Saturday, December 22, 2007

A video

A few months back, I was interviewed by Nicola Mattina in Rome. Although it looks like I am sleeping between questions (the jet-lag, I just landed from California ;-) it might be a shortcut to understand the Funambol and mobile open source story.

Funambol and Android

There is a question that people keep asking me: how do you position Funambol and Android? I always try to give my best answer ("Android is a mobile phone operating system, Funambol is a mobile application server, both are open source, and they are a killer combination for mobile which will change the world"), but probably Hal thought it was not good enough ;-) Therefore, he wrote a position paper about it, entitled "How Google Android Stimulates the Mass Market for Mobile Email and how Funambol Mobile Open Source Monetizes It".

From the press release:
The paper discusses how Android will spur adoption of mobile email by large numbers of people and how Android and Funambol can transform the market.

The report also poses and answers major questions for the mobile industry such as:
-- How will mass market mobile email be enabled by Android and Funambol?
-- What do the new market dynamics mean to prices and control within the industry?
-- How do mobile service providers make money in this new environment?
-- Who are the new telecom winners and losers?

The position paper covers the following topics:
-- Mass market mobile email trends and user requirements
-- The mobile email value chain and the end game for mobile email
-- What is Google Android
-- and what is it not?
-- What are Google's aspirations for mobile and for mobile email in particular?
-- How can mobile operators and service providers benefit from S.O.S.
-- standards, open source and synchronization
To download the position paper, visit It is definitely worth a read over the holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 - the year of data plans

I am starting to see the end of 2007 and it is time for some looking back. In my opinion, 2007 has been the most amazing year in mobile history. Bodes well for 2008 ;-)

I landed in Europe a few days back and, as every year, I started looking around for a data plan. I own a prepaid Italian SIM card (from Wind), the same I owned for years. Every single Christmas for the last five years, I looked around for a data plan that could make sense for me. I have an unlimited data plan in the US (with Verizon) and I am addicted to data, push email and the like (and chocolate, but you can find good one from Switzerland here...).

Last year, I scrambled for a full month. I looked at every carrier, finding 3 as the most data-friendly one. Wind had nothing. I tried to buy a 3 data card. I had to go to a store five times. I ended up empty handed. Using my GPRS "embedded" data plan with moderation, only in emergencies (and paying good euros for every sync).

This year, everything has changed. I went on the Wind site, they had three data plans for my prepaid phone... A 8 euros/month for 500MB. A 20 euros/month for 2.5GB. A 30 euros/month for 5GB. I went for the 8 euros, clicked on a link and boom, 8 euros disappeared on my SIM and I have a data plan. If I do not do anything, next month they will take another 8 euros automatically. Or I can opt out with an SMS message.

This is fantastic. 150MB will easily suffice, even on my iPhone. Everyone can afford it (looking at how much we paid for dinner last night...). And it was so easy.

Since I am a curious person, I tried to look at TIM. Same thing. The Maxxi data plans is 20 euros for 500MB. You can add it to a prepaid card.

Looking at the US, the same applies. Prices dropped with the iPhone to $20/month or below, on every carrier (Verizon excluded, where do they live, on the moon?).

2007 has been the year of the data plans. Data plans are a requirement for the mobile 2.0 to take off. We are ready. 2008 is going to be the year of mobile applications. I have been waiting for years for this moment. It was about time :-)

Friday, December 07, 2007

The open source police coming to mobile

It was just a matter of time. Today the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) filed a copyright lawsuit against Verizon, alleging they infringed on the GPL and should have distributed the source code.

In their words:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today announced that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Verizon Communications, Inc. on behalf of its clients, two principal developers of BusyBox, alleging violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL). BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under GPL version 2.

Verizon is the provider of a fiber-optic Internet and television service called FiOS. Verizon distributes Actiontec MI424WR wireless routers to FiOS customers. This router contains BusyBox, and under the terms of the GPL, Verizon is obligated to provide the source code of BusyBox to recipients of the device. According to the lawsuit, Verizon continues to distribute BusyBox illegally without source code, despite having been contacted by SFLC.

This is the fourth GPL enforcement lawsuit filed by SFLC on behalf of the BusyBox developers. The first one, against Monsoon Multimedia, was settled out of court in October, with Monsoon agreeing to remedy its prior violation, ensure future compliance, and financially compensate the plaintiffs. Mark has written a nice post about the Monsoon case and the lessons for FOSS management. I am sure all the other lawsuits will be a slam dunk, as the first one. Verizon will have to pay.

I have been waiting for this to happen for a while. Eben Moglen and the SFLC are simply enforcing a license (or a lack of it, if you are out of compliance with the GPL...) that many have simply used to their advantage - without any respect for the hard work of the developers. Remember, GPL is not free, you have to give back the code. Or you can get sued.

BTW, for those panicking out there, there is another option provided by commercial open source companies built on the dual licensing concept. Pay and license the code. Get indemnification, support and a throat to choke (that would be me, when it comes to Funambol ;-)

Quid pro quo: you have to give back something. You do not want to give back the code? Give us cash instead. We'll put it back to build an even better open source product.

Long life to the open source police. If you are a Funambol user and you are violating our GPL/HPL/AGPL license (we know you are out there...), it might happen to you sooner or later. Maybe sooner. We are here to help you ;-)

Monday, December 03, 2007

The mobile 2.0 revolution starts in Germany

1&1, the largest web hoster in the world, went live with a mobile email solution last week in Germany. They are using Funambol, integrated with OpenXchange. Open source on all levels...

Why is it the start of a revolution?

Because this not a carrier, though they are offering mobile email directly to their users. An ISP offering mobile messaging... The start of a big shift in this market, where you will get your email pushed to your phone directly from the company that "owns" your email. In 99.99% of the cases, that is not your mobile carrier...

1&1 is doing this in a very smart way, since they are going "around" the mobile operator but they are also adding an option to be the mobile operator. Technically, I guess they are proposing themselves also as an MVNO.

So you can get mobile email on your device if:
  1. You own a phone and a data plan. No additional charge.
  2. You want also a special data plan. They have one for 9.99 euro a month (unlimited data, that's nothing!!!!). You could also get a voice plan, if you desire.
  3. You want also a phone. They have a Windows Mobile device for 49.99 euro (heck, that's nothing as well...)
If you speak German, the image below explains option 2 and 3. Or you can also look at their website. They are starting with Windows Mobile. Go get it :-)

I feel this is really huge. An ISP offering mobile email directly (and for free ;-) Plus doubling as an MVNO, to push adoption. The world is changing...

BTW, if you are not German, 1&1 has announced they will be launching in UK, France and USA in the first half of 2008. The revolution is coming to a country close to you ;-)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mind the bridge (if you are Italian)

There is another initiative coming from Google these days. This one includes Italians. Actually, it is only meant for Italians (Google-Italy 1-1).

My friend Marco Marinucci has founded a non-profit, called Mind the Bridge. The goal is to stimulate Italian entrepreneurs to become global, maybe moving to the US, getting money in Silicon Valley and keeping R&D in Italy (sounds familiar...). The first step is a business plan competition.

In his own words:
The initiative is led by its founder, Marco Marinucci who acts as its executive director, defining the main directions of the organization. Marco (a Google executive in his day job) got inspired when involved in a business plan competition and mentoring project in Africa. Blown away by the radical impact such initiative played, he decided to replicate the model with the hope to have a similar impact in Italy, his own country. The executive director is supported by an Organizing Committee, whose role is to steer the direction of the initiative, defining the organizational details.

The organizing committee includes representatives from the relevant organizations endorsing the project.

The organizing committee defines the selection committee members and helps in the set up of the Silicon Valley road show for the finalists.

Mind the Bridge is a purely nonprofit initiative.

All the participating parties and collaborators share the same inspiring principles and participate on a purely volunteer basis. The initiative is meant as a call for action:
1. to spur more innovative ideas from Italian talents
2. to create the conditions we wished we could have enjoyed when in similar situations (with a good idea but lack of development options)
3. to share business contacts for the common good

We value open collaboration and transparency as crucial for the success of the initiative
Marco tried to involve me during a wonderful lunch at Google (tapas... man I would put 20 kilos on in two weeks, working at Google ;-) and I used all my skills to dodge the bullet. The initiative is absolutely great, but it requires a lot of time. I do not have it, unfortunately (yes, I have to write on this blog instead...).
* a unique opportunity to promote and develop Italian best new business ideas

* each selected project will be mentored by a successful serial entrepreneur

* The selected projects will Tour the Silicon Valley to showcase their idea to the investment community (venture capitalists, angel investors and corporations)
I am going to be in the selection committee (I could not say no to that...), so if you submit your business plan I might review it.

The deadline is DECEMBER 21, so move quickly. This is a fantastic opportunity to get your business idea reviewed by someone that has done it already. Worst case scenario: you get some feedback that will help you to better shape your idea. Best case scenario: you will get a mentor that will help you (believe me, mentors are what you need right now, and the list of people of First Generation Network that volunteered for the mentor post is phenomenal) and you will have the unique opportunity to present your idea in front of the right people in Silicon Valley. The weather is nice here, you know... Worth a trip. Even if your idea is not fully baked, send an exec summary. Do not miss this one, it could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

I admit it: I just want to see 100 little Funambols ;-)

What is missing in the Android SDK

While recovering from the turkey, I spent some more time browsing the Google Android SDK. I focused more on what I felt was missing, rather than what is there (because it is more challenging and it helps fighting the tryptophan :-)

First thing I noticed is that it lacks a nice GUI. A year ago, I would have said wow. Now, I am expecting an iPhonesque experience, which is not in the SDK. However, since TAT is in the open alliance, I am sure there is something coming that Google did not want to share. Rightly so, I might add: it is just a preview of an SDK, you need developer to code, who cares about users at this point? You care about users when you ship a phone. I would bet the UI will look different on the first real phones. And it will be good for marketing.

Second thing I noticed is that it lacks support for JavaME. Yes, device manufacturers can get it from Esmertec (another member of the OHA), but - if you are a developer - there is no guarantee it will be there. And you can't test it today. The message is clear and it is everywhere: Google is trying to build the mobile operating system of the future. It is a new platform, it has a new paradigm (look at the concept of Activity, Intent and so on...). It is a bold move. Forget about JavaME, you have to build native. Port your app soon (and we will give you 10M if you do it ;-) Do not miss the train.

Last thing, and more significant, is the lack of an Advertising API. I do not believe Google did Android "to get more people to access their services with a browser". The browser is not the killer app on a mobile phone. Making the experience better than the current Safari on the iPhone is going to be nearly impossible. And browsing on the iPhone sucks. It is barely usable for emergencies. I probably do not spend more than 5% of the time I use an iPhone to browse. The rest are applications, starting with email. Or weather. Or stocks. Or music. Or video.

I do not believe Google is investing millions in Android with the hope you will click on an ad, while browsing (and getting to the ad might require panning and zooming...). Google is building the mobile platform for the future, that allows a developer to deliver applications integrated in the Google Ad System. As Google Adsense has made content possible (web developers need to grab a few lines of Javascript and they start making money), the Advertising API will allow mobile developers to build their applications and put in a few lines of Java code, to integrate them with the Google Ad System.

Ads will be also linked to GPS, so the context will be "where you are", not just "who you are". Since Google also knows "what you like" because of the searches, it will deliver the most interesting ads depending on your location. Developers will build the conduit to allow Google to make gazillions also on mobile, while they make some dollars and the users get all kind of applications for free...

Again, no need to put that API in the first version of the SDK, but I am sure it is coming. It makes a lot of (common and business) sense. Expect the Advertising API to ship quite soon.

BTW, I am running out of champagne. I opened another bottle today, after the announcement from Verizon that the Wall Garden is coming down next year. Open is finally hot. I have been waiting for it for a long time, it does not seem possible this is really happening so fast.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AGPL and the future of open source

Fifteen months ago, I decided it was time for someone to take charge and close the ASP loophole of GPL. A plague that I thought would eventually kill open source.

In a nutshell, GPL v2 forces copyleft (giving back your code when using GPL code) only for distribution of the software as a floppy (or a CD, you get the picture). Distribution of software as a service was not covered (rightly so, the license was created in 1991...). However, since the world is quickly moving towards Sofware as a Services (SaaS), keeping the ASP loophole meant killing copyleft and - with that - the main reason for open source success ("forcing" people to contribute back).

Back then, I created HPL, the Honest Public License. To keep people that host SaaS honest with the open source principle (going "around" a license, because it did not specify something that happened some years later, does not sounds honest to me ;-)

I added:
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.
Well, HPL disappears today.

After months of hard work, AGPL v3 has been finalized by the Free Software Foundation. It is basically HPL, but upgraded to GPL v3 and even compatible with the Apache license. I could not have asked for a better result. Every thing I wanted is in the license. Fighting feels great when you win ;-)

Funambol is obviously the first commercial open source company to embrace AGPL v3. I am happy to announce that our upcoming GA release of Funambol 6.5 will be based on AGPL v3.

I believe AGPL will save open source. When the majority of software will run as a service, we'll look back at this moment and realize how important it was to have a license supporting this shift in computing. Without AGPL, open source would die for lack of copyleft.

If you are running an open source project and you believe it could be run as a service (think five years from now, not just today), please take a look at AGLP. Don't stop at GPL v3. If you chose GPL, it means you wanted people to contribute back to your project. If you let some people make changes to your code and not contribute them back, just because they distribute your code as a service, why did you choose GPL in the first place??

A few months back - after a couple of beers - I bet with Mark Radcliffe that in five years AGPL will outshine GPL. I have a feeling I will lose this one, because of lack of marketing power on my side, but - hey - I like to fight :-)

Just think about it, do not stop at GPL because others have done it. Your product might be distributed as a service one day (think Google Apps for a second). Choosing GPL over AGPL would be a terrible mistake that might dry up contribution to your open source project one day. A mistake that might eventually kill your project.

Don't be dumb, give it an A.

Vodafone screaming OPEN

If you are like me and you have been pushing open in mobile, you might feel we are now living a dream. Since the iPhone came out, a sequence of events are all pointing to the same direction. It all started five months ago, but the world looks so different today.

The latest news comes from Germany. Vodafone is trying to force T-Mobile to release an unlocked iPhone, so that it can work on the Vodafone network as well.

Quoting NewsFactor:
A German court has ordered T-Mobile to change its marketing campaign for Apple's iPhone and has issued a restraining order prohibiting the company from selling the Mac-maker's handset. [..]

Vodafone's German unit is behind the action. The company petitioned the court to block sales of the iPhone in Germany until its complaints about an exclusive agreement between Apple and T-Mobile are addressed.

The court order does not demand T-Mobile stop selling the iPhones altogether, but does, at least temporarily, prohibit the company from selling them with a two-year contract. The court has mandated that the product be allowed to function on other carriers' networks.
You can read this news as you like. It is clearly a plot by Vodafone to screw iPhone sales for T-Mobile during Christmas. However, the end result is that Vodafone is kicking and screaming to force unlocked phones in the market. Which is huge.

Vodafone is screaming OPEN... Welcome to the club.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Funambol Italian Challenge to Android

I have been following the debate around the ban of Italians by Google, preventing anyone in the BelPaese to participate in the Google Android Developer Challenge. It is ten millions of (devalued) dollars and the Italian economy could definitely benefit from it... Too bad no Italians can participate.

What is happening in the Italians circles?
First reaction was "Why?".

Second reaction was "Ahhh, that's why! Damn our government!".

Third reaction was "Well, how do we go around that?".
It is amusing because going around the rules is a way of life, if you are Italian. We even have a say ("fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno"), which basically means "as soon as a new law comes out, we find a way around it"...

Stefano Quintarelli in his blog has proposed to select five proposals from Italians, then create a US corporation to submit the proposals to Google. If anyone wins, it will get the money and a US company, ready to go.

This is pure Italian genius at work. Creativity is in the DNA. Italians have always had to struggle to find ways "around" things... That's why they are great software developers. It is all in the DNA.

Let me contribute to Stefano's idea, because it is great but it might be a bit hard to execute. I have a proposal which is simpler
, since I have already all the right legal elements in place. Let's call it "The Funambol Italian Challenge to the Android Developer Challenge, based on an original idea by Stefano Quintarelli" (long and complicated names are also part of the Italian DNA).

If you are Italian, have an idea for an Android application which you plan to put in open source, send it to me. I already have a US company... As long as it is decent, I will submit it as Funambol Inc. If your app wins, I will return 100% of the money to you. And, who knows, you might also get a job at Funambol in Silicon Valley or in Pavia...

Just use your creativity, it is in your DNA.

Funambol 6.5 is out

Originally codenamed Elba (our PM is going with the islands of Italy...) and now Funambol 6.5 beta, our newest release is out. The enhancements are numerous (starting with allowing many more people to get email pushed on their devices). I would recommend you take a look at the announcement and (better) at the open source code.

For the lazy ones out there, here is the laundry list:
Multimedia content sync. Funambol has been enhanced to synchronize large objects. The Funambol v6.5 server and the Windows Mobile and Outlook plug-ins can now sync contact photos. This syncing of multimedia content will be expanded for more multimedia content and Funambol clients over time.
Improved Carrier Edition scalability. Carrier Edition is the commercial version of Funambol software for mobile operators, service providers and portals. Funambol v6.5 has a redesigned high availability framework for all Funambol server components. It improves load balancing and automatic load redistribution and it eliminates any single point of failure. Funambol v6.5 also includes management tools for monitoring the system's health and load.
Broader device compatibility to support the latest mobile phones. Funambol's global open source community helps test and improve Funambol on mobile phones around the globe, enabling Funambol to support more handsets than any other provider of mobile email. v6.5 broadens Funambol's device compatibility by providing synclets to support over 800 new models of phones. The Funambol Java ME mobile email client has been certified to run on 150 additional Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones. This updated device support is contained in the latest Funambol phone pack that is part of the commercial Funambol Carrier Edition.
Portal enhancements. Funambol v6.5 includes numerous ease-of-use improvements to the Funambol portal, which is part of Funambol Carrier Edition. These include streamlined user signup and activation, and an enhanced user profile page. These will be incorporated into the free myFUNAMBOL portal when it is upgraded in the coming weeks.
Enhanced Funambol clients. The Funambol Windows Mobile plug-in, in addition to push optimizations and photo sync, sports a refined user interface. The Funambol Java ME mobile email client adds address book search, more shortcut keys, "call sender" while viewing a message and the ability to control the sound and vibration for incoming messages.
In a nutshell, it is a heck of a minor release :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One of the top startups on the planet...

Good news keep pouring in for Funambol. Today we made the finalist list of the Red Herring 100 Global. Somehow, we beat 1,600 startups that won the Red Herring award in the last three years. Not bad...

I received the following message from Red Herring:
Congratulations! After a rigorous evaluation process, I am pleased to inform you that Funambol Inc. is a 2007 finalist of the "Red Herring 100 Global” Award. This means that your company has been selected as one of the best startups in the world.

Indeed, only Red Herring 100 winners and finalists from North America, Europe and Asia of the last three years were eligible for this award. A very competitive process whittled down this pool of 1800 eligible promising companies to the 200 finalists for this first-time award. Evaluations were made on both quantitative and qualitative criteria such as financial performance, innovation, management, global strategy, and ecosystem integration.

You have made the final group because of your outstanding achievements, and Red Herring Magazine is honored to announce Funambol Inc. as one of the most promising technology firms in the world.
Wow, one more for Mobile Open Source!

Monday, November 12, 2007

What's wrong with Italian developers?

From the Android Developer Challenge FAQ:
The Android Developer Challenge is open to individuals, teams of individuals, and business entities. While we seek to make the Challenge open worldwide, we cannot open the Challenge to residents of Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, and Myanmar (Burma) because of U.S. laws. In addition, the Challenge is not open to residents of Italy or Quebec because of local restrictions.
Ok, I can take the axis of evil are out of the cash prizes for building Android applications, but what is wrong with the residents of Italy?? What did the Italian government do, this time? Or is it a plot to leave out the best mobile developers in the world (apologies for the developers of Quebec, with whom my fellow Italian developers supposedly share bad local restrictions...)?

One of the Italian readers of this blog added a comment, pointing to the explanation by Fabrizio Giudici. In a nutshell, the Italian government adds so many rules - and requires Google to put a security deposit of $10M in the Italian banks - that kill the ability for Italians to compete with the rest of the world. Quite sad. These are the days when I am glad Funambol is incorporated in Delaware ;-)

One of the readers added a comment pointing me to this article in "Il Punto Informatico" (in Italian, sorry). Carefully reading the Italian law - which is never easy ;-) - it appears that maybe Google has been overcautious, because there seems to be an exclusion for "scientific art" (which must included software, in particular if developed by Italians :-) . I contacted the Italians in Google I know and they told me they are working on it... Let's hope we'll get the country back on track. The economy needs the $10M prizes...

Google bribing developers??

As you might have noticed, Google released the Android SDK today. To make it interesting, they added $10M (that's ten millions) for developers that will build an app for the platform. Which is open source, BTW.

I am already hearing people screaming "Is Google bribing developers?" or "Don't they know cash and open source together do not mix?".

Well, I disagree ;-)

Google is making another smart move. They have a platform and no phones. For six months at least. Who in his/her right mind would develop applications for Android, if nobody can use them? Maybe a couple of crazy Google addicts. But not the developers I know... You do open source for fun, but fun includes people seeing what you did. Nothing you can show today, if you build on Android...

So Google pays developers. As an incentive. To get applications on Android. ASAP.

Smart move.

Why don't I think mixing open source and cash is a bad idea? Well, because my ego is too big :-) Funambol was the first to introduce a cash component for open source developers, over a year ago. We launched the Phone Sniper program back then, giving $25 to developers willing to test and fix a device for the community. Ok, $25 is not exactly $10M, but it does not change the concept behind it :-))

I can tell you we did not receive one single complaint. Actually, we have hundreds of people who contributed and we sent out $20 to every corner of the planet (thanks to Paypal, I am not sure how this would have worked without it...). Phone Sniper has been a phenomenal success for us.

When I announced Phone Sniper on my blog, I wrote:
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.
Wow, is Google reading my blog and taking a page off my book?? Nah, keep the ego in check... But it is fantastic to see Google working to build a mobile open source client platform that will match our mobile open source server platform. And doing that following our path (wait, stop, they are not, it is just a coincidence. Damn ego...).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Qualcomm in the Open Handset Alliance??

When you look at the companies involved in the Google's led Open Handset Alliance, it is easy to spot the ones that are missing... Nokia, RIM, Palm, Apple, Microsoft, Sony Ericsson, Vodafone, Verizon, O2... However, it is harder to miss the ones that are there, but they clearly do not belong...

The big one? Qualcomm...

I mean, Qualcomm has represented for years the pillar of the mobile wall garden. Mention the word OPEN and people at Qualcomm would ask you "what do you mean with that?". BREW is the most closed environment in the history of mankind.

Yet, Qualcomm is there. Proudly (I presume). In the OPEN Handset Alliance. Pushing for openness. Removing another brick from the wall garden.

Hey, how many more tips do you need to believe the wireless world has changed
and Mobile 2.0 is here to stay? The wall garden is crumbling, the operators are becoming bit pipes, Qualcomm is supporting Open. Next thing you know, Apple will have an SDK for the iPhone. Wait, that happened already...

I love this market...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Welcoming Google to Mobile Open Source

A few years back, when I filed for the "mobile open source" trademark, I thought I was onto something. In my view, mobile was going to be THE next platform. Open Source was going to be THE way to develop on it. I thought the ability of developers around the world to work on many different platforms and port applications on billions of devices would be the killer factor. I thought there was no killer app in mobile, the killer was going to be the way to allow people to build them. That a community effort was the only way to make it...

Today, I am definitely not alone touting mobile open source :-) Big giant Google announced the Open Handset Alliance. A group of powerful companies, coming together to build a mobile open source infrastructure, called Android.

It is just awesome. Welcome Google to the mobile open source world. We needed someone with weight to push this effort to the next level. Open networks, Open source, Open devices. That's the future of mobile. We are just at the beginning.

Stay tuned for the SDK preview, which is coming out on Nov 12. The license is Apache 2.0. The OS is Linux. The application stack is Java. Open. Open. Open.

The rebirth of Plaxo

If you are like me, this weekend you have received ten invitations to connect with friends via Plaxo Pulse. Like a few months ago we had the weekend of Facebook, this weekend it was the Plaxo weekend. At this rate, I will have the same amount of links in Plaxo that I have in Linked-In, in a few weeks.

Many thought Plaxo was dead. Now many will realize they were wrong. Plaxo is back.

What's cool in the new version of Plaxo? What is making them comeback?
  1. they have Pulse, which is a mere copy of Facebook. But equally effective. My blog postings, my twitter updates are there automatically. I am starting to receive comments on this blog within Plaxo, which is a signal Pulse is working...
  2. they have an automatic import from Linked-In, which works well. Their target seems to be more the business people than the "friends". Facebook is trying to expand to the business world, but it might be a fluke. Who wants to be poked by his customers or be part of the zombie group of his boss?? I have a feeling they will fall short.
  3. they have synchronization. Your address book can come from many sources. It is probably too complicated and cumbersome, but it is there and works ok. The address book is king, I wrote it many times. Who owns the address book, wins the social networking war... And Plaxo is well positioned to be the king of the address book.
  4. they have mobile synchronization. Years ago, I mentioned to Plaxo they needed SyncML. They laughed at me. This year, their big announcement was "the new platform is based on SyncML"... Nice to see they changed their mind ;-) They are even embracing mobile open source, since their Windows Mobile client is Funambol. Smart move. Great to see Funambol powering Plaxo. They even have me cheering for them :-)
Will it be enough to get Microsoft to cough up another $240M for less than two percent of Plaxo? I do not think so ;-) That deal was insane and part of a bubble. The Web 2.0 bubble.

It is just too easy to come up with a social networking site and make it explode. You need a couple different features from the competition and boom, your site explodes. Once that happens, it gets boring. And people leave you for the next one. It happened to Friendster, it might happen to others as well.

There is no loyalty in Web 2.0...
Let's hope Plaxo will explode again, manage its growth (it is not easy from the infrastructure standpoint...) and keep it up. Resurgence is tough to achieve, but they made it. Do it twice would be impossible.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Eye-fi and the power of automagic sync

A friend who is on the advisory board of Eye-Fi wrote me yesterday that they launched the Eye-Fi Card, and it is currently in the top 20 best selling product in Amazon’s electronics category.

She told me about the card months ago and I thought it was a great idea. Now that it is actually shipping, it does not seem to be disappointing a bit.

What is the Eye-Fi Card? A 2GB SD card you put in your camera. Exactly the same you have today. The difference is that it has a wi-fi chip in it. You take your picture, then - when you turn the camera on - it syncs the pictures to your PC wirelessly going through your home network. It can also put them on Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and so on. 99 dollars for the convenience (instead of 50$ or so for a normal 2GB SD card).

No touch, no effort, no cable. Just magic. Automagic sync.

When we were thinking about Funambol, the vision was data on a myriad of devices, effortlessly synced across them. I never drank the "convergence" cool-aid. I believe in divergence. We'll have more and more devices in our houses. They will talk to each other, syncing our data among themselves behind the scenes (exactly as the BlackBerry service syncs your email from your mailbox to your cellphone, while you drive).

Automagic sync. Go out and buy an Eye-Fi card for your mom. She'll love you for that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Skype phone and the beginning of the end

3 and Skype announced the Skype phone (sPhone?) today. It is a pretty basic and cheap phone (roughly $100) with a button to open the Skype application. Over 3G, it allows you to call other Skype users and text them.

That's it. Pretty simple. Voice over IP. The carrier gives you the IP. Everything else goes through that, including voice.

How significant is this?

I believe it is a huge step. Yet another one towards the "dumbification" of the carrier's business. That is: just being a carrier. Carrying voice and data, and in the near future... simply data. Because voice is just another data type.

Why is 3 doing it? Because they are not the incumbent and need to deliver new stuff to the market to become appealing.

What about the other carriers? I bet they are panicking. They should not. There is nothing wrong with being a bit pipe. It is the same as being a voice pipe, as they have been up to a few years ago (or today, considering SMS is the only real data service with traction).

They should just focus and do what they did on their voice business. Carry the voice. Who has the most reliable and cheaper network wins. Pretty simple.

Just carry the data. Make it cheaper and reliable. Try to keep the margin up. Who has the most reliable and cheaper network wins. Pretty simple. Forget about value added services. The world is going somewhere else...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Introducing the Funambol iPhone plug-in

The day I bought my iPhone, I was totally surprised to find that the only way to synchronize address book and calendar was over iTunes. I could do that ten years ago with my Palm III via HotSync...

The iPhone is a networked device, I could not believe they missed the over the air synchronization element. After all, it is what made BlackBerry what it is today (and RIM a 60B+ company, with a market value
bigger than Motorola...).

Since that day, I have been thinking about porting the Funambol plug-in to the iPhone. We have it for Windows Mobile, Outlook, JavaME... Based on the Java or the C++ API. The goal was to have a native SyncML client, which would synchronize myFUNAMBOL (or any other SyncML server) with the local address book on the iPhone.

Once the hackers opened the door to actually make it happen, I called Patrick Ohly, the guy who wrote SyncEvolution and ported our SDK to Linux and Maemo. It just needed an iPhone to get going, so I shipped one from the US. A few weeks later, he had a first prototype. Then he went on vacation, rightly so ;-)

A couple of weeks ago, he sent me the first pre-release of SyncEvolution 0.7, with the iPhone address book sync. Awesome. He made it, through undocumented API (and he built a plug-in for Mac OS X while doing it ;-)

The stuff is great, but it requires a terminal and ssh to make it work. Manually... I asked him if he could do the GUI for the rest of us, he said "no thanks, I have better things to do in life" :-)

So I decided to build the GUI myself, as I did with the Funambol web interface for the iPhone address book. Quite an experience, navigating through Objective-C and undocumented Cocoa interfaces... A few nights and two weekends, and here it is.

There is a settings panel, to add your configuration parameters and sync to myFUNAMBOL.

To get it on your iPhone, you need Point your Safari browser on the iPhone to the URL and install the Funambol Source, then open Installer (if you have an iPhone 1.1.1, you should open Installer, click on Sources (bottom right), click on Edit (top right), click on Add and put then click on Done (top right) and refresh), select Productivity and install Funambol. That's it, it includes SyncEvolution as well (but you need the BSD subsystem to be installed on the iPhone already): change the settings and you have over-the-air address book sync...

I have to say the undocumented UIKit is extremely powerful. If you know Cocoa, you will find yourself at ease. The issue is that you have to try everything, because you have no clue what would work or not (the beauty of "undocumented" :-) The end result is a language that is elegant and allows you to build a GUI in hours (vs. weeks), with threads, timers and animations. Wow.

The issue is that I would bet Apple will not give developers this same API in February. They will take stuff out and will probably make it very difficult for anyone to really build powerful apps. Or maybe not. We'll see.

For now, enjoy the first native address book synchronization for the iPhone. And let me know if you find bugs in the GUI or you have suggestions.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

iPhone SDK: the Apple deck

As a usual commentator of iPhone fortunes, I have been mulling Steve Job's announcement of the iPhone open SDK for a few days and I finally I made up my mind...

It is not going to be open.

My first reaction was pure excitement. I have been pushing for this announcement since day zero, when Steve made me laugh saying "it is the first SDK without a SDK", also known as a browser... Now that the announcement is here, I just do not think it will be enough.

Here you have my predictions on the SDK (hey, I got the announcement of the Touch right, I might get lucky for the second time ;-)
  1. You are not going to be able to download apps on the iPhone over the air.
  2. You will have to go through iTunes, where they will build the Application Store, keeping complete control of the system (is anybody saying "on-deck"? ;-)
  3. As a developer, you will have limited APIs. For starters, no file system access, it will be a sandbox with access to your own application files. That's it.
  4. Because of the above, no way to build ringtones (they have to protect that chunk of the business) or access to music or building another million interesting applications.
  5. As a developer, you will have to "certify" yourself first (hopefully without paying), submit your application (hopefully online) and wait for a person to review it. I do not believe this system will be automated. They will have a certification suite but also someone to review the app to make sure it is "appropriate" for the iTunes Application Store. It will take time and be a tedious process.
Bottom line, we will have removed the on-deck requirement of the carrier... and we will get the on-deck requirement of the device manufacturer. The excuse will be security, viruses and blah blah. The end result is going to be an open SDK which will not be really open. That would be a disgrace.

Therefore, the key application which is missing on the iPhone, over-the-air synchronization, might not make it "on-deck". Hoping for the better, we just finished the first version anyway. Patrick Ohly, one of our estimated Funambol community MVPs, just released the iPhone version of SyncEvolution. It is the first SyncML client for the iPhone, syncing your address book with the free myFUNAMBOL portal natively (and other SyncML servers). For now, it has no GUI (so you need to be a geek and have ssh access to the device), but it works extremely well. We are also working on a nice GUI, which will have all the bells and whistles you would expect. It is going to be out in a week or so, stay tuned...

Just hoping to see Funambol on the Apple deck in February...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Something is cooking in Italy

Yesterday I watched another Italian triumph in sports. I could not believe my eyes, but Ferrari won the F1 World Championship. For those that like Nascar, F1 is the second most watched sport on the planet (second to soccer ;-)

This is not just a triumph of Italian determination and never-give-up attitude (like in the soccer World Cup). This one represents the excellence of Italian technology. Of Italian high-tech. Of Italian engineering. And it is the second this year, after Ducati in MotoGP.

During my last trip to Europe, I stopped in Rome for the Venture Camp event. We talked about entrepreneurship in Italy and the lack of venture capital in Italy, despite the high tech competence.

I sensed something very interesting. A group of entrepreneurs with real drive and extreme talent. Willing to push forward, despite the rest of the country holding them back.

There were those who made it, like Gianluca Dettori (who brought Vitaminc to IPO, then sold it to Buongiorno) or Marco Palombi (who created the #1 blog site in Italy - Splinder - then sold it to Dada). There were those who are still trying, like me, Marco Rossi (CEO of Movenda) and Andrea Genovese (editor of 7th floor, a superb magazine). There were those who are just starting, such as Marco Barulli of Clipperz (a fantastic online password manager. If you are like me and you are tired of remembering 10,000 passwords, give it a try).

I sensed there is something new boiling in Italy. People that are there to make a difference and not planning to give up. Sadly, the only government help is coming from the other side, the American Embassy in Italy ;-) We'll take it, Richard Bohly is doing a terrific job and he is hundred times more effective than any Italian bureaucrat...

The issue is just access to capital, not lack of skilled entrepreneurs, human capital or clever technology.
Exceptions are rare, like Luca Ungarelli of the Golden Mouse fund, who first believed in Funambol. At ETRE, I spoke to many European VCs and it is unreal to see the stats about Italy, comparing innovation vs. capital invested. We are at the bottom of the chart for capital invested, and at the top for innovation. Something must be wrong...

As usual, my hope is that the Funambol model (getting the capital elsewhere, since they are impossible to find in Italy) is the one for the short term. Moving that to a fully VC-backed Italian Silicon Valley will take some time, but we'll get there. What I saw in Rome was an eye-opener. There are more Ferrari and Ducati out there, I can tell you that.

Something is cooking in Italy, and it is not just pizza.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A turning point in wireless

Today we announced our deal with 1&1, which happens to be the largest web hoster (ISP) on the planet. Details are sketchy and I do not think I am allowed to add anything on this blog, but it is most likely going to turn into the biggest deal in the history of Funambol ;-)

Why does this matter for anybody but us?

Because it is a turning point in wireless.

1&1 has roughly 70 millions email accounts under management (some free, through one of their portals). Not a small number... As of today, for any of those customers to have mobile email on their devices, they would have to call their mobile operator. Once the service is launched, they won't. They will just get an IP from the mobile operator (through a data plan) and they will get mobile email from 1&1 directly.

Consumers will get mobile email from their email provider, not the mobile operator.

I wrote before about Mobile 2.0 and the shift in the market, which involves data plans, flat rates and direct access to the "Internet" from your mobile device. A scenario where the mobile carrier becomes a "carrier" of voice and data, not services (a.k.a. a "dumb" pipe). If you thought it would happen in a few years, you were wrong. It is happening now. Today. It is 1&1, Earthlink and the rest of those who own your email (think Google, Yahoo, AOL...).

Mobile operators are risking to become a bit pipe, more than ever. If they do not move fast (really fast), they are toasted. The train is about to leave the station...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Technology is human

I am a technologist. I love gadgets and rely on a computer and a mobile device for many hours, every single day. I trust computers and understand how to work around issues (for example, using my iPhone here in Budapest with a Wind SIM card ;-)

Mostly, I know whom to blame when there is a problem: a human being. The developer, the operator behind the service, the company. Someone, who made a mistake.

I know it is not the machine.

Many people don't. They talk to their computer like it is a human. And get upset at the machine, when it fails them. Or they do not trust machines to be right, like my dad who does his taxes with a calculator, then verifies every single sum by hand...

I was reminded of how human technology is on Sunday. I woke up early to take a flight from Rome to Budapest. I arrived at the airport, checked in my bag and waited in front of a screen, far away from the gate. I do it always this way, I hate the packed crowd at the gate and people getting in line two hours before the flight is actually boarding. I like silence and a book. Even more, when I am in Italy...

In a word, I trust the computer.

This time, it failed me. The boarding sign never appeared and, while I was waiting for the plane to board, it actually left me there. My flight never showed "boarding" and disappeared from the screen, all of a sudden.

I had to pick up my bag, rebook a flight 10 hours later and, surprisingly, enjoy a full day in Rome. As a tourist. During a business trip. I left my bag at the airport, took the train back to the center. I had great pizza, fantastic coffee and super gelato. I walked around Fontana di Trevi and the Colosseo. I sat on the stairs in Piazza di Spagna with the Sunday crowd.

For a second, I actually thought the computer did it on purpose, to allow me an unexpected holiday.

Back at the airport, they initially told me I was not in the passenger list for the evening flight, then they called the manager in charge (an Hungarian lady from Malev) who finally put me on the plane. However, just when she gave me the boarding pass, she started yelling at me because I forced a 20 minutes delay of the morning flight, while they searched for my bag. I tried to explain I was looking at a computer and I trusted it. She would not listen. She kept yelling that I should not have trusted a computer. That it was all my fault, that she had to pay 30 euros to get my bag off the plane (which is probably a huge cost, for the Malev airline...). That I was supposed to be at the gate.

That I should not have trusted the computer.

Wait, was the computer at fault? Who forgot to press Enter and tell the system the plane was actually boarding? I would bet it was the same Hungarian lady... She screwed up, not the computer.

Technology is human, especially when it fails you.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Voice over data, and the future of telephony

Rather quietly, this week RIM announced the BlackBerry Curve 8320, a dual-mode phone. It supports the Tmobile GSM network, but it also adds wi-fi. Not a big deal, you might think. The iPhone has wi-fi as well, so do many smartphones.

The difference is that this device can switch to wi-fi for voice calls. Not just data. Voice...

That means you can sign up for T-Mobile Hotspot@Home ($10/month) and call for "free" when you are at home, in the office, at a Starbucks, in the airport, when you are traveling abroad... Without changing your number. Your cell phone will ring when they call you.

The technology behind this is called UMA. Tmobile acts as a gateway between your phone and the GSM network (that is, the phone gets an IP from your home router, then talks to a T-Mobile server, which routes the call). That's why you have to pay them the $10 per month.

If you have ever traveled with a BlackBerry, you know how expensive it is to call home from an hotel or a conference. Ten bucks go in a few minutes... Now, in all those places you have wi-fi. With $10/month, all your calls are included. You just have to sign-up to the hotspot where you are.

I am ready to bet that all CFOs on the planet are preparing to force their employees to take the new device and have them use it with wi-fi, at least at home and in the office, where the majority of the calls happen... It will be a huge saving.

Although it came in quietly, this is a big turning point in the market. Data is now used for voice. It is the start of a new era. Data will be ubiquitous. Blending voice as a data element makes data king.
A number of very interesting applications will emerge out of this.

There is a competing option to UMA, which is also quite interesting. It is called femtocell (for the geeks out there, femto is just a bit smaller than pico, which is smaller than nano, which is smaller than micro, and so on). It is a very very small cell, that you put in your house or office and connect to the Internet. In practical terms, it is like having a cell tower in your house, giving you five bars on your cellphone. Sprint has launched a trial on it, called AIRAVE. You get a small box in your house, plug into your Internet router and voila', you get great signal coverage. In your house, calls are routed from you normal mobile phone to the AIRAVE, then to a Sprint server via Internet. When you walk away from the house, your cellphone switches automatically from you own small cell to the tower cell. Sprint is charging $15/month for the service (unlimited nationwide calls), plus $49.99 for the device.

Just based on my gut feeling, I like UMA better... Femtocell gives me the impression I am paying my carrier to improve their network coverage, because it sucks in my house. They should have a better cell tower ;-) And I am not getting any advantage in a hotel, bar or even in the office. I can use my current phone, which is nice, but I am planning to change my phone every 18 months like everyone else. And the next device I get is definitely going to be data capable and have wi-fi, so... Femtocell seems like a stop-gap solution and, therefore, it might not last very long.

In any case, the future of mobile telephony looks very interesting. Wow, it is all changing so fast...

On my way to Europe

I am taking off tonight for a quick tour of Europe. Stops are London, Rome to speak at VentureCamp (looks like a very interesting event, if you are Italian with aspirations to become an entrepreneur and raise capital), Budapest to speak at ETRE, Helsinki and London again.

If you happen to live on one of my stops, drop me a note and let's have a beer (or some good food, if you are in Rome ;-)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

iPhone lead: for how long?

It is pretty clear that the iPhone has caught all device manufacturers by surprise. First, they said "it is very hard to build a phone, Apple do not know what they are getting into, the first version will be a failure". Then, when the device was showed the first time, they gulped and started hoping it was all hype. And went back to the drawing board, just in case. Lastly, when it hit the market, they realized it was exactly what the marketing machine told us it would be. Apple did the impossible: they built a phone, which is hard to do, and the first version is nearly flawless. On top of it, it has many innovations. Every device manufacturer is now trying to catch up as fast as possible.

The closest seems to be HTC, which certainly was working on much of this before the iPhone was unveiled. They have manufactured devices without a logo for a while, now they are pushing their logo. The HTC Touch is the closest thing to an iPhone out there, with a reasonable price (Prada or Armani phones do not count...). It has TouchFLO, which reminds of the iPhone multitouch. They just announced they sold 800,000 of those. Not a bad number and very close to the iPhone. Today, they announced an evolution of it, the Touch Dual, with a sliding keypad. Both phones sport Windows Mobile.

What is the difference between the Touch(es) and the iPhone? Well, marketing... Apple wins hands down. However, the Touch has Microsoft behind and they will pour some dollars on this one, in my opinion.

The main difference is applications. There are a tons for Windows Mobile, an "open" platform. There are none available for the iPhone today (if you upgraded to 1.1.1, that is). The difference is staggering. Apple is putting itself in a hole. After the launch, they managed to leave a door open for hackers and dozens of apps were written. With AppTapp, installations and upgrade were seamless. Now it is all gone and it might never get back to wher
e it was (playing cat and mouse is fun for a while, then you get bored to be eaten by the mouse every month and you just give up). Apple is risking big. They might lose their lead, if they keep insisting on supporting a fully closed device.

It is also hurting their marketing a lot. Look at the Nokia poster that went around the web today...

The message is simple: the iPhone is closed and has limits, imposed by Apple. And it is locked to a single carrier, that you might not like...

Mobile Linux, Windows Mobile, Symbian... all open platforms... And you can buy an HTC phone, put your SIM card in it and use it anywhere you want. Unlocked...

The iPhone has a lead, but if Apple is not careful, it is not going to last long.


BTW, thanks to those of you who voted for me in the Visionary category for Consumer Mobile Software at the Mobile Star Awards, allowing me to be a Bright Star for the second year in a row. Much appreciated ;-)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A must-have for open source companies

As you might know, the word Funambol comes from the latin words funis (rope) and ambulare (walking). The term refers to tight-rope walking. It symbolizes the daily struggle for any open source company to balance the commercial soul with the open source soul. Not an easy task.

The word funambulism or funambulist are part of the English dictionary, but I found only two people in this country knowing the meaning of it... In 99.99% of my tests, people do not believe there is such a word in the dictionary and they think I am crazy (maybe not just for this, I must add). It is much easier in Italy or France, where funambolo and funambul are well used words.

A friend sent me the following today. It includes the words in a normal sentence, which might mean I am less crazy... In any case, it is a must-have for any open source company. It will definitely find its way to our offices...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Marketing Open Source

The Enterprise Open Source magazine is running an article this month about marketing and segmenting your open source community. The examples are taken from Funambol marketing strategy, so you can find a lot of our brainstorming, trials, errors and successes in it. In a nutshell, a lot of sweat for the last few years. Mine and of the team around me.

In my opinion (and not just because I know the authors...) it is a must read if you are doing/looking at a commercial open source company. Being in the first crop is a nice thing, but it also means making a lot of mistakes and be forced to learn from them. You are definitely better off reading about what worked for us and avoid the mistakes ;-)

And working it seems, I might add with a smile. Today is a great day at Funambol. I am closing the books on the best quarter in the history of the company, where we blew our numbers and signed two major deals in the last six weeks. Even better, knowing we have two additional big deals just in reach to be closed in the next few weeks. Good quarters should always end on a Friday, so you have the entire weekend to enjoy them :-)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Help, my iPhone is a brick!

I wrote a few days ago about the upcoming software update by Apple for the iPhone. It was supposed to brick unlocked phone. Apparently, it did. This morning I started receiving emails with "DO NOT UPGRADE, IT BRICKED MY PHONE" ;-) I am amazed by how many people did not know about what was coming and now have a bricked phone... I guess they now have to pray for some hacker to save them...

On top of it, it seems the upgrade bricked also some virgin phones... The Apple support site has a bunch of people complaining that their phones are dead, despite no hacks or unlock having been performed. Apple might have overdone this one a bit...

Now, what do I take from this experience?
  1. This is the first phone on the planet that gets such a serious software update on a massive scale. It has never been so easy to add a feature to a phone. Apple has made it. It is a huge change in the mobile industry.
  2. People will be demanding software updates from every device manufacturer from now on, at least for smartphones. RIM, Palm, Microsoft... Somebody else set a new bar, you have to catch up (fast).
  3. If you upgrade a firmware and things go wrong, that's really bad. It is not acceptable to brick a phone. Your customers will yell at you... They can't call anymore. They could die in the middle of a fire because their phone is not working anymore. They will sue you and probably win. Firmware upgrade is a risky thing, but Apple went for it. In any case, it is a fact of life now.
  4. Do not hack your phone or you will be in trouble, because the manufacturer will first brick your phone, then kick you out of the store when you show up with a sad face asking for help.
  5. If you hack your phone, just hope the manufacturer will screw up the firmware update. If Apple really bricked normal phones, you might get lucky and show up in the store, and say with a angry (and straight) face "I did not hack it and the upgrade bricked it!!! I want a refund!!!!"
I should write a book about the iPhone. This developing story is just fascinating...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Help, my iPhone is going to be a brick!

The world is full of very interesting people...

In the last three months, lots of non-technical users jailbreaked their iPhone, opening it up to third party applications. Then they unlocked it, opening it up to any carrier. Rumors say "lots" could mean over 100,000 people, 10% of the iPhone buyers ;-)

Now they are all panicking...

Apple yesterday has said: "we are about to release an upgrade of the iPhone firmware. If you unlocked your iPhone, this upgrade will most likely transform it into a brick". Maybe you will be able to use it as a mirror. A $499 mirror (after rebate). A rather expensive one.

What is exactly happening?

  1. jailbreaking was an easily reversible operation. You could click on Restore in your iTunes and you would have a virgin iPhone. Apple would do it for you. Automatically. At any firmware update.
  2. unlocking is not easily reversible, since you actually update the baseband... To reverse it, you have to get the baseband back to its original state. You would need a tool, which is not available today. And the hacks available today do not seem to be working too well...
Not many people realized the difference, subtle but significant. And now that Apple is about to issue a firmware update, panic has spread... If you cannot give your iPhone its virginity back and you upgrade the firmware, the phone will be bricked. If you go to an Apple store with it, they will laugh at you. Your wife will make you pay for it.

Blogs are full of strategies today, like throwing the iPhone out of the window and asking the credit card for a refund (they would refund a broken iPhone, in particular if you cannot even turn it on anymore ;-) Some are thinking about a class-action lawsuit against Apple (for what? Issuing a software upgrade?). Others are starting to blame the developers of the unlocking tools (like they did not tell you it could be risky...). Unbelievable.

Seriously, what do you do?

You just wait :-) Apple firmware upgrades are not mandatory. iTunes asks you if you want to update the iPhone. Just say no.

If you did only software changes to the iPhone (remember, you did not open it up), those are reversible. You just need the software developer who developed the unlock, to develop a working ununlock. Worst case scenario, they will develop a virginity tool. At that point, you will be able to upgrade your iPhone and get the wonderful new features in it (as far as I know, only the ability to spend more money buying music online, maybe not even worth it ;-) Then you can re-unlock it, if you feel it was worth the anxiety.

Do not panic. Just wait. Next time, think about it twice. Leave it to the geeks.

Ducati and the best of Italy

Despite my daily efforts (...) made-in-Italy is rarely in the news for high-tech. Italians always score high for fashion, style, food, music, tourism and so on. Newspapers seem to ignore the country high-tech successes.

When look and technology get together, though, I believe Italy shines. One example is Ducati, the most beautiful bike in the world, built and designed in Italy, who won the MotoGP championship this weekend (both driver and constructor titles).

Granted, we needed an Australian to drive it and win it. But that's the way of globalization (look where I live ;-)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mobile advertising and ads in apps

If you follow the news in mobile, you might have noticed mobile advertising is really hot (surprise ;-) Google has launched mobile ads last week, when Nokia bought a mobile advertising company; so did AOL a few months ago.

Why is mobile advertising hot, all of a sudden? The answer, in my opinion, is in the continuous drop of data plans prices and everything happening around what I call mobile 2.0. In a nutshell, service providers and portal have the opportunity to reach consumers directly, for the first time in history. They are going around the carriers and mobile advertising is the way to do it because it gives them reach (for free) and a potentially huge return.

You might ask: any prediction on what will work with mobile advertising? Sure, just because you asked ;-)

First of all, web-based mobile advertising is destined to fail (in my opinion, until proven wrong...). The browsing experience on a mobile phone is sub-par. There is no mouse and the screen is too small. The iPhone sports the ultimate browser and the largest screen, you can't do better than that: however, browsing on the iPhone still sucks. I mean, it is a nice-to-have feature in emergencies, when you do not have a PC or laptop close-by. However, it is not where you will spend most of your time on a phone. On top of it, there is just no room for advertising, to make it not-annoying for users. Annoying is BAD in advertising. Mobile ads on browsers will be annoying and intrusive. They simply won't work.

What will work, then?

I believe the best application to drive ads on a mobile phone is the maps application. An app you need and want to have on a device. In particular, when your phone has GPS and knows where you are. If I am searching for pizza in a one mile radius from my current position and you own a pizza place nearby, how much would you pay to be on top of the list? Or - at least - very visible? Dollars? Tens of dollars? I think so...

Anything else?

I predict a big chunk of advertisement will be driven by "ads in app". That is, advertisement placed inside applications you use frequently. Not intrusive. Not annoying. Just there, when you do something else. One example? Mobile messaging, a.k.a. push email. If you met me recently, I probably showed you the Funambol email client on the RAZR, with advertising on top. Not intrusive, but extremely effective.


  1. the phone is a communication device. You either talk or send messages with it, 99% of the time. Everything else takes just a bit of your daily usage. Sorry, I never bought the mobile TV marketing story...
  2. #1 means you are going to spend more time in front of your messaging client than anything else. The mobile messaging client is going to be the most expensive piece of real estate on a device.
  3. if you tie mobile ads in a mobile messaging client with location, you have the killer mobile ad conduit.
Imaging this: you walk down a street, your phone beeps, you open the phone to read the message your best friend sent you and the ad on top offers you a free latte at the Starbucks three steps from where you are. Location-aware, not intrusive, highly effective. You stop, walk in the Starbucks, get the latte, read the message from your friend, then you realize latte actually in this country does not mean just milk... You call your friend and ask who in the world thought to drop the word coffee from caffelatte... Isn't that weird?? Go and ask for a latte in Milan and see if they bring you coffee with it or not :-)

Forget browsing, location-aware map searches and ads in apps are the future of mobile advertising. It is hot today, it is just going to get hotter and hotter. Like your latte with coffee.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My wishlist for the new iPhone

I have been playing with my iPhone for almost three months now, enough to be able to suggest a few things to Apple for the next release. All pretty much obvious, but...

  1. A 3G chip. I know, I am not the first to ask it, but everywhere I have wi-fi, I also have a laptop or a PC... I need high bandwidth on the run. Wi-fi is nice to have. 3G is a must.
  2. A GPS chip. Same as before. Google Maps would take up a complete new dimension. And it would be good for mobile advertising too ;-)
  3. A phone that would not make my radio in the car and the speakers on my PC rattle once every 10 minutes. It is really annoying.
  4. A camera that makes picture that you want to keep.
  5. A keyboard and a self-cleaning screen. Just kidding...

  1. Just an open phone, everything the iPhone is missing today would be (and it is) developed by the community out there. Please do it soon. Today is not soon enough. If you do it, all the items below will be disappearing from your feature list. Wouldn't it be great?
  2. Push email beside Yahoo (we are working on it, but we need #1 to make it mainstream)
  3. Contacts, Calendar, Task and Notes synchronization over-the-air (same as #2, but we need also #4)
  4. Tasks. I just can't remember a single thing if I do not write it down. Not having task support on-the-go could be dangerous for my health, because I might forget to take medications without it. It is just like e911. It should be mandatory, by the government (just for me ;-)
  5. Support for something more than just the English dictionary. I know autocorrect is cool, but if you type in Italian and every single word gets changed by the device... it gets you to a point where you want to throw the beautiful device and hit an Apple employee.
  6. The landscape mode working in many other apps, beside the browser. For example, in the Mail application. It makes typing much easier.
  7. The ability to sort cities in Weather. You have to delete them to re-sort them today. Who forgot this feature (bug)? Where was QA?
  8. Search in contacts. We have a person in our free myFUNAMBOL site with over 9,000 contacts. Believe me, s/he can't call anybody without a search tool.
  9. Support for a bunch more attachments, like audio (I get my landline voicemail forwarded via email and I can't listen to it). Powerpoint would be nice too.
  10. Copy and Paste. People get really surprised when I tell them the iPhone does not have copy and paste, but I have the feeling it will be very hard to figure out how to do it (right), considering the current user interface. Double-tap and drag? I do not know... I just have the need to be able to copy something from the web into an email...
That's it. Not that much, I know. The iPhone is a heck of a device, with a few additional touches I would even carry it around as my main device (I am not doing it today).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Giving up on the billion dollars company?

Today, Zimbra has been bought by Yahoo! for $350M. No more than a month ago, I was celebrating the sale of XenSource for $500M, amazed by the multiplier but still questioning the future of OSS companies. In a nutshell: will any of our crop of open source commercial companies ever make it to IPO and become a billion dollar company?

I am very happy for Satish, Scott, Andy and the team. They are great minds, they have built a terrific product and they deserve a nice payback for it (and, yes, the multiplier is still crazy). Congratulations guys.

They were so good, I thought Zimbra was one of the few that could have made it all the way to IPO and after. They had a fantastic play and were on a great track. They could have been THE billion dollars open source company...

Looking at the market today and the multipliers flying around, I just do not see who can make it all the way. Open source is just too hot. Everybody wants a piece of it and building a community from scratch is plainly impossible (for starters, it takes five years...). There are too many buyers and too few opportunities out there... Scarcity is the name of the game. If you show up with a trunk full of gold, nobody will resist it. It is just part of human nature. And yes, VCs are part of the game too ;-)

My prediction is that prices will continue to go up, buyers will continue to buy and at the end of this madness, open source will simply be everywhere. But there won't be a billion dollars standalone open source company.

If we are all getting gobbled up by the mainstream, we will simply have to change it from the inside ;-)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Data plans dropping: not a coincidence

I wrote before that Mobile 2.0 happens with flat fee billing. Data plans are the basis for Mobile 2.0 to happen. Just like the Internet happened when we threw away modems, the mobile data revolution will really take off once the price for unlimited data plans in mobile will drop to a reasonable amount.

Today, I saw another step in the right direction. T-mobile dropped the price for the unlimited data plan to $19.99 a month (from $29.99, that's 30%, just like the drop in price of the iPhone ;-)

Why? The iPhone is changing the game. The at&t unlimited data plan is $20 a month. T-mobile was forced to lower it. And it will keep going down.

Why today? Well, this is not a coincidence. Two days ago, the first method to easily unlock the iPhone came out. It is software-only. It takes a few seconds.

What you do when you unlock an at&t iPhone and you live in the US? You use it with Tmobile, which is the only alternative here... And now, the data plan price is even a bit lower than at&t . What a coincidence!

I am enjoying my Tmobile iPhone, ready to take-off for Europe, where I will be able to use it with my European SIM card. Freedom never felt so good...

Believe me, data plans will drop there as well. Quickly. Even faster than we think. The process has started and there is no way back. Mobile 2.0 is getting closer to reality.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is Apple becoming too cocky?

For once, I got it right. Yesterday I wrote "I think it will be an iPod without a trackwheel but with a multi-touch screen, just like the iPhone" and today Steve Jobs announced the iPod Touch. I should go out and play the lotto ;-)

There are many ways to analyze this announcement and the other Apple did today. Let me pick a few angles that highlight a theme that is starting to bother me.

First of all, the iPod Touch it is a glorified iPod (or a dumbed-down iPhone, your call). This time, arguably, the best iPod ever (the tagline does not apply to the iPhone anymore...). I do not see it is a move to expand in a new market, but more a way to prevent the entire iPod line from being cannibalized by the iPhone. A defensive move. Smart, but with zero additional revenues attached.

The iPod Touch is missing some interesting apps, compared with the iPhone. The BIG one: email. Yep, it is a wi-fi device with full browsing but no email. But it has contacts and calendar... Sounds strange? Well, yes. The explanation is that this is just an upgrade of the other iPods, so you have only the features you always had on the iPods. Email was not there (same for weather or stocks). However, you never had a browser in an iPod... If you add it, these other apps could fit nicely as well...

Why do I have to use a web-based email interface (which sucks on the iPhone) when I could have an email app on the device? Why do I have to connect the browser to to check the weather?

The excuse for the browser is that it is necessary to connect to some wi-fi sites. I find it weak.

Bottom line: Apple is preventing users from having on the device features that they would like to have. My take on it: one day they will pay for it, if they keep closing things down. Consumers are not as stupid as they seems. Give them an alternative and they will jump. Loyalty to any one company is at its lowest, these days. See what happened to Tivo. They are playing with fire, but until they are a monopoly, they can do it... But it won't last.

Is Apple becoming too cocky? Mmmhhh, maybe.

A more worrying sign is the creation of the 0.99 per ringtone application. This is one feature of the 51.5kb SendSong application I have on my iPhone TODAY. It probably took Erica Sadun few hours to develop it. If Apple is thinking about making 99 cents with ringtones, it is clear to me they have NO PLANS WHATSOEVER to open up to developers the iPhone (or the iPod Touch, for that matter). Not in the short term, at least. If they did, Erica's app will be on every iPhone and the 99 cents per ringtone revenue would be gone. In an instant. Maybe they will open up portions of the devices, maybe not the music. Most likely, just nada, zip, zilch. Until the monopoly is over.

Is Apple becoming too cocky? Well, probably yes. They have always been cocky. But being the underdog, everybody roots for you. If you become the monopoly, it is way different. You just do not piss off developers, if you build operating systems. You pay for it, one day. Lessons from the past should help...

Last sign of being too cocky? They collapsed the price of the iPhone from $599 to $399. Good sign for consumers, you might say. Bad sign for iPhone sales, investors seem to believe (Apple stock was down 5% today). Maybe, but for sure an horrible sign for all the loyal Apple people that bought a device in the last two months and now realized how fools they have been. Think about the wives looking at their husbands and saying "I told you. You are an idiot. You spent hours waiting in a long line to get an high-five from Apple employees... and you threw away 200 bucks. Idiot. I told you. Go take the garbage out, maybe you'll learn something". Apple is messing up with their loyal customers. Everybody is laughing at them. There is a riot going on in the blogosphere right now...

Is messing up with your loyal customers being too cocky? Well, sure it is. It is a bad mistake. Apple should be very careful... You pay for it, one day.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A very smart move for Palm

I wrote about the Palm Foleo when it was announced and I can't say I was impressed...

Today, Palm surprised me (again) with the announcement of the killing of the product. These are not very frequent events in our business, in particular when they require a 10M write-off.

However, this is the smartest thing Palm could have done at this time. Kudos to the CEO. Most companies would have committed suicide, before admitting they were wrong. They did not.

Now they can just focus on a realistic answer to the iPhone, exploiting its weaknesses. Build a next generation platform that attracts developers (and no, I do not believe Steve Jobs will announce the iPhone SDK tomorrow, sorry. I think it will be an iPod without a trackwheel but with a multi-touch screen, just like the iPhone). Beat Apple on the turf where the have been ALWAYS weak, the one that allowed Microsoft to become a dominant force.

As Steve Ballmer once said, it is all about developers. Developers. Developers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The birth of an ecosystem

I have been observing the iPhone phenomenon very closely. Partly because I believe the iPhone is the turning point of this market and will have a lasting impact. Mostly because it had to create a new ecosystem from scratch, and I love studying new ecosystems (from open source collaboration, to social networking). In particular, those managed by an entity acting as God.

The iPhone ecosystem was created overnight, although carefully crafted for months. At the beginning, it was geeks and fashion-conscious people (I repeat myself here, but those who do not understand the fashion component in cellphones and believe it is just about technology are deadly wrong...).

The geeks attacked the phone on day one. The goal was to crack it open. Study it from the inside. It was a discovery expedition. In a day or so, the iPhone was cracked. In a month or so, the first native applications appeared. In two months, the first two methods to unlock it were invented.

The fashion-conscious looked at the geeks to see if they could add ringtones and change the icons on the screen. Once the tools were easy to use, they acted and were very proud to be even cooler.

Apple reacted in an aggressive and smart way. They upgraded the OS of the phone twice, once a month. The upgrade is a marketing positive, with a few twists.

The positive for Apple is that this is the FIRST mobile device that gets a software update once a month and it is so easy to upgrade. It is a game-changing procedure. Nobody else does it or does it even nearly so well. They are years ahead of the competition.

One twist is that every single OS upgrade wipes out every modification by the hackers. If you changed an icon and you upgrade, it is gone. On top of it, the upgrade takes 30 minutes instead than 4. And you have to re-hack the phone to put your ringtones back. And you might lose something else in the restore process, if it does not work well.

Now, the fashion-conscious have had enough. Cool is great, but wasting one hour of your life every thirty days is insane. The ecosystem is losing these people. They won't hack the iPhone anymore, unless Apple lets them do it.

The geeks are still there. They keep working on it. Unlocking the device has been a remarkable effort, similar to pure science. You have an organism you do not know, someone else made it (God or Steve Jobs, pretty much the same). Many researchers try different paths, some paths lead to new paths, someone else picks them up and boom, a new discovery. Fascinating.

New participants are now appearing at the horizon. The "I am not getting the first device because it is buggy, I'll wait a few months". These are now demanding software upgrades. Nobody on the planet ever thought their cell phone will be updated, after they bought it. They now expect it from Apple. Apple MUST add new features. New icons MUST pop up on the phone. Apple created a demand and expectation. It is another twist, but I am not sure if Apple planned it. It looks like a by-product. Sometimes the deus-ex-machina loses a bit of control.

The next step of the evolution is Apple giving Eva (or was it God giving Apple to Eva, I am confused...) and the geeks the power to add applications and change ringtones, without hacking the phone and being forced to throw away all the effort once a month. This will happen once the geeks have satisfied their ego, which will be pretty much done in a month.

At that point, new elements will appear. The ISVs. The companies that build applications for a living and make money out of it. They will change the landscape once more.

Then Apple will create another iPhone and will change the ecosystem. Again and again and again...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The beauty of free software as a service

Ok, I title of the post is misleading. One would think I will talk about how open source software is powering SaaS and why this is making life great for everyone. I have done it already. Many times. It does, believe me.

Something happened last week.

On Friday, I opened my computer and tried to access Netvibes, which is my current home page. I got a "500 Internal Server error". Reload: same thing. Reload again: sorry... Ohh well, I said, it is a free service, how can I complain?

Fifteen minutes later I had a call scheduled with Italy. As usual, with Skype. Strangely, I was not connected to the network. Strangely, it was not working. Ohh well, I said, it is a free service, how can I complain? I used the phone.

An hour later, my wife yelled from the living room: Skype is not working!!!! I need to call mom!!! She was not happy. She complained. Like it was my fault... I scrambled to put money in Jajah. I made the call for her, phone rang, mom was on the line and she was happy (high priority in my life goals).

My normal computing abilities were halved on Friday morning. No news, no calls. I invested "precious" time to help my wife. Simply because free services were down. Free services my life relies on...

Could I complain to someone? No. Try calling someone in Skype or Netvibes...

You can't complain for a free service.

Did Skype give an explanation? No. C'mon, you are kidding me, the problem was that a Microsoft patch made reboot all the PCs on the planet???? The issue was that the authentication system on their servers got screwed up, probably because it was not sized properly. That's a scalability issue. I had one in my past while working on a consumer online trading platform. Our authentication server started to choke up. The queue got long. The clients re-tried to login after 30 seconds. The queue increased. More login attempts... The system died. We had to manually clean the queue, block the clients, increase the power of the machines and their throughput, open clients up a chunk at a time. A painful excercise. But easy to explain. And we had to. Skype does not have to.

You can avoid giving explanations when a free service crashes.

Did Skype offer a refund? Nope. They increased my subscription for a week. Lame...

You do not have to offer a refund for a free service.

Bottom line: free software as a service is good for businesses. Get people hooked to them. Screw their lives. Nobody can say a word. Yep, they might leave you and use something else (in particular, if you piss off their wives), but it is a small prize to pay :-)