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.