Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sexy as in Open Source

Roberto Galoppini has a blog on commercial open source, that I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in the topic (not just because he is Italian or because he interviewed me some weeks ago). Lately, he has been blogging about open source franchising. Very interesting stuff.

His last post is about a presentation he gave at Barcamp, titled "Free as in Business: lucrative coopetition".

He is presenting a few taxonomies to categorize commercial open source projects. We all like taxonomies, since the game is trying to put your own project somewhere (then you should build a quadrant and put yourself in the upper right corner ;-)

I guess Funambol is Hybrid, Symbiotic, Externally Funded. Or maybe not... That's the fun part of taxonomies, you never fit squarely in one category...

There is one sentence in the post, though, that I strongly disagree with. Roberto writes:

Open Source is not sexy yet
Open Source is sexy. The problem might be that we show too much. The code is there, there is nothing we hide. Fully naked. Always. However, I would not go back to proprietary fully clothed software. Code hidden under ten tons of clothes. And you know they will not show you anything, as much as you try to convince them. THAT is not sexy.

Go naked.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Billing, billing, billing...

In my Mobile 2.0 Manifesto, I mentioned that a key element for the success of Mobile 2.0 will be moving everybody in mobile to flat fee (item 4). It is the only possible model for people to embrace data usage on a cellular phone.

Luckily, we are getting closer to this goal in the US. Sprint has a $15/month unlimited plan which is fantastic (too bad is not based on GSM...). T-Mobile has a $5.99 plan with some limitations, but the price is right (and there are ways around the limitations ;-)

It is not all good, unfortunately. Cingular (sorry, at&t) unlimited plan is $49.99, which is a non starter for consumers... If you look at the recent data ARPU from their last quarter, it was $7.19... A number that include SMS, which still represent the largest chunk. I honestly believe they would be better off with a $15 unlimited plan. Higher data ARPU, simpler plans, happier customers. What's wrong with that?

When you look at Europe, it is even worse. Almost everywhere you find only pay-by-kilobyte plans. I wrote it before, but... how the heck do I know how big is a kilobyte? If I am downloading my email, how can I know how much data will I consume? I will not know, because I am not going to use it... And it does not help when you hear horror stories, like the guy who got a €50,000 bill for data usage in a month... It scares people away (rightly so).

There are bright spots, however. 3 in particular (that's Three, like H3G). They have in Italy a €19 plan, with 5 Gigabyte of traffic. I do not know how big is a kilobyte, but I know a Giga is big enough for a lot of emails... In the UK, they launched the X-Series: X-Series Silver at £5 (including Skype calls) and X-Series Gold at £10 (including Sling TV). They call them "unlimited plans", but they are limited (e.g. 1G/month for browsing and 5,000 Skype to Skype minutes per month)... Still, they are a great deal and a great start.

It is funny: Europe had the best SMS plans and SMS exploded. US had the worst SMS plans and SMS never took off (please, I beg you, stop asking me to pay 15 cents for receiving an SMS...). For data plans, it is exactly the opposite. The US is ahead. Therefore, the initial growth will happen in the US. Europe will follow, hopefully fast.

In essence, item 4 of my Mobile 2.0 Manifesto is still a bit far from becoming mainstream. In particular in Europe. But if you look back at a year ago, the jump was impressive. It is getting close to reality. Let's just wait for a few months more and the iPhone is going to crack the data plans market open...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Remote sync your smartphone with SyncML and Funambol

Once again, browsing the web, I found an article on SmallNetBuilder about how to synchronize your smartphone with Funambol. It is quite detailed, so I would recommend it as a must-read for anybody having a smartphone and looking to sync contacts and calendar over-the-air (and, no, it does not talk about the iPhone, sorry).

The article is: Remote sync your smartphone with SyncML and Funambol

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Open Source conferences are boring

Yesterday, I spoke at the "Open Source meets Business" conference in Nuremberg. The atmosphere was magic, since it snowed the night before and the city was all white (a bit of a change from the meeting I attended in Miami last week, where we had dinner pool-side). They had to postpone the program for an hour because of the snow, which forced lunch at 2 pm. I am Italian and I adapt easily, but you do not want to talk at 1:59 pm in front of hungry Germans...

Everyone in open source was there. It was amazing how many people they were able to get together. However, it felt kind of boring... Been there, done that. With the addition of 90%+ of the people in a dark suit, the highest percentage I have ever seen. Even more than at 3GSM, where half-naked girls in the booths balance the dark of the just-male visitors. Political incorrectnesses at his highest.

Open source conference smell of deja-vu. Same stories (we are good, they are bad - we are conquering the world, they will all die), same people. All the time. I wrote this before. This conference was flawlessly organized. The place was great. The castle at night was fantastic, as it was the beer (and the bratwurst). The right people were there. All perfect. But still boring...

In open source conferences, the excitement is gone. Open source is mainstream. It is everywhere. It is not news. In particular, when we preach to the choir.

On the contrary, it is still very exciting when you push open source in front of an audience that does not know about it. Such as 3GSM and CTIA for us, coming up in the following weeks. That mobile crowd finds open source interesting. Mobile open source is exciting stuff. They get excited. I get excited.

So... you are all invited to visit our booth at 3GSM in Barcelona next month. And no, sorry, we are not going to have half-naked girls in the booth (however, Daniele will be there). Sorry, we are open source, we do things differently. We are fun. We are not supposed to be boring.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A port to push

I found out yesterday that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has assigned Funambol an official tcp/udp port. Port 4745 belongs to fmp, a.k.a. Funambol Mobile Push.

What does it mean? I am not totally sure, but I believe it is cool to have a port assigned by IANA, that nobody else can use...

Jokes apart, the port is assigned to our TCP-based push mechanism, to push email (and more) to mobile devices. That is, to notify a device there is email ready to pick up. The famous beep of your BlackBerry: "You got mail!".

We also have an SMS-based push mechanism, which is linked to the OMA standard, but it is sometimes a bit too expensive to use, in particular for enterprises (not a major problem for mobile operators, since the cost for them to send an SMS is pretty much zero). TCP-push is a better solution in some cases and we offer our users to choose the best
option suiting them.

This gives me another opportunity to talk about why push is important for mobile email. Some people tell me "I do not really need push, I can pull my email when I want and it will be enough". That is true, but let me tell you a secret: you won't...

You won't check your email often on your phone. You will do it rarely, when you have spare time and you are not going to get close to a PC in the next 30 minutes. When you are mobile, you are most likely about to go home or the office, or you just got out of the home or the office. You have a PC there, you do not really feel the need to check your email on your phone right away. You can wait.

If you are around and your phone beeps, showing a message from your boss (that is, either the one at work or your wife), you will answer. You will not delay a reply. You will react. You have to. You cannot wait.

The usage of a mobile phone is all about reacting, not acting. Pull is acting. Push forces reacting. That's why it works. That's why it is addictive. That's why you use a BlackBerry. That's why you use SMS.

And do not tell me you wait until you get home to answer a SMS from your wife ;-)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Steve Jobs blew it?

The day after the the launch of the iPhone I really felt alone... I wrote a negative post about it (actually, two), while everyone else was writing great reviews. Now the pendulum has swung...

In one comment on Computerworld, Mike Elgan went all the way. The journalist simply said "Steve Jobs blew it". Here are his reasons:
  1. Jobs raised buyer expectations too high.
  2. Jobs raised Wall Street expectations too high.
  3. Jobs gave competitors a head start.
  4. Jobs undermined Apple TV hype.
  5. Jobs put iPod sales at risk.
  6. Jobs wrecked Cisco talks.
I believe it counts as heresy, punishable with a life with Zune...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Top forty under 40

America Venture Magazine named forty "Leaders in the Emerging Growth Technology Industry" under 40 years. Somehow, I made the list. It is quite funny to read what they say about the other 39 people:
Call it 2006’s most promising young guns. The top 40 under 40 list is our remarkable selection of those talented young leaders who, with deep understanding of today’s fast changing technology, had the extraordinary ability to develop a new variety of business models with a vision for the future and community involvement. The incredible part, that each of them made their dreams come true at a very young age. In the selection process, American Venture Magazine considered the nominees' achievements and ground-breaking efforts in the following areas: vision, leadership, development strategies, innovation and achievement. [...]
Through their passion, they embrace risks and commit to what they believe in. They are definitely doing something right.
This is a bit too much, even for my big ego. Anyway, let me focus on one good thing: I am still considered young despite the gray hair I saw this morning looking in the mirror :-))

Two principles of successful open source businesses [InfoWorld blog]

I met with Matt in Salt Lake City over the weekend (yep, I went skiing at negative Fahrenheit temperatures...) and we talked during a nice dinner. He blogged about things I wrote here in the past. It is funny to see that other people are better than you at explaining your own thoughts...

I would therefore suggest you to check his post clicking here.

I just want to add a comment to "Sell open source to those who don't like/trust open source". Selling to someone that does not like/trust/use you is nothing new. Skype does it. They make money because people do not use Skype (that is, calling a landline). If everybody had Skype, they would be out of business. That's an interesting tought for eBay ;-)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Apple, please do not forget the developers (again)!

I wrote my last post on the iPhone at midnight in Europe, right after "watching" the launch, then I went to bed. I woke up and I found out I was the only idiot who wrote something negative on the iPhone... It is sad to be alone... Since I am currently alone at home in California with family 10,000 miles away, it is even worst...

Jokes apart, I thought about it a bit more and I did not change my mind (double idiot). It is a smartphone, it has a limited market, you are going to sweat on the good looking screen while calling someone (I know you sweat as well, Steve) and it is nothing terribly new (check this image about an LG phone and let me know how different it looks... If LG had Steve Jobs, it would be a cool company ;-)

Probably, it is a great Video iPod with network connectivity. A cool looking PDA. A small networked tablet PC. Three niches. It is going to be all over Silicon Valley (and I am going to get one) but I stick with the idea that is never ever going to challenge the RAZR, until they have a mini or a nano.

That said, one thing is really bothering me, if it is true (never trust Apple rumors...): they plan to lock the phone completely, so that nobody will be able to add any application.
According to the NYT, Steve Jobs said:
“We define everything that is on the phone. You don’t want your phone to be like a PC.[...] These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them"
I beg to differ.

A locked device works well for single-purpose ones. Like an iPod. Multi-purpose devices (also known as smartphones, like the iPhone) do many things and letting the user decide what to do is key. We are quite different out there. The ability to add third party apps has been the reason why Palm has been successful (together with the synching capability). You can't lock a smartphone or people will develop for different platforms and innovation will go elsewhere.

Since I sort of represent the largest development community in mobile (we are getting close to one million downloads...), what I am reading is: go away, we do not want you. We won't be able to have the Funambol plug-in on the iPhone. No open source push-email. No open source PIM synching. No way to put all the apps that people built on our platform on the iPhone.

That is stupid. Where will our community go? To OpenMoko, first. To Microsoft Windows Mobile, second. If you are a startup and you have a cool app in mind, where will you develop it first? On Windows. Same happened for the Mac. If you have the next killer VOIP client, you will build it for Windows Mobile, not the iPhone. There, you will be stuck with whatever Apple gives to you. Even if it sucks or you do not want to get locked on iMac... Innovation will go elsewhere.

Outside developers are a phenomenal resource. Look at Google. They have the brightest people on the planet but the coolest products were written by non-Google people (then they bought them). Innovation came elsewhere. It is not different for Apple.

Apple, you chose to build a smartphone, not me. I was not expecting it. Now it is much better for you to let us develop for it... Niche smartphone with no developers is a niche of a niche. Lock the iPhone nano, which will do just two things well, it will be fast, small and supercool. Not that smartphone.

Man, I feel alone...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Yikes, it is a smartphone!

As you certainly know, Apple launched the iPhone today. Great show by Steve Jobs, as usual. And surprising announcement, at least for me. Everybody is excited about the device (the stock market for sure, with AAPL up 7% and RIM down 7%...), I am not that much. Obviously, I need to get my hands on it and play with it, but one thing is clear: it is a smartphone!!!

It is funny how nobody noticed it with surprise. I was not expecting a smartphone... Apple is a great consumer company... Smartphones represent a minuscule size of the mobile market. The smartphone market is not even considered "consumer". It is an enterprise market, prosumer at best. Apple target is 1% of the entire device market in 2008. That's nothing. That will be a rounding error in Nokia or Motorola or even Samsung market share... The iPhone is not a RAZR, not by a mile.

Moreover, the iPhone does not even look like an enterprise device. It just looks like a smartphone for geeks (and I love geeks, do not get me wrong, but we are not the majority out there...).

On top of it, it is pricey... At $499, you need to be a wealthy geek... Did anyone notice that the BlackBerry Pearl is much smaller, looks pretty cool and cost you $199?? When I saw it for the first time I thought "wow, that might get into the hands of consumers". I have a hard time thinking the same for the iPhone...

When it comes to the UI, I am happy to hear from Steve that our fingers are designed for interacting... But touching something requires a tactile feedback. If I touch a screen, there is no feedback. When I touch buttons, I get it. Did anybody notice a difference between the buttons in a BlackBerry, Treo, Q or E61? I do. They feel different when I touch them or push them. You are going to miss it with the iPhone... Look at the iPod: it is all about tactile feedback. The wheel is just perfect. It feels perfect. A screen won't. Never. It is cold and flat.

How innovative is it? Well, have you looked at the OpenMoko device? Gulp, it is a smartphone and it does not have a keyboard as well. It is based on the same idea. Steve said they patented everything about the iPhone. Good for them... If you are a geek developer and you have to choose between a fully proprietary solution and a fully open source device, what would you choose? They are both based on a Unix derivative... I would go with OpenMoko, where you can freely build any kind of application without paying a toll to Apple.

Lastly, and this is for geeks, it does not support 3G. No UMTS, only EDGE. That's slooooow for a geek. I am happy about the wi-fi support, but this is a device that is supposed to change the way I interact with the world when I am mobile (and I do not have wi-fi everywhere today). It is going to be sloooooooooow!!

Ok, I believe I have been a bit too harsh on this one. I really want to play with it and say I was wrong. But I won't be able to do it for the next six months... That's an eternity in mobile. Where is the Apple that announced a device and it was available in store the same day???

In a nutshell:
  1. It is just a smartphone
  2. It is a smartphone for geeks only
  3. It is pricey even for a geek
  4. Input is going to be clumsy
  5. It is not that innovative
  6. It is slow
  7. It is going to take six months before we see it
I might be wrong on everything, and I hope to be. I am an Apple fan. I bought dozens of iPod Shuffle before Christmas, after all... If I look at it with a positive angle, the iPhone is very similar to the first iPod. That one was for geeks only, as well. Heavy and big. Then they made the mini and the nano and the last shuffle. Fantastic devices for the masses. Everybody got one.

I guess I will have to wait for the iPhone nano...

Five things

I promised myself and my family that I would not work during the holidays. That included this blog (which is more fun than work, but...). I have been good and maintained the promise (although I still checked my email few times a day on my mobile since I am addicted to my own software). Now it is time to start writing again...

When I was about to go on vacation, my friend Mike Olson at Oracle (a.k.a. Mr. Sleepycat) tagged me with the "Five Things" game. It is a pyramid scheme. I am supposed to write five things you do not know about me and tag five more people to do the same. Pyramid schemes are interesting because are social phenomena, like open source, where a group of people get together with a goal in mind (or just for fun). They die because of party poopers, killing the chain. I'll be happily one of them.


  1. I lived in a mental institution for three years. Actually, not as a patient... My parents are both shrinks and worked there. It was easier for them to live in a apartment inside the hospital for the night shifts. Therefore, I spent the first three years of my life in a mental institution. It was a great experience, although I do not remember it, and it might explain a lot of things about me...
  2. My high school was a "Liceo Classico". That is, I studied a lot of Ancient Greek and Latin and pretty much zero math. My grandma, a Greek and Latin teacher, always told me that classical studies "open your mind". I really hope so. It seemed not very helpful while moving into high tech, but it gives me a good amount of topics for boring social dinners.
  3. I hate carrots, of any shape or form.
  4. The girl I married attended my same kindergarten and was sitting in front of me for five years in high school. She was one of my preferred target for spitting paper balls with my pen during not-so-interesting lessons.
  5. I am the only Italian on the planet who is crazy about baseball. It resembles soccer, after all. It is slow, there is a lot of strategy, it is all about episodes. The difference is that you can munch cracker jacks and talk as much as you want, knowing you are not going to lose the key moment: when you hear the crack of the bat, you have time to turn your head and watch the ball land in McCovey Cove. When the ball is in the net, it is too late... You need to wait until you are home to see the game again (yes, I do that as well).
That's it, I am not going to write the other 45 for now...