization

Engtech has written a very popular post on his blog, called The Holy Grail of Synchronization: How to synchronize Microsoft Outlook (multiple locations), Google Calendar, Gmail, iPod, and mobile phone with Funambol / ScheduleWorld. If you are using Funambol - or thinking about using Funambol - I would definitely recommend it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What's on my Treo 650

One of Russ best post I remember was his "What's on my Nokia". I think I got more applications to download for my Nokia from that post than from any possible visit to any off-deck site or any Google search.

After so many years spent using a Palm OS, I am about to give up my Treo 650 for good. At Funambol, I had to make the sad choice to bet on different operating systems (as did PalmSource, now moving into my own space with
Access Linux Platform --> that's mobile open source ;-) In all these years, I collected a number of applications. I used some for few days and a small subset every day. Those few represent for me the minimum toolkit for anybody using a Palm OS device. Here they are.

1. A PIM sync client
First of all, a smartphone without PIM sync is useless. You need your contacts, calendar, task and notes from your standard email reader (mine is Outlook). There are many choices in this space. First of all, you can sync over cable or bluetooth. That's suboptimal if you have a Treo, but the only choice if you have an old PDA (what for? Get a smartphone! ;-). I have been using Chapura PocketMirror Professional and it never let me down. I use subfolders in Outlook to separate contacts and it worked great on that. If you want over-the-air (OTA) sync, SyncML is your best choice. I know I am biased. You should use the Funambol free portal and a SyncML client. There are many out there. Beside ours, I would recommend the Synthesis SyncML Palm Client.

2. A mobile email client
Once you have synched your address book, you are ready to send emails. As I wrote before, do not attempt to use mobile email without an address book or you will give up fast. Once again, there are many email clients for Palm. Some feel Versamail (which is usually preinstalled) is good enough. I don't. SnapperMail does it for me. I like how you can configure how to get mail. When I am in the US and I have a flat data plan, I do it every 20 mins and I download the entire message (but no attachments). When I am in Europe, I do it manually, I download just 12k and I set "disconnect afterwards". I save money. I like the ability to clean up my folder at night, since my email would fill up my Treo in three days. IMAP support is nice and support for multiple accounts is key for me.

3. A directory assistant
I have to thank Matt for this, since I can't live without this application. Alone, it gives me a reason to defend my Treo with my wife (who is always about to throw it in the toilet, since it takes a bit too much of my attention). Directory Assistant is a beautiful tool, that allows you to search for a restaurant or a shop (or even one of your friends, since it searches for Residential numbers as well), get the result via the web (fast), call with one click and reserve your table or get directions. It is a beautiful simple application, which uses data from the Yellow Pages web site. Thanks Rick Whitt for saving my day many times.

4. A converter
Ok, this might look a bit too high in the list, but I am a European and I will never ever get used to inches and feet, or fluid ounces. Who is the genius that invented the US standards? How can you create a system where there are a bunch of inches in a feet, a bunch of feet in a yard, a bunch of yards in a mile? None with the same metric? How can you possibly know how long is 3 inches and 5 eights? Sorry for the rant... Kilos, meters and liters are so easy to understand that it kills me on a daily basis (and BTW, zero is freezing, 100 is boiling. It is that simple, I swear). Anyway, I use Matt Marsh's Converter. Easy, simple, free. You can customize it for the units you use more often. This one saved my brain many times, at Home Depot in particular. On a similar note, sometimes I use a stupid app I wrote long time ago, called Spell It!, which converts a word to its NATO alphabet representation. That is: Fabrizio to foxtrot-alfa-bravo-... If you have my first and last name and live in the US, you might see why it could be helpful, in particular opening accounts on the phone.

5. A mobile phone calls redirector
Most likely another one that would not make the top list for many normal people. But I do not like to speak on my cell phone when I am home or in the office. I have a normal phone there (cordless, btw). The quality of the line is much better and it does not get hot while I talk. I use Call Director because you can set phone numbers (such as Home and Office) and it gets activated automatically when you plug your Treo. I come back home, plug the Treo and my mobile calls are redirected to my home phone. I unplug it to go out and my mobile calls are back on my mobile. You can even set times for office vs. home vs. anything else. When I am flying outside the US, I forward it to my SkypeIn. I know, I am weird.

6. An instant messaging client
I know, this should be much higher in the list but I do not use it as often as the converter... VeriChat is a fantastic tool. It supports Yahoo!, ICQ, MSN & AOL chat (I am on YM). It works like a charm. It allows you to transfer files (I used to send pictures taken on the phone in real time). It is full of Bots, small apps that can get interesting data for you, like weather forecast, stocks and so on. What I call mobile widgets. If I could choose, I would not put them inside an IM client, but on the top menu of my device. However, the idea is the same and it works. Highly recommended.

7. A tool to receive up-to-date sport results
If you do not like soccer, you can substitute it with baseball or whatever sport you like. There are few important things in life: sport is one of them. When four years ago I had to choose the first application to use the Funambol server on, I chose the World Cup (there is only one, it is soccer, it is the most viewed event in history, stop asking "of what?"). We had 20,000 downloads in two weeks. Not because I wrote the Palm client, but because the sync capability was a killer. This year (man, what a year!!!) we left someone else write it and Tiny Stocks got money from Palm to do it. Football 2006 (I guess they could not say "World Cup" or FIFA would have called them ;-) was just perfect. Over-the-air updates. Dynamic charts. I would love to have the same for the Italian league, but this year I am on soccer sabbatical. Some biased judge took soccer away from me. I am going to watch the World Cup games over and over, for 12 months. No soccer for me. Just Formula 1 and MotoGP.

8. Some games
I never have time to play games because I am a CEO of a startup and I work very hard (yeah, right). However, sometimes during my long travels for work (yeah, right) I have some spare time and I fill a very limited amount of minutes with games. I am not big on mobile games (this is true) because I feel the limitation of the keyboard and the screen. However, there are some classics that I always have on my Palm, to kill the minutes before boarding on a plane. Minesweeper, tetris, chess, backgammon, pac-man and galaga make my short list. If I just could have some more spare time... Yeah, right.

9. Some random geeky tools
There are some tools on Palm I could not live without. One is FileZ, an open source application to manage files and databases on your Palm. It is a must, if you know what you are trying to accomplish. If you don't, just do not try or you are going to screw up your Palm forever. Another must for me (I would say until I hired a Director Operations) was TuSSH, an SSH client. I was able to jump on any of our machines from my Treo and fix stuff. Not something you do every day but you are really thankful that moment when you really need it (and again, your wife will be chasing you trying to throw the damn thing in the toilet).

10. A way to use your phone as a modem
This should be very easy to do on a smartphone. It has bluetooth, so does your computer. It connects to the Internet, so you would think you can do it easily from your computer, pairing the two. Well, it ain't easy. But you can do it. I spent a few hours to find the right combination to use my Treo with Tmobile (in the US) as a modem for my laptop. I could not find anything online but I managed to make it work (btw, the phone number to dial is *99***1#) and I use my 4.99/month Tzone to download email on my laptop with the phone in my pocket (magic!). If you do not want to spend your life trying the right combination, I suggest PdaNet. No effort, it works really well. Your mobile operator might not like it, but do you really care?

That's it folks. I probably tried one hundred more but they did not manage to stick around and I cannot find them on my Palm anymore. There is usually a reason for that. As there is a reason for me letting Palm OS go. It breaks my heart, but when Palm runs Windows Mobile, Macs have Intel chips and Microsoft shares its source, you have to accept the world is changing and you should not look behind.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mobile Messaging Webinar tomorrow

I am speaking at a mobile messaging webinar tomorrow (Oct 4th at 8:30 am Pacific).
The topic is quite interesting (if you are a geek :-) : "LEMONADE and SyncML: Key Standards for Mobile Messaging".
Questions Addressed by This Webinar Include:
 - What are LEMONADE and SyncML?
 - Who will use mobile messaging based on these protocols?
 - What are the advantages and disadvantages of the technologies vs. RIM and Windows Mobile?
It is FREE as in beer. So... you should not miss it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Release by aging

After a good seven months as a beta, Funambol v3 finally last week became General Availability. It is a nice milestone for Funambol and we are all very proud of it. Now the question: isn't that too long? Why did it take seven months?
That's a good question, thanks for asking ;-) The answer lies with the open source nature of our core code.
If you are a proprietary old boring company, you would have a product in beta, give it to a few customers who will give you a very limited feedback (close to zero), then a month later your marketing folks will force you to slap a GA tag on it and you will be shipping and praying your real customers will not find too many bugs. Inevitably - if you ever get customers - they will find a ton of bugs, you will scramble to build version x.z.1 and .2 and .3 and so on, until every customer will be happy (or gone for good). That will take you months and months, while you will not be able to build your next release and your product roadmap will keep slipping.
Open source is different. You throw the code out and you wait for feedback. You get a ton of feedback, sometimes beyond your ability to handle it. Thankfully, many of your beta testers fix the bugs they find themselves (that would be nice, Mr. Proprietary Company, uh?). You are able to release only when the community will stop finding and fixing bugs. There is no marketing GA tag in open source. It is community driven.
I call it release by aging: you leave the product out until it is mature. You cannot force it. It happens by itself. One day you discover that the amount of P1 bugs is dying off, because your community and your internal QA are not finding any. They are all gone, for good. And your customers are still there because they were part of the process.
For Funambol v3, we had over 300,000 downloads between the beta and the GA. That's a heck of a beta testing group. Maybe Microsoft can compete (maybe). Nobody else get close. Nobody else will ever have a product with the same quality that open source can provide. Period. It is the people factor. We are all working together and, as a community, we represent more QA people than any proprietary company can ever dream of. In mobile, that means we can test every phone on the planet (one billion today, going for two billion fast). That we can really address the mass market everybody is talking about. Nobody else can (sorry).
Release by aging. The key for high quality products, happier customers and healthier balance sheets.