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.