Friday, December 19, 2008

Ad-funded mobile email? It works!

Messaging in mobile is the killer application. I have no doubts about it. The phone is a communication device, you either talk or send a message. The rest of the time (less than 5%, in my opinion) you do something else, like browsing. But browsing is an emergency activity. Messaging is core in mobile.

Now, the next question has always been: if the browser is the killer app on the desktop and Google made tons of money on browsing, adding advertising, what can you do in mobile? Well, you put advertising in messaging, of course... and the Google of mobile will come from messaging and not browsing.

Easier said than done. Ads in messaging might be perceived as spam, could be intrusive because of the lack of real estate on the device screen, risk to raise tons of questions on privacy.

All true.

However, what if you have a micro banner on top of the mobile messaging client, that is not intrusive, and could actually bring you useful ads (the one that you want to see)?

You could do a lot of research and ask people. They will probably tell you "no, thanks". Or you could give them an actual working client with ads and ask them "ok, now what do you think?".

We did the latter. We put ads on a subset of mobile email clients in myFUNAMBOL, we let it run for a while, then we asked the users about their usage and perception (also having objective data on our service, totally anonymous).

It is all reported in the free research report entitled, "Market Potential for Ad-funded Mobile Email", summarized below.

The report summarizes the findings of a survey that was conducted with users of the ad-funded myFUNAMBOL mobile email service. The survey was performed to gauge user acceptance of mobile ads and to learn about a broad range of issues relating to an ad-funded mobile email solution. The report found that there is good potential for an ad-funded service. Users indicated that they are willing to accept ads as long as the ads are non-intrusive and relevant, user privacy is maintained, and ads subsidize the service cost. The report also discusses the financial prospects for an ad-funded solution. It found that users generated $10 each per month and were willing to pay about $6 per month for the service.

The free report is available immediately and can be downloaded, with free registration, at
The result is that people are:
  1. ok with ads that are not intrusive
  2. even willing to still pay for the service, just at a lower price
And... that if you launch it you could make $10 per user per month... Which is a lot of money, knowing that 2B people will use email on their devices by 2015 (my not-objective estimate).

Too good to be true? Maybe, since our user base in myFUNAMBOL is skewed towards techies. They get more emails than others. But they tend to be more annoyed by ads. So I feel it evens out.

Let me write it again: the Google of mobile will come from messaging. Now I have a tangible proof of it. You just have to do it smart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The new Apple netbook

Christmas is the time of the year where people think about giving. It is also the time of the year where the Apple fans speculate about receiving, in particular on what MacWorld will bring them (it is Jan 5-9).

It is hard to imaging MacWorld without any announcement. Steve Jobs likes a good surprise, just to screw up CES and have everyone in the world think MacWorld is better than CES (with just one company presenting...).

Rumors are plentiful. No Christmas season without them... So, let me join the fray. I have been pretty accurate to predict the recent Apple moves, therefore it is time to go back to missing expectations.

What is the number one issue these days? The economy. People do not have money to spend (or maybe they do, but they feel like they don't). Therefore, they have started to ditch laptops for netbooks (the very small laptops, with a cost around $500).

Steve Jobs said that Apple does not "know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk". Therefore, you would think they would definitely not announce a netbook.

Still, I think they will. Just to save Jobs' face, it will be $549 ;-)

There is a nice space between the iPhone ($199) and the cheapest MacBook ($999) and it is a sweet spot for a new device, an hybrid between the iPhone and the Mac.

My guess:
  1. it will be between half of a MacBook and double an iPhone, with wifi and a built-in camera for webcams
  2. it will have a touchscreen, like the iPhone (no touchpad)
  3. it will have a keyboard, like the MacBook Air
  4. it will have a set of default apps on the screen, little widgets like the iPhone. Just add a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation tool on top of what I have on the iPhone and I have everything I need.
  5. it will allow the download of apps from the App Store, no external installations. It will be another closed and controlled environment. Actually, iPhone apps will work natively because the OS will be the same. Developers will just have to adapt them to a new screen - if they want to - or they will run as separate small windows on the screen.
  6. MobileMe will be pivotal for the syncing of all your data with the rest of your world (your Mac at home ;-)
The main risk for Apple is to cannibalize the MacBook (I do not see issues with the iPhone because it serves a different purpose). Still, with a closed environment and a limited set of apps, I do no not see that risk (or, at least, it is limited).

Wishful thinking. Probably :-) But it was worth a try...

UPDATE: apparently, Steve Jobs is not giving the keynote at MacWorld. That sounds like a "we got nothing new to show" message. If I can bet, they are pushing it out to a new Apple-only (not IDG) event in Spring or they might just skip it and go to Apple Dev Conference in June. Too bad, I wanted a netbook in January ;-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Palm Nova: not about the OS

An article on BusinessWeek says that Palm Nova will be presented at CES in January. Palm Nova is the new operating system by Palm, the one Palm is betting on to go back to its past glory.

I have some insider information because of our work at Funambol, so I can't comment on pretty much anything... but I have my feelings on what is needed to make Nova a success (and you can't hide your feelings under an NDA ;-)

For starters, I do not believe it is the OS that will make it or break it. It is well known it is going to be a Linux variation. Linux might have been a plus a few years back, now it is mainstream (gulp, saying that mobile open source is mainstream feels weird...). Actually, not being THE Mobile Linux OS is actually going to be a risk. If Android wins - they are in the driver seat, because they launched early and have a ton of apps already developed - being a second or third tier Mobile Linux OS might actually become a negative.

I believe the most important thing to make it a success will be the hardware it comes with... The new Palm phone must be shiny, super cool, sexy and all of the above. If it is dull, black or anything like a G1, Palm is doomed. The G1 can go by, because it has the Google superverycool brand attached. Palm can't afford it. It must be a WOW phone. Or else...

The other key element is services. For example, having something like MobileMe, that actually works. A very integrated phone, that does not force you to think about data, since it is all on the cloud and synced on your phone from your desktop. Data sharing would also be nice.

So... it is not about Nova. It is about what is around it (the hardware) and far away (the services). The OS is a commodity nowadays. It could even be Android. Actually, it might have been a good idea...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Android on the iPhone?

The world of open source does not stop to amaze me... Last week I found out someone ported Linux to the iPhone. The project is called OpeniBoot and they have pretty much all the basics working.

Why would anyone port Linux on the iPhone? Well, that is too much too ask ;-) But it is a fun exercise anyway... And it is the same as asking why would you port Unix to the Intel PC in the first place. Because it is open source. Because it is open. Because the source is available. Because it spurs innovation. Look what actually happened to the PC world and where Linux is today.

The next step, I guess, is porting Android to the iPhone. I know it is an insane thought, but why not? It is going to be the most supported Mobile Linux distribution, with developers building apps on it. If I had to choose one Linux distro for the iPhone, it would be Android for sure.

Who would actually put Android on an iPhone? Geeks. Not Apple for sure. Not Apple distributors. This is not the PC world. A single device manufacturer controls the device, there are no clones... End users are geeks and only geeks.

So, it is just for fun. And the quest for openness. That is what amazes me more than anything else.

The end result? The iPhone OS becoming open source. It will happen. It will happen. Give us just more time and more fun, and it will happen. Geeks and market forces working together...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Symbian vs. Android vs. Windows Mobile

I spent a night last week at a Symbian dinner. Very interesting discussions with other mobile bloggers (the real ones, I do it as a hobby...), with an hands-on pretty cool demonstration of the Nokia N97 (yes, it is a very nice device, a mix between a N95 and a Tablet N810, although I am not a big fan of sliding keyboards).

Most of my thoughts on Symbian, though, were on the open source plans. They confirmed to be on track for a 2010 full release, although some parts will be available in open source earlier. They told me they have some components that they can't open source right away, which is a quite common problem for commercial products that want to become open source (and very painful to complete to the last bit).

Since the complete take-over from Nokia, my antennas in the market have been up to see if some of the Symbian backers would defect to other initiatives. The one to look for are device manufacturers.

Yesterday, I saw the first sign: Sony Ericsson announced support for the Open Handset Alliance, the one behind Android, led by Google.

This is big news.

I know, I know, everyone is announcing support for everything... It is no big deal. Sony Ericsson has Windows Mobile as well... blah blah.

Still, it is a flag. They have been a huge supporter of Symbian and they are breaking out from the pack, now that Nokia owns it completely.

There is a possibility that Symbian will end up being a one-device-manufacturer-shop (Nokia), while Android will see lots of device manufacturers, because they do not perceive Google to be competitive in their space. And they have the feeling they can strip out Google features from Android and launch phones on a well supported platform, with development mindshare and applications.

This spells trouble for Nokia, if it happens, since developers go where devices are. Making Symbian open source might not be enough, although it is a very significant step in the right direction.

Anyway, I still believe Microsoft will open source Windows Mobile in the not-too-distant future. They have no other choice. But I am very alone on this one :-)

Friday, December 05, 2008

JavaFX is Sun's big chance

Last night I attended the launch of JavaFX in a bar in San Francisco. Pretty cool show put together by Eric and the Sun folks.

Jonathan Schwartz presented the product, the answer from Sun to Flash/AIR from Adobe and Silverlight from Microsoft (or are they the answer to JavaFX, who knows?). In a word, a set of tools for developers to build Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

He received loud cheers from the crowd when he moved one application out of the browser and into the desktop. It is not just cool. If you think about mobile, that is how you can create and deliver mobile widgets, without an app store. It is big.

He received my smile when he called IE and Chrome hostile browsers... Yep, let's free ourselves from the evil browsers ;-)

Jokes apart, what sets Sun apart is the legacy of the Java (and JavaME) installation. It runs on the billions of devices. And the declared goal of the platform: to run on desktop, browsers, mobile and TVs.

It is the dream of a developer. One platform to develop your app, and you have the entire world to deploy it on. It did not work that well on JavaME, because the "runs everywhere" story never materialized. I feel Sun has learned from that mistake and it should be much smarter this time.

The game is going to be played on mobile, of course. Developers here have reached the point of no return. Too many platforms to build on. iPhone and Android have made the number too large. There is nobody in the industry that can actually make money, being forced to support 10 different platforms (excluding someone who actually built a business around an open source project, ehm...). The market needs one big platform (although I just love fragmentation and what it has brought to Funambol ;-)

JavaFX could be that big platform. Sun needs to get device manufacturers to bundle it with devices, as they have been bundling JavaME so far. If that happens, Sun has a real big chance. It might be the one that will lift the company to its original glory.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A mobile open source taxonomy

Andreas Constantinou is one of the sharpest analyst around. His latest publication of "Mapping open source into mobile: who, where and how" on the VisionMobile blog proves it once again. It is an absolute must read for all those of us into mobile and open source (maybe you are not, but then - why are you reading my blog?? ;-)

I suggest you read the entire article, to get a complete taxonomy of mobile open source. But if you are in a hurry, just take a look at the figure below...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another victory for AGPL

If you read this blog, you know I am a vocal supporter of the AGPLv3 license, the version of GPL which maintains copyleft also in the SaaS model ("copyleft in the cloud"). I always said, and I guess I will always say, that AGPL is the open source license for the future. The only one that covers the SaaS model, the only one you can build a sustainable open source project (and business) on, in the years ahead.

There have been some discussions within Debian about AGPLv3. Even if we pushed AGPLv3 to be approved by OSI, Debian was not considering it as a "good" license to be embeddable in the OS... It all changed today, as explained in the Software Freedom Law Center blog.

Late last week, the FTP Masters of Debian - who, absent a vote of the Debian developers, make all licensing decisions - posted their ruling that AGPLv3 is DFSG-Free. I was glad to see this issue was finally resolved after months of confusion; the AGPLv3 is now approved by all known FLOSS licensing ruling bodies (FSF, OSI, and Debian).

It was somewhat fitting that the AGPLv3 was approved by Debian within a week of the one year anniversary of AGPLv3's release. This year of AGPLv3 has shown very rapid adoption of the AGPL. Even conservative numbers show an adoption rate of 15 projects per month. I expect the numbers to continue a steady, linear climb as developers begin to realize that the AGPL is the "copyleft of the Cloud".
Hear to AGPLv3. Mark, this is another step forward... I am getting close to maybe one day have a slight chance to win the bet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Zune is the future of mobility

You are the largest software company in the world. You have built a device that nobody is buying. You feel the next big thing will be in the smartphone market (hello!? anybody home?). What do you do?

You take that device and you make it a smartphone, of course!

Ok, the news about Microsoft taking the Zune and making it a smartphone are too funny to be true.

However, I said it before and I repeat it. I believe Microsoft needs a smartphone to compete with the rest of the world. The dream of replicating the PC world and have everyone in the world use Windows Mobile is gone. It did not happen. The opposite is happening.

In mobile, it is all about user experience. If you control the hardware and the operating system, you have a chance to build a great experience. If you don't, it is tough. See all the bad HW implementation of Windows Mobile. Or the G1 story (good OS, bad HW).

The good stories are all coming from the combo OS+HW: Apple with the iPhone, RIM with its BlackBerries and so on.

Therefore, I am in favor of a Microsoft-branded smartphone (although I do not believe they will have one ready for MWC in Barcelona, no way).

But please, do not call it Zune...

Monday, November 24, 2008

iPhone 2.2 and the Google envy

I updated my iPhone to 2.2 during the weekend (still a laborious task, if you want to keep it unlocked and jailbroken, but worth the effort) and I found the new update quite nice. Not that much that I would use, but the Street View of Google Maps is spectacular (although the compass feature of the G1 is even more spectacular).

The thing that caught my attention a lot more, though, was the voice search application launched last Monday by Google. You raise the phone to your ear, it beeps, you say what you are looking for, it beeps again and it gives you the result. No finger needed. Quite awesome.

I tried saying Funambol as a Northern Italian would (yep, there are at least two different ways to say Funambol even in Italy) and the results were hilarious. From football (hey, do the people at Google know everything about me?) to Lambo (as in Lamborghini). Nice.

I tried saying Funambol as a Texan would (not that I know how a Texan speaks but...) and it came out perfectly right. Amazing. Where did they find anyone saying Funambol to match it? A Texan-based robot, I would guess.

If you recall, the app was announced with much fanfare the week before but it took a few days to appear on the App Store. Theories abound but I have my take on this one for a simple reason: I envy Google. Badly.


Because the Google voice search app uses a call to an API that is not publicly available... The app starts recording your voice when you tilt the phone and put close to your ear. The tilt is in the official API, but the "close to your ear" depends on the proximity sensor (the one that turns the screen off when you talk). You cannot control the proximity sensor with the published Apple SDK. No way.

Google uses an unpublished call. They submitted it to the App Store and Apple let them go through, even if they always said they would not allow any application in the App Store that would access unpublished APIs...

Beside explaining why the publication took a few days (Schmidt calling Jobs and saying pleeeease? Jobs calling Schmidt and saying whaaaaaat, show me the money!), it is still a reason for most of us to be upset.

Our community wants to have access to the iPhone calendar badly. But we can't. Even if the version for the jailbroken phones has been mostly developed by the community, I won't ever try to publish it to the App Store. I can't risk Apple to kick our contact sync app out, just because they decide to do so... And I am sure over-the-air calendar sync is an important feature for most iPhone users (who might not want to use MobileMe).

Well, the end result is just that I envy Google. What a novelty.

P.S. I am sure you noticed that the iPhone 2.2. upgrade was made available by Apple the day RIM launched the Storm... What a coincidence! Apparently, Jobs was scared about the Storm and wanted to make sure people remembered that the iPhone is getting better by the day. No need to change, says Apple. I have to agree on this one: if you have a BlackBerry and you want to upgrade, get a Bold... If you do not have a BlackBerry, well, you got a lot of choices these days and the Storm is probably not the best one. Nonetheless, Apple felt the need to fire back, which is a signal: they were worried. That said, I am ready to bet the iPhone will win the Christmas season for smartphones, hands down.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sorry, the Storm is no iPhone

I had very high hopes for the BlackBerry Storm. I had the opportunity to play with one this morning, thanks to one of our great employees (and her husband) who stayed in line since 5 am today...

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. That happens when you have high expectations, I know. But I had super high expectations for the iPhone and it flew easily beyond them...

Simply, the key feature - the screen with tactile feedback - is just bad. That is the one that should have been its flagship one, the better-than-the-iPhone one... However, it is not convincing at all.

First, you have visual feedback (box around the key turning blue) even when you do not click. So you think you clicked but you actually did not. Why they did not build the device to have the box turn blue when you actually click is beyond me...

Second, it take physical effort to press the key. You have to press the entire screen. It is heavy. I typed for a minute and my muscles were sore (ok, I am exaggerating, I am in good shape, I can handle a good five minutes of it :-) It should be mandatory for 24 hours fitness centers: train your thumbs...
Thanks, but I want my BlackBerry keyboard back.
On top of it, the scrolling is not smooth. If you accelerate the scrolling, like you would do on the iPhone, nothing changes. It always scrolls at the same speed. I do not expect the nice visual effect of bouncing at the end (although it is one of those that wow people on the iPhone), but it takes forever to scroll.
Thanks, but I want my BlackBerry navigation ball (or even the wheel) back.
When it comes to switching between portrait and landscape, the Storm is slow. A fraction of a second too slow. But still too slow.
Thanks, but I want my old BlackBerry back (or I would take an iPhone for it)
Oh, what about everything else? It looks good... but you can't go for the kill, miss it completely and then say "well, look at the rest". It just does not cut it.

BTW, for those interested, the Funambol sync client appears to work, but the email client needs a few touches. Too bad, but you know we'll get them working before you say "what?" ;-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AOL is live with open source sync!

We made the announcement of AOL choosing Funambol a few months ago. After a friends and family test, they are now out officially in beta.

For us, this is a great achievement because the Carrier Edition is now deployed at AOL. Talk about scalability -- our mobile open source software can now benefit all AOL users, and you know they have a lot!

To set up AOL Sync:
1) Go to
2) Click "Register your phone".
3) Enter your mobile number, mobile carrier and device manufacturer and click "Send Code".
4) When the verification code arrives on your mobile phone, enter it and click "Verify".
5) Select your phone model and click "Continue".
6) To sync additional calendars or auto added contacts, check them. Click "Configure Now".
7) For iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices, the next step is to download a sync client. For other devices, you'll receive instructions on how to configure your phone's built-in sync client.
Here's a YouTube screencam about AOL Sync powered by Funambol:

To read more about AOL Sync, check out the post on the AOL website.

Stay tuned -- this is just the beta. We'll keep you posted on its progress.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is RIM trying too hard to be a consumer company?

I wrote before about RIM trying to be a consumer company, how hard it is and how risky it might be for them. Exactly like Nokia trying to be an enterprise company, attempt which failed miserably.

My analysis came from the way RIM was presenting the Storm. Much more as a consumer device than as an enterprise device.

I wrote (sorry for quoting myself, it looks cheesy):
Where can they shine? In the enterprise. They still have 98% of the enterprise to capture. They are entrenched. They have to make sure nobody gets in. Like the iPhone. Or the Android phones. Or the Windows Mobile ones. Or Nokia.

I feel the Storm is a smart move in this direction. You have to give enterprise people a little of coolness (music, pictures, some social networking), being strong on your basic values (email), and improve on the competition.
Today, I read an article on The Register about the Storm launch in the UK. In a nutshell, if you are a consumer and you buy the Storm, everything works. If you are an enterprise and you need Exchange support, you are screwed. Not only it costs more (about $25 more), but you simply cannot get it right now.

Quoting The Register (much less cheesy):
"The BES service books for the Storm are not quite ready ... chances are it still wouldn't work. Obviously we'd rather not take the chance just yet until we know everything is working 100 per cent on that side."

All this is part of a "planned, phased rollout", and Vodafone tells us that the Enterprise-ready version of the Storm is coming over the next few weeks.
What is clear is that RIM is trying to launch the Storm as a consumer device. Period. Even taking the risk of pissing off their core customers. I think it is a big mistake on their part. Chasing the iPhone is a good idea, but upsetting your core target is a very bad one.

And, by the way, if you are an Enterprise buying a Storm and you want to save the $25/month, take a look at the Funambol Community Edition. It is free free free ($0/month), it has an Exchange connector and a BlackBerry client. You can buy the Storm as a consumer and use it in the enterprise.

After all, RIM is pushing you to do it...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Italian software story

I know the blog is about mobile and open source, but I bumped into this story of an Italian developer (on the New York Times...) and I could not avoid to write about it ;-)

The story is about Giacomo 'Peldi' Guilizzoni, a former Senior Software Engineering Lead at Adobe in San Francisco, who moved back to Italy and started a company called Balsamiq.

His company is actually a "Micro-ISV" or a single-employee company. That is, a guy in a studio. A guy who wrote a product called "Balsamiq Mockups" which allows anyone to build a mockup of a GUI: the genius is that the mockup resembles one you would scribble on a piece of paper, rather than a computer one. It sells online for $79.

To make the story short, the product is fantastic and he grossed over $100k in five months. And the business is growing fast.

Why do I know? Because he made it all public in his blog. He promised he would do it. And you have all the measures of his business (and how much he is donating to non-profits).

The story is great because is the counter story of all Silicon Valley VC-backed startups. Get money from VC and you have a chance to be rich quick... Peldi is doing everything the opposite way, and he is becoming rich quick. A one-man shop. The anti-VC story, much appropriate for an economic downturn. With software built with creativity in Italy. By a guy who lived in Silicon Valley. I have to love this one!

I do not know Peldi, but I hope I will have the opportunity to meet him one day. I am sure he is having a great time (and food) in Bologna, but I feel the pain he will experience when the company grows. He has great advisers and he is going to do just fine.

An Italian software story. Just a reminder on how smart Italian engineers are (ok, I am biased - I know - but do not tell me you did not like it ;-)

Monday, November 17, 2008

It IS a garage door opener!

Nice to be right, once in a while. I received many comments on my first post about the G1, when I claimed it was a garage door opener (actually, my wife did...). Some people said I was too harsh on T-Mobile and Google.

Today, I was vindicated. IntoMobile reports the G1 is actually a garage door opener. And it is even open source!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change we can't?

There is an article on The New York Times that talks about our new President-elect Barack Obama and his addiction to mobile email. He is the first candidate for president (worldwide, I have to say) that was going around always with a BlackBerry in his hands. A tremendous slogan for those who live on mobile email :-)

Now, the security services are saying that he has to relinquish his BlackBerry when entering the White House. No more mobile email for him. BlackBerry is not secure enough.

I have seen this debate before: BlackBerry can't be used by politicians in office. Period. All emails go through RIM servers in Canada. As much as they tell us it is all secure and encrypted, they are a corporation and no government in its right mind would trust them. You just never know. And they are our competitors!! :-))

Jokes apart, how can our next President keep in touch with the rest of the world? How can he have a reliable secure controlled untouchable mobile email system that nobody can hack?

Ok, you know where I am going... Open Source. Open Source is the answer.

First, you install Funambol in the White House (not in a corporation).

Second, you have a bunch of engineers look at every single line of code to make sure those evil Italians did not put any dangerous code to steal vital information: look for
if (user == "Barack Obama") send_email_to("Silvio Berlusconi")
Third, once the code is certified clean, apply your super secret security patch and you are good to go.

As a device to carry, may I suggest OpenMoko? Fully open source, including the device and its design.

Barack, we want you back in the mobile email world as an ambassador for mobile email in the world. You need it. You are addicted to it. You can't live without it. We gain from it.

Dump your BlackBerry, go for Open Source. You can have mobile email in the White House, yes you can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Android for carriers

The conventional wisdom is that with Android you get Google. Therefore, if you are a mobile operator and you are looking at Android, you must take it all. The G1 comes with Google, you need to put in a Gmail login to turn it on. Android is Google. As a mobile operator, you must kill any hope to control your users and give them all to Google.

Well, that is not true. Android and Google look intertwined but it is a lot easier to take them apart than most people think. Actually, it is quite easy...

First, the OS is totally available and it is based on the Apache license. If you take that code and run away, you do not have to return anything back to the community. Not my preferred license, but... that's what Google chose. Good for them I guess.

Second, the Google part in the OS is really the Gmail client and the sync. Nothing else. Gmail is a visible app, and easy to remove (if you really want to). The sync is a bit deeper, but again, fairly easy to unplug. You just have to put something else there: email and PIM sync (guess who can provide you with that? ;-)

It is very easy, at least, for a company who has decided to package Android as an OS and sell it to mobile operators. A Red Hat of mobile. I am expecting a bunch of them to appear and grow fast. I met one yesterday...

What do you get if you are a mobile operator? A full phone, you can brand. Totally brand. From the HW to the SW, including the look and the applications on it. And you can put together a service to provide a MobileMe-like solution for your users. The full package, without Google.

So why not LIMO or any other Linux variation? Where is the difference? Why Android?

Well, it is the applications. How many apps are out there for Android? Plenty. I mean, a lot... Check the Android Market. It is unbelievable. Developers drive applications. And they go where there are deployments. Deployments go where there are applications and developers. It is a positive loop.

Are there any LIMO apps? Nope... Will developers build for it? It depends, let's see if there are deployments. No deployments? No apps. No apps? No chance to make it a success... Google broke the cycle pushing apps even before the first phone came out. Their brand did the trick, now it is a snowball effect. Not for LIMO (yet).

If you are a mobile operator, do not look far. Take Android, strip out Google (or leave it somewhere, but not make it a Google phone and kill your brand) and have your own branded phone with a branded experience on the service side. Allow people to download their applications and customize their experience.

You need a couple of companies to make it happen (do not do it yourself, that is not your business...) and you have a BIG winner.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The source code matters more in a downturn

Today I was in a meeting with a future customer (hey, you have to be optimistic on a Friday night, stuck in an airport ;-) and we talked about commercial open source companies providing source code to its customers.

The source code has always been an important advantage for us. If you are buying Funambol, you get the source code. No need to resort to costly Escrow agreements (which are a mess, I did one when I was at Reuters). You simply get the source code. And a lot of people that know about it.

We call that "The Bus Factor". If I get hit by a bus, and so does the entire Funambol team, our customers still have the source code and a lot of people behind it (most likely, many in their own town). You can't get that with an Escrow agreement...

Marten called it once the airbag in the car. You do not want to use it, but when you need it... you are thankful it was there. And you make sure it is in the car when you buy it.

How does the economic downturn matters? Well, not for us, but for everyone of our competitors. The likelihood of them going belly up in the next twelve months is quite high. Most of them have high burn and little revenues. With no cash in the bank due to a recent significant fund raising. And zero chance to get more soon.

If you are a service provider or a device manufacturer and you license the code from one of our competitors, how high is the probability of you being stuck with a piece of unusable code in the next 18 months? Being pessimistic (see, I am not always optimistic...) I would say very high.

Having the source code is a much more important factor these days. The Bus is the economy. And when it hits you, you better have an airbag...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The iPhone with a keyboard

If there is one feature (or lack thereof) that people talk about is a keyboard for the iPhone.

When the iPhone was announced, everyone said "it will never work" because the keyboard was the most important feature for any BlackBerry user (it still is). Therefore, people said "the iPhone will never make it in the enterprise". Now, surprisingly for some, the iPhone is in the enterprise.

True, it is mostly a consumer device. But you hear few people complain about the lack of a keyboard these days. Mostly, because the iPhone is an upgrade from a phone without a keyboard... Therefore, it is better than zero.

However, in many cases people did move from a keyboard-full device to the iPhone. They bitched for a week, balancing the lack of a keyboard with the coolness of the device. Then they forgot about it. They learned. They became proficient at it.

Actually, when we did a test at the OSGR conference, iPhone users won the contest against BlackBerry users for fast typing. It was more than surprising, not only to me but to the iPhone users.

Now that I have used a G1, I was shocked that I found the iPhone virtual keyboard better... I still prefer the BlackBerry keyboard, but I can definitely live with the iPhone one.

When the BlackBerry Storm will hit the stores later this month, we'll see if the tactile feedback they added makes a big difference. I am ready to bet it does. And that it will make all mobile keyboards obsolete.

Unless you are someone that would buy the one in the video below. If you do, then please buy a netbook instead ;-)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Funambol Developer Conference

After a lot of requests, we gave up and organized the first ever Funambol Developer Conference (or FunCon ;-) It will happen on November 25, 2008, in Milan, Italy, at the Politecnico di Milano. In the open source spirit, we made it free to attend (free as in beer). More info below, directly from the website.

The conference's purpose is to provide a forum for Funambol community members and development partners to meet with the Funambol engineering team. The aim is to conduct an open discussion about Funambol technology, products, future plans and ways to improve community interaction.

The conference will provide an opportunity for Funambol to inform everyone about the state and future of our products. It will also be a chance for Funambol community members and development partners to inform the Funambol engineering team and each other about what they are doing with Funambol software, what they would like in the future, and how Funambol can help and improve the community. It is a chance for Funambol development partners to network with the Funambol engineering team and community, which may be helpful for their future endeavors.

For people that are new to Funambol, this will be a chance to learn about Funambol Sniper Projects (Code, Phone and Lion) and get a head start with participating to the first mobile open source community.

The day will feature presentations by the Funambol engineering staff and community. If you are interested in attending and/or presenting, please contact Stefano Maffulli, Funambol Community Manager. The conference is free and open to everyone, although we do require that people register in advance so that we know how many people are planning to attend.
Great opportunity for all you out there in our community. Did I mention it is free? ;-)

Friday, October 31, 2008

When Android beats the iPhone

Today I discovered two reasons why Android might beat the iPhone, eventually. One, it is open source (ok, I am kidding, I did know that before ;-) Two, it has OTA firmware update.

As you might recall, I complained about the email client on the phone. Not the Gmail one, the other one. The POP/IMAP client. Apparently, I was not alone. Pretty much everyone has been complaining about the connection error I have with POP. The Tmobile support forum currently shows 229 messages on this topic...

Bottom line: T-Mobile botched this one. Google could not care less (Gmail works nice) but the mobile operator should have been more careful. People are returning the device to the store, because there has not been a fix (yet).

Why does open source help? Well, on the Android Market a new email client appeared a few days ago. It is called K9. It is a fork of the original Android client (which is open source). It has more features than the original one and, not surprisingly, it fixes the issue above.

This is great. A week or so ago Google was alone in developing Android. They made it open source and boom, an internal application is getting perfected by the community. End user benefit from it immediately, because they can download it for free from the Android Market (which is such an easy task to do). The OS allows you to define a default email client, so you are good to go.

All this, without any intervention of Google or T-Mobile. The community fixed the issue for T-Mobile... You have to love this one if you are a mobile operator.

What would have happened with the iPhone? Probably, Apple would not have released an application that buggy in the first place, but... you would have had to wait for the next firmware update. Hoping the fix would be added (and, believe me, I have been frustrated by the lack of copy&paste in the iPhone for 18 months and there is no fix in sight...). You do not have to rely on Apple. You can rely on the community as well.

When it comes to firmware update, here is a good one. Android does it over-the-air (OTA). You receive a message, click on it, wait a few minutes and your are done. No iTunes, no cable. Pushed to your phone. At the moment, it is a bit random (some got RC29 already, some did not) and they should make the process more transparent. But it is a great innovation over the iPhone.

Nice to see Apple has to catch up, once in a while...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time to be aggressive, if you can

The state of the economy is scaring everyone, rightly so. I do not think it is going to get better soon, actually I feel it is going to get worse. A couple of weeks ago, I opened a management meeting with the Sequoia slides, just to set the tone... This is serious stuff. Companies that do not have cash flowing in and have 6/9 months of cash in the bank are toasted. If they do not cut 50% of the workforce now and give themselves at least 18 months, they are gone. If they do, their product and sales stop. I feel we will see a devastation in 2009.

Mobile is not immune, but it will be affected much less. People might buy less phones (although they still do, like they buy new clothes), but they definitely lose or break the old ones... This market is too hot to slow down too much. It will slow down, but significant growth will be still there.

Open source will be a relative safe heaven. When everyone is cutting cost, do you think an enterprise will go for a $50/month BlackBerry Enterprise solution or will they download an open source project, and run it for free? Well... You know my answer ;-)

Now, what do you do if you are in mobile, you have cash flowing in and you just raised 12.5M dollars? On top of it, you are open source and you built a company to be run lean and mean?

First, you make it leaner and meaner ;-) Out fly the free jelly beans for the employees...

Second, you become aggressive.

I am ready to bet a lot of our competitors will be out of business or acquired in 2009. Many - some are public so it is easy to see - have net burn rate of millions a quarter, with the need of raising cash in 2009. Good luck with that.

Therefore, if you are on top of your game, this is the time to go for the kill. If we do not do it, who can?

Today, in an announcement that PR people call "momentum release" we are telling the world that:
  1. We are selling like crazy... We had another record quarter. This is the best news of all. Actually, the word I am hearing from prospects these days is "It is URGENT". I never heard this before... It is a very nice indication of how badly service providers need to launch a MobileWe solution.
  2. We won some more awards. I am not a big believer in awards (I prefer sales ;-) but I am a competitive person and winning is always a pleasure. Coming #1 as the best mobile consumer email solution in a contest is a good thing (and thanks for voting me a visionary for the third year in a row... I am not sure what that means but I am told it is good :-)
  3. We are expanding in markets where we did not have a presence: Beijing and Dubai. It is a smart move, I believe. We hedge the risk of one of the world markets going down. We have presence now in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. If the US comes to a halt, China might not. This is the time to expand, not retreat.
Bottom line: when things are down, it is time to look up. We are in a tunnel but there is light at the end for those that have the means to get there. If you are one of the few that can make it, this might be the best time to build a company to last and grab market share. GO for it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Motorola focusing on Android: why it is big news

Today, the Wall Street Journal pretty much reported that Motorola will cut any other operating system to focus on Android. It was the co-CEO talking about it, not some Joe (the Motorola) on the street.

I wrote "pretty much" because they also said they will keep support for Windows Mobile and P2K (their legacy platform for low end devices). Moving away from about half dozen operating systems is already big news. However, if you look closely, he also said they will "outsource" the development on Windows Mobile. A nice way to say "we are not going to focus on it anymore but we still have some business there, so we will not kill it". What about P2K? Well, same as above. It is for low end devices and Motorola has many of them (in particular, in emerging markets), but Android can support middle and high end devices, and that is the future of mobility. Low end devices will disappear quite quickly.

Motorola is focusing all its mobile future on Android. This is the big news.

It is big news for Motorola (and very sad news for the tons of employees that will get a lay-off tomorrow when they announce their numbers), but it is even bigger for Android - and mobile open source in general.

I have been playing with Android. I am still trying to use the G1, but I am about to give up. The hardware is horrible, but the software is very good. And open. Including the source code of all the internal apps being available out there (I browsed through it, it is quite a remarkable amount of code).

What is missing with the G1, to make it a killer device? The device itself... The internal is good, the external is bad.

What does Android need? An hardware vendor that focuses on it. Someone with a big brand. Someone that can come up with a very cool device.

Motorola is that company.

It is easy to discount Motorola. However, look at how strong their brand still is (hey, NFL coaches have the Motorola headset...). And remember they came up with the best selling mobile device ever, the RAZR. It has been the killer device for years. Still the most sold device around.

Motorola can do it again. With focus completely on mobile open source and Android, they can rise again. This is what Android needed (badly). This is what could have prevented Android from becoming a big player in the mobile market.

Not anymore. It is another good day for mobile open source.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Funambol on the Android Market (and the G1)

I spent some quality time last week with Carlo Codega, the developer in our community who built the Android client. He is in Italy and I have the G1, so it made sense for us to work together and build a version ready for the G1 (and the Android Market).

This morning, as soon as the Market opened, the Funambol client has been uploaded on the Android Market. If you have a G1, you can check it out right now. It allows to sync your address book with a SyncML server (such as the free, which gives you over-the-air sync with Outlook or Thunderbird or any other client we support. Also, if you have a new G1, it allows you to migrate your existing contacts from your phone to the G1 (sync first with your old phone, then with the G1). Your old phone could be a dumb phone, but also an iPhone, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile. We support all of them.

I learned a lot from this process, as usual.

First, developing for Android is not as easy as one would like it to be. Intent and Activity are concepts that make sense, but it takes a moment to get used to them. Our original version had the Action for Settings which was a bit too generic: you clicked on Settings and all the apps that registered for the View action would pop up... When we made it application specific, everything worked. You could not tell it from the emulator, since there you have just one application (yours)... In general, I found the process of compiling and getting the apps on the phone - including debugging over the cable - quite easy. Good job there by Google.

Second, the Gmail sync is very transparent but it has bugs. Some contacts get duplicated in the process. Weird things happen around "Suggested Contacts", the people you replied to from Gmail. On Thursday, they were appearing on the phone as "hidden" (but screwing up our sync), then they became totally visible. I am sure many will complain. If you use Gmail, you might have hundreds of emails as suggested contacts. I replied to a mailing list of my neighborhood (where the people were put in CC) once, and I ended up with hundreds of neighbors email addresses on the G1. I love them but I do not want them on my phone ;-)

Third, posting on the Android Market was a breeze. Past the $25 I had to pay (does Google really need that money??), I had to fill up a form, upload the app and voila' it showed up on my phone. No questions asked. No Apple police to check it out. It felt, well, open.. And I like open ;-)

Lastly, the security environment for Android seems quite strong. I browsed around the file system, but everything was shut down. Every application is its own user (in the Unix sense) and has its own subdirectory to play with. No permissions to go around and screw up the system. I am still missing a file browser and a tool to send files out (you can't attach them to emails), but I am sure they will come shortly.

Overall, it has been a good experience. I have to say I am pleased with the OS, environment for developers and market. The hardware is a different story, but it is not tight to the OS. We'll see better ones (I hope, for Google!).

Few tips if you are planning to use the 0.1 Funambol Sync Client for Android:
1. there are some bugs left (that is why Carlo calls it 0.1 ;-) For example, it does not support foreign characters (your contact will be displayed with its phone number) and contacts with First Name but no Last Name will show up as ",FirstName". Use it at your own risk.
2. if you do not want Gmail automatic sync to screw things up, uncheck the automatic sync for contacts (Settings -> Data Synchronization -> Contacts).

Enjoy and let Carlo know how things are looking. He is busy preparing for an exam (Wednesday), so... better leave him alone for the next two days ;-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Because open source people like a good debate...

There is a discussion going on in one of our forums. The topic is AGPLv3.

For those that do not remember what AGPLv3 is (shame on you! I have a bet with Mark Radcliffe to win ;-)... AGPL is the GPLv3 variation that adds distribution of Software as a Service as one of the triggers for returning the code to the community. In practical terms, it makes distribution of SaaS as any other distribution (like in a floppy). If you host AGPL code and make changes to it, you have to return the changes to the community. Exactly as if you were distributing that code in a floppy.

AGPLv3 has been created by the Free Software Foundation (same people who did GPLv3) and approved by OSI as an "official" open source license (thanks to the submission of Funambol).

What is the discussion about? A crazy detail that does not make any sense. But we open source people like crazy details...

The problem is due to us releasing our clients with AGPL as well (same as for the server). It does not make sense, because the clients are not used in a server, so the A in AGPL is never triggered. We could have released them as GPLv3. However, we thought it would be dumb not to give it an A, with the idea that someone might reuse that code to build a gateway or a server (see... we are forward thinking ;-)

Clearly, the A in AGPL (section 13) applies if the code is used in a SaaS mode. If you use the code in a client and you do not offer it as a service, it is exactly as GPLv3. Section 13 does not apply. Period.

Thankfully, the Free Software Foundation has added now a comment in the FAQ that kills the debate (they agree with me, so... I won the debate!).

Sometimes, being too forward looking might be a bad idea. But if you like debates as we do in open source, then it is not ;-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The G in G1 stands for Garage

My fearless office manager circled around her local T-Mobile store last night. First at midnight (no lines), then at 3 am (no lines), then finally at 7 am. She was fourth in line and came back to the office sleepless but with a prized T-Mobile Android G1 phone for me. I actually asked her only to be there at 7 am to get me one, but the people at Funambol always go 101% to get the job done (and I am very proud of them).

So I have a G1 in my hands. I played around with it extensively today. Tonight I am planning to go deeper into the file system and play with applications outside the Android Market (that has only 50 apps, the rest will start appearing on the 27th, when the market will actually open).

The first impression must be on the device itself, not what is inside. I could give you my perspective, but I feel my fashion-conscious Italian wife summarized it all today. She saw I had a new gadget and asked me "what's that, a new garage door opener?". Yep, it is that ugly.

That said, it is not just the look... The sliding keyboard is hard to use, due to the bulky thingy at the end (the one with the buttons to open the garage). If you try to type while charging the device, it is almost impossible. I never thought I would miss the virtual keyboard of the iPhone...

I have to admit I never liked the idea of a sliding keyboard. Changing mode is a no no in usability. And it shows. You are browsing with the vertical screen and you need to type a URL? Go landscape, type the URL, then come back vertical. Worst: you are in your car and need to call someone? In order to type their name, you have to slide the keyboard out, type, click than go vertical again (without crashing the car, knowing you are also violating the law in California). It is quite bad.

The inside is much nicer. Not just because it is open source (that, you can't see). The GUI is smooth, the home page looks good, the Google integration is well done.

The only negative? It is just Google for now. You have to put in your Google credentials when you start the phone for the first time. It loads Gmail, contacts and calendar. Nice and smooth.

Do you want to use any other email? Forget it. The email client (the second one, they have two... one Gmail and one Email) is plainly horrible.

I tried setting my work IMAP email. It took an hour to download all my folders... Also, I am so unlucky to have called the company Funambol, and have hundreds of folders beneath it: Inbox starts with I and comes after F of Funambol. I never got to see the Inbox. When it showed up, it then disappeared again. Just unusable. I gave up after trying for at least an hour (I swear. I care about mobile email...).

So I tried POP. Much better (it gets only the Inbox) but the scheduled POP never worked. For the whole day, I was never notified of a new email...

On top of it, the client has no attachment support. A very disappointing experience.

Then I tested the Market: it worked flawlessly. I downloaded a Barcode Scanner app which allows you to take a picture of a barcode and sends you to the Google Product page of it. Very interesting. You can check a book in a bookstore and see how much it actually cost to buy it online. The end of brick and mortar store, dot come style.

GPS: average. Wifi: pretty good. Calls (hey, it is a phone as well, you know): no issues. Maps: very nice, with the cool Street View feature that you will never use once in your life (but it is still cool so it is worth it). Browser: vastly inferior to the iPhone. Music: same as before. Camera: not bad.

I also tried to download some apps online (outside the Market). If you have an .apk file somewhere and you download it with the browser, it gets installed. I tried the Funambol client, it installed perfectly but it needs some work (Carlo is working on it, I believe). I tried a ssh client, same experience.

My brain works in a strange way (surprise!): I never have expectations. I just experience life as it comes and that has served me reasonably well along the years. Very hard to be disappointed when you did not have high expectations of something.

This is the case for the G1 as well. I did not have any expectation for this device. I disliked the hardware, but I liked the software (although it needs some more work). Nothing compared to the reaction I had when I opened the box of the iPhone, the first day it went on sale. It was an emotional experience. It still is (when I look at it in the charger, I just want to pick it up and play with it). The book "Emotional Design" (a must buy) describes why I might feel this way. Definitely, no emotions on the G1 for me...

Overall, it looks like a good thing for Google (since the software is ok), but not a smash hit. I will be very very surprised if they sell a ton of G1s. Developers will buy it. Some Google maniac will buy it. But it is going to fade very fast.

Unless they can add a garage opener application on the Market. For that purpose, it looks great.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lion Sniper (roarrr ;-)

Today we announced a sequel to our two very successful sniper programs: the Lion Sniper. The program focuses on translating Funambol software, online help and the Funambol Community Forge into many foreign languages.

Localization (or L10n, if you wondered where the name came from...) has always been a key contribution by open source communities. Due to the geographical distribution and local needs, one of the first community effort has always been localization.

A company wants to support an open source project in a country? First thing they do is translating the product in the local language. And they return it back to the community. Very simple and effective. Also for the open source project.

After having a community member translating the Funambol Forge into Chinese earlier this year, we have seen our adoption rates in China skyrocket. That translates into sales, so it is a nice positive feedback.

So much that we are pushing this forward, setting bounties for $250 for those that are willing to translate the community stuff in their language. If you are interested, check it out.

Apparently, Savio at InfoWorld agrees (thanks!).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Open Source in Mobile Challenges

Today I bumped into an interesting opinion piece called "Open Source in Mobile Phones: Challenges for Software Vendors" by Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum.

Adam analyzes the current mobile environment, the emerging growth of open source and how ISVs need to evolve to meet new customer expectations.

In particular:
"ISVs need to be familiar with open source environments to be able to respond to demands to integrate customers' solutions into those environments. In addition, OEMs and operators will start to expect similar levels of transparency and collaboration on key areas of interest for them. As a result, ISVs will need to evolve their business practices to meet these new expectations, in some cases embracing an open source business model."
So... you better familiarize yourself with open source because it is here to stay. Then you have to find a way to make money, which is even tougher (but there are ways ;-)

Lastly, he gives tips on how to integrate an open source software into an ISV offering and what to look for: features, license, support and indemnification. All of them are usually provided by commercial open source companies based on a dual licensing model. If you go outside it, you risk to be screwed (but not always, so just be careful).

I believe it is a must read, if you are looking at embedding open source into your product - mobile or not.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The incredible world of Google syncing

Today is the day some people received the Android G1 (not me, where the #@!$# is it? I want mine :-) Google has started to publicize some of the features, so it is now getting interesting.

What many people do not know is that the Android SDK has a very limited set of applications. Therefore, nobody in the developer community has seen what is going to be on the phone. Google (and the OHA) add apps on Android phones based on carrier request - so it seems - and many of those applications won't ever appear on the SDK. Some very basic, like calendar for example. Now we can finally see it. But we still can't have an API for it (remember the iPhone?). However, hacking is supposed to be easy (and legal). We'll see.

What is clear is that the phone is Google Google Google (surprise!). You access the phone with your Gmail username and password - you have to have one... Magically, email, contacts and calendar from Google will show up on the phone. And they will be kept in sync.

The magic of sync, from a Google engineer:
"It occurred to us that the best way to synchronize these various pieces of information is to let the device do it on its own while you're not looking, so you never have to think about it."
It is great (hey, did they steal one of my lines?? I should have trademarked it ;-) as long as you use Google. If you don't, you are going to have to use a separate crappy email app (one that does not even support attachments...) and suffer. Those that might have two email addresses or even work (!!!) would be in trouble. Two apps, different, not integrated. One good and one bad. One with push and one not. One synced and one not. With the need of merging your work and home address book into one. Same for calendar.

Then you have to give both to Google to store and own: ask your IT at work if they like the idea...

I am not surprised. The Android phone is Google. Nothing else. We'll see if the open source angle of it will surface, one day. It would be nice. Otherwise, it would just be an empty marketing statement. And empty marketing statement backfire in open source...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

BlackBerry storming the enterprise?

I have been following all the announcements of smartphones these days. Even Motorola came out with a touchscreen phone today...

The most interesting (actually, probably the only interesting...) has been the BlackBerry Storm. Clearly, I have a particular affection for RIM. I like the company and the focus on R&D. I like the way they addressed one single problem (mobile email) and nailed it from start to finish. I like the stronghold they have in the enterprise and their business model (the recurring part of it, in particular).

However, they have been struggling lately. They tried the move towards consumers (hey, if you have a pink phone, you are going for consumers, no questions). But they have not been that successful. It is a brand issue, in my opinion. And a fashion one.

The technology might be good but the brand is not there. It is an enterprise brand. Not a consumer brand. Consumers perceive BlackBerry as uncool. It is tough to change it. RIM is trying with advertising, getting in bed with Fabebook and MySpace, but it is tough tough tough. You do not become Steve Jobs overnight. And it costs a lot of money, with margin going down fast.

My take on RIM making into the consumer space? Tough...

Where can they shine? In the enterprise. They still have 98% of the enterprise to capture. They are entrenched. They have to make sure nobody gets in. Like the iPhone. Or the Android phones. Or the Windows Mobile ones. Or Nokia.

I feel the Storm is a smart move in this direction. You have to give enterprise people a little of coolness (music, pictures, some social networking), being strong on your basic values (email), and improve on the competition.

I mean, do something better than the iPhone. Not copycat.

I haven't tried the device but the #1 complain by enterprise users (NOT consumers) on the iPhone is the lack of a keyboard. Adding a sliding keyboard is a bad idea, in my opinion (I just do not like the feel, the added size and the usability of it). Making the touchscreen give you a tactile feedback, instead, is a brilliant idea. If it works as they say (why not?), it could be an home run in the enterprise.

Not with consumers. Give up on that and focus on your core (look at Nokia trying to do the exact opposite and fail in the consumer space...).

Below you find a video of the BlackBerry Storm for Vodafone.

Unalbe to show flash video

Monday, October 13, 2008

Windows Mobile on an iPhone?

Ok, it does not make too much sense, but someone has done it: a Norwegian developer has ported Windows Mobile to the iPhone. Obviously, it will have to be jailbroken. And it is only for super geeks, but it is neat. And it will be open source ;-) The video is below. It looks quite real...

My question is: who in the world would take out the awesome UI of the iPhone to put in the horrible Windows Mobile one??? But this a question for another time...

Lastly, count the days for Android on the iPhone. I bet it will be here before the end of Q1 2009.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Microsoft buying RIM? It makes sense...

The rumor mill today is producing an interesting news: Microsoft might be thinking of buying RIM. This is one of the million rumors that might not mean anything, but it is a good one...

Would it make sense? I believe so.

Microsoft is missing a HW play in mobile. They do not have a device. They are fighting against two vendors, Apple and Nokia, that have devices (and services, and operating systems, but so does Microsoft). It has been proven (so far, open source is changing this) that it is nearly impossible to deliver a great experience without controlling the full chain: from the device, to the operating system, to the service (and RIM has been phenomenal at device and service, not that much on the OS in my opinion).

Microsoft being a HW company? Yes, they do it already, with the Xbox. It is not that far from what they are doing.

Why not doing a device from scratch, then? Well, it takes two/three years (too much) and RIM is so cheap today that they would make money just buying the stock... The BlackBerry Storm looks like a spectacular device, even solving the issue of tactile feedback on a no-keyboard device. They have more coming. And they have a full grip on the high end of the enterprise market.

Imagine RIM+Microsoft together in the enterprise, when Nokia just abandoned it and Apple has no intention to get into it. It would be a near monopoly, excluding open source. It would be so much fun... David and Goliath... Nice thought for the weekend ;-)

When the world is collapsing...

It feels so good to have cash in the bank and a solid company ;-) And people that share their love. I am not looking at my 401K today... but I am definitely reading this email a few times:
Dear sir or madam,
I am writing to you because I tested several solutions to sync a
Windows mobile device with an online service. In particular I am
interested in contacts and calendar sync. The best software I could
possibly find, was unquestionably yours. [..]

Congratulations, I do believe that your software is really great..

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The time for mobile ads is now

What happens when the economy collapses? Everyone cuts costs. The enterprise do it (and they go for open source solutions). Consumer do it as well.

What sells when the economy collapses? FREE...

How do you offer free services, still making money? Advertising.

The time for ads in mobile is now. This market is the only - in my view - that has not been affected by the economy (yet). People still want the latest cool gadget, and services. But they want to pay for them less and less.

The real issue is that nobody knows how people will react to mobile ads. I personally believe consumer won't be bothered by a micro-banner, if it is not intrusive and it is even made useful (e.g. an offer for a taxi ride with a single-click to call, when I really need it).

At Funambol, we are in a unique position to try it out. We provide the #1 application for mobile devices: messaging (remember, the phone is a communication device, you talk or message, 95% of the time). We have tons of users. And a free demo site, where we try the latest and greatest stuff (ok, sometime it makes it a bit unstable, but it is a demo site in beta ;-) called myFunambol.

Therefore, we have decided to launch mobile ads on myFunambol. The goal is not to make money on it (you do not make money on a demo site... and we are making lots of money selling the stable and complete version of it to service providers). The goal is to try it out and see the users reaction. Get a feeling if our email client is used less because of it, or if nothing changes. And check how frequently people act on ads. Gather all this info and share it back with the market.

If you have a Nokia Series 60 or a Motorola V3XX phone and you want to participate in this effort, sign up on myFunambol (or download the new client from the configuration page).

Initial feedback seems pretty good. I believe this comment from a user on Ostatic sums it up:
"Funambol offers a great service. Need to keep them going. A few ads never hurt anyone, as long as they don't start texting crap and making users pay."
Making open source free. I just love it ;-)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mobile email in the enterprise

There is a very interesting article on RCR Wireless this week, about mobile email in the enterprise. The analysis starts from Nokia abandoning Intellisync and giving up the enterprise play. Since last week, our phone has been ringing, so I have to say I cannot complain...

What is happening in the enterprise market?

First, there is RIM. BlackBerry is dominant. It is the end-to-end solution. Something a manager had to have, to look managerial. Even if very expensive. Now, the scenario is changing quickly.
  1. BlackBerry is not a must-have for managers anymore, actually it looks kinda not-cool. iPhone is cool. BlackBerry is uncool. You do not have iFartz for the BlackBerry.
  2. Cost is a dominant issue. More than ever. Let the economy slip a bit more and we'll have wholesale panic in the IT groups, driven by CFOs. Only the CEO and few top managers will get BlackBerry. Everyone else can be cool with its own device.
The alternative is Microsoft. Its ActiveSync client is getting installed on many devices. Most enterprises have Exchange and the server component comes with it. What about this solution?
  1. The price looks right. Although if you talk to IT Managers, they will tell you to buy more Exchange licenses to support the mobile users. At the end, you might have to double the amount of your Exchange licenses, if you want everyone to have mobile access. Not cheap (at all).
  2. Windows Mobile works well, anything else... not quite well. And your CEO will be upset because its BlackBerry surely does not work. And the rest of the company might still complain because their device is not well supported, so the IT Manager says no...
What is left? Nothing else than open source, in my opinion. Nokia did not make it (and they are the 800 pounds gorilla in mobile!), nobody else can. It is just impossible to go selling door-to-door to the enterprise. Even for a carrier. Distribution is what kills you, and the sales cost associated to it. Therefore, your closed-source solution ends up costing too much (I guess you heard this before ;-) Why open source?
  1. It is cheap. Actually zero if you use Funambol. Our Community Edition is free. We are not making money with it. It is meant for the Enterprise. We make money with the Carrier Edition, selling it to people that host our solution (to consumers, mostly, but also enterprises). So, if you are an enterprise, you can download it, plug it in your Exchange (or Domino, or your IMAP server) and you are good to go. If you need support, we will be happy to direct you to one of our community partners. We have them everywhere in the world.
  2. It supports the largest variety of devices. Even BlackBerry. The community is the key element. We are testing every phone in every country with every carrier. It is not just Funambol Inc. It is thousands of people. And developers, that port our stack to more and more phones (lastly, Android). Your IT Manager will have a hard time saying your phone is not supported.
Bottom line, I believe the mobile email enterprise will have room for only three players: RIM, Microsoft and open source. Nice battle ahead, bring it on ;-)

About Mapping Open Source into Your Business Model

I have been on vacation for a few days (awesome trip with an RV around the Monument Valley, highly recommended) and I already have people complaining I did not post anything for a few days ;-) Blogging for some is a drug, for others is a sacrifice. I am right in the middle.

One blog I read frequently is Commercial Open Source Software by Roberto Galoppini. It is a must read if you are into business models around open source. One of his last posts is about mapping open source into your business model. He uses Funambol as a case. He knows us reasonably well, if only for the great dinners we have when I happen to be in Rome (and he pays the bill, which is even better ;-)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The power of open

Open brings more open. It is a positive cycle. Bring in Android and Symbian, make them open source and Apple will start feeling the pain: "we need to be more open!". Even from the closest company on earth...

Well, it happened today. Apple has decided to drop the NDA on the applications in the App Store. Mostly, because people that were about to write books on the iPhone SDK realized they could not do it... And it would have hurt Apple. Close is bad, Steve Jobs found out. Better open it up.

One more for open.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Windows Mobile will be open source

I know I am the only one on the planet to believe this. But I am sure it will happen. Windows Mobile will go open source, one day. It is the only smart move for Microsoft, in a market where nobody is going to make a dime (neither Google with Android, nor Nokia with Symbian).

Still, Microsoft signaled the exact opposite today ;-) They said they will stick with licensing Windows Mobile. The reasons from Ballmer?

"We do," Ballmer told Reuters, when asked whether his firm would stick with licensing fees. "We are doing well, we believe in the value of what we are doing."

Until Symbian and Android really go live and kick our ass (then we'll be open source as well ;-)

"It's interesting to ask why would Google or Nokia, Google in particular, why would they invest a lot of money and try to do a really good job if they make no money. I think most operators and telecom companies are skeptical about Google," he said.

I guess I heard this FUD before on open source. It might work for Android (maybe) but not with Symbian... They have no story around Symbian.

"Handset makers are skeptical of Nokia, operators are skeptical of Google, I think by actually charging money people know exactly what our motivations are," Ballmer said.

This is the best one, again one already heard on open source. Device manufacturers prefer to spend money than having something for free in a very competitive environment. Who knows what is in that open source operating system?? You cannot trust open source. Too bad, it does not work when you have giants like Nokia or Google behind it.

Believe me. Microsoft will make Windows Mobile open source one day. And they will stop charging for it. I am counting the days (and I will probably get too old to see this happening, so who cares? ;-)

Funambol Forge in Chinese

There are many ways a world-wide community works together towards a common goal. One is sharing and improving code. Another one is testing and making sure it works on any phone and mobile operator in the world (mostly in the Funambol case, but it can be generalized). Another one is supporting all the users that belong to the community. There are more, but one stands out for simplicity: localization.

Localization is a killer. If you have a mass market consumer product and you are going after the entire world (which is flat, so you have to...), then you are facing the need of translating the UIs and web site and manuals in hundreds of languages. Granted, English works pretty much everywhere - if you are a developer. But if you are an end user, you want to see your language. No exceptions.

There is where the community kicks in. It is relatively easy - if you plan it properly - to have a community member in a country to do translations on the UI (not the funny one you see sometimes, really good ones), on the web site, on the manuals, instructions to use and configure phones and so on.

At Funambol, a big chunk of our downloads come from China. Actually, it is the #1 country for downloads. Mobile is exploding there. We are now about to have a presence in the region (we are expanding fast, first stop was the Middle East with Dubai), but we still rely on the community for making our product great.

One example is the new Funambol Forge in Chinese. I have absolutely no idea if the content was translated properly, but faith is what a community is built on. If you find anything wrong on the site, just join the translators and make it better. As simple as that.

Nokia is on the move to Mobile SaaS

There is a lot going on at Nokia. First, rumors came out that they are about to launch a device with a touchscreen (a phone, not a tablet). Yesterday, they came out with a press release saying they gave up on Intellisync (e.g. they are not selling a solution to the enterprise anymore). Today, the announced the acquisition of OZ, a mobile IM consumer company.

Where are they going?
  1. Away from the enterprise software space, where they lost badly. They have never been an enterprise software company and they finally admitted it. The acquisition of Intellisync was a mistake (the price was half a billion...). They thought about moving Intellisync in the consumer space, but you can't change the DNA of a company...
  2. Towards the consumer software space. They are feeling the pressure from Apple and Google, and seeing the huge opportunity in mobile consumer software. In particular, hosted by Nokia with the OVI brand. They know they can't compete on hardware alone, so they are moving towards mobile Software as a Service. OZ is another piece of the puzzle.
What does it mean for the market as a whole? Well, the big gorilla is on the move... First it was RIM offering HW+services, then Apple, now Nokia - even more aggressively. Google and Microsoft are the slight odd cases, offering services and the operating system, but not the HW. However, the direction is exactly the same. Mobile SaaS.

Who is getting squeezed? Mobile operators and service providers. Guys, the time to start launching services is NOW. If you can't buy a company, just partner with 0ne. You need to move. Fast.

Remember, families do not have just one phone. Most prosumers have two (one smartphone and one not). And all move from one brand to another (the phone is a fashion item). As Mikael wrote me today, if you have an iPhone and buy MobileMe, you can't buy anything else. You are stuck with the iPhone for the rest of your life, because they do not support any other device.

And there is life after the iPhone.

Consumers get it and they do not like to be trapped. Mobile operators and service providers are in a unique position. They own the consumer relationship. The cross-device capability is key. It is a huge opportunity and a necessary move to prevent being marginalized. If I were them, I would know where to put my 2009 budget ;-)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Apps: T-Mobile does not get it...

I was reading about the new T-Mobile DevPartner Program today. I felt it was a great step forward for a mobile operator. Allow developers to build applications for you, and you will get a lot of end users (and make the one you have happy), plus you'll make money by taking a cut of paid apps (and data usage).

Apple has showed the way. Mobile Operators are in a fantastic position to deliver cross-platform mobile apps, instead of leaving it all to device manufacturers or content providers (e.g. Google with is marketplace for Android).

Unfortunately, carriers still demonstrate they do not get it. Even if the concept is right, there is the "carrier twist" that screws up the good intention.

Example? Check what they say about FREE apps. That the developer that publishes a free app needs to pay T-Mobile ($2/user/month!!) if their users pass the 15MB/user/month threshold...

Now, what drives App Store usage? Free apps. People download first free apps, THEN they start paying. It is natural consumer behavior, more visible in the mobile world than elsewhere (since downloading apps is still a new thing).

Who develops free apps? Mostly non professional developers. Those that do it for fun. That build stupid apps. Those that get downloaded by millions of users... Even if they are stupid. But free. And drive the rest of the market.

Do you think non professional developers will be able to pay $2 per user per month to Tmobile??? I do not think so. What will they do? They will not post their apps.

There will not be free apps that use the network on T-Mobile. Developers won't be attracted by the Dev program. End user adoption will be limited. Game over. Failure guaranteed. Everyone on Apple App Store or Google Marketplace. Too bad.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A moment of zen

This what happens when you have a community working with you. A guy from Google Mobile goes on TV with Scoble and says that Funambol is the best thing he has on the iPhone ("fantastic"). Then gives the best demo you can ever hope for... Nice way to complete a great day, after being beaten up by three funamboli on Mario for the Wii.

And now it comes Nokia...

I was just ready to pause after the Android announcement, and the RIM debacle, that another news hit my Inbox: Nokia is ready to launch its iPhone/Android/BlackBerry/Windows Mobile killer (since they are at it, why not killing all them together?).

Apparently, next week Nokia will announce a touch-screen device. A departure from the E series, I believe, but still in the smartphone world.

Kinda late, but Nokia is not known to come up with products earlier than the competition. However, they are known to nail the competition once they enter a market. Let's see if they can pull it off this time as well.

For sure, the smartphone market is heating up badly. Mobile data is getting cheap. People are starting to ask for features "like the iPhone". Mobile 2.0 is here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

RIM feeling the heat

With all these BlackBerry killers out there, somehow you had to believe RIM was going to suffer. Today they announced the results of the quarter (which looked pretty good to me, BTW) and a grim outlook, because they have to invest heavily to catch up with the competition.
The company is launching three major new models in the current quarter, and the cost of ramping up production will trim the company's gross profit margin, co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said.
The stock went down 20% in after hours. Ouch.

Well, it was to be expected. The iPhone can do pretty much what the BB can, although it does not have a keyboard (but it is so much cooler: "it is like jewelery" told me a friend yesterday). The G1 even has a keyboard. Not counting Windows Mobile, which is growing fast in the enterprise. Then there are thousands of smartphones about to be launched... All going for the existing BlackBerry market (tough fight) but, mostly, for the market RIM was hoping to expand into (consumers). On top of it, your core market (finance) is collapsing and your most faithful customers are seeing packing their stuff and shutting the doors behind.

The time of the smartphone is now. If you have to catch up on 3G, touchscreen, browsing, music, coolness, App Store and MobileMe... It gets hard. Funny how quickly the world changes.

Commercial Open Source - Europe vs. USA

I am a big fan of Larry Augustin (specially since he invested in Funambol :-) and his blog. He does not write often. He writes in bursts. We have been blessed that September is a good one, hoping to see the next bursts before the end of the year.

Anyway, his last post is titled "Commercial Open Source in Europe Versus the US" and it analyzes the difference of attitude towards open source, in Europe compared with the US. It is an awesome post. The table below is the summary of his analysis and it is hard to disagree on any of the points.


European View

United States View

Primary reason for adopting Open Source.

Avoid vendor lock-in.


Key driver of commercial Open Source business creation.

Creation of a local software industry.

Venture capital/entrepreneur driven to create a big business and make money for investors.

Dual licensing business models.

Not true open source. Proprietary business models using Open Source for PR and marketing.

Widely accepted as the most common Open Source business model.

Software sales model.

Channel oriented: VARs and SIs.


Open Source business models.

Service and support subscription focused; 100% open source software.

US companies don’t want to be in the services business. The focus is on products, typically proprietary add-ons or an Enterprise Edition paired with an Open Source product edition.

Expectations around "Open Source" products.

All code is available under Open Source. There is often a community governance of community participation model.

Same, but not necessarily all products are available under an Open Source license. Commercially licensed versions of the products are commonly available. Projects are managed by a commercial vendor.

Somehow, I found that Americans envy Europeans and viceversa. American are way more vocal about it. Europeans are not, actually they might tell you the opposite, but then underneath they would like to be Americans. I have the luxury to be both, so I can speak freely ;-)

Larry's conclusion is that Europe is ahead of the US because people understand the real value of open source. That is because he is an American... If you look at Commercial Open Source people from Europe, you might notice a slight difference: we all moved to the US. Marten of MySQL, Marc of JBoss, Haavard from Trolltech, Chris of DB4O, myself and many more. Why? Because here you can make a software company big. In Europe, you can't (or it is 10,000 times harder).

Larry is on the point:
  1. Key driver of commercial Open Source business creation in Europe: creation of a local software industry. Good luck with that... Maybe in Paris, with government subsidy. We'll get to a Silicon Valley in Italy one day, but it will require US capital first. Building large companies without VCs in this flat world is nearly impossible.
  2. Open Source business models in Europe: service and support, no dual licensing. Good luck with that... Not a chance you can build a large company with services. Again, there might be few exceptions, but without licensing you do not scale. You end up in a situation of hiring a new guy for every new customer, with the customer asking for the old guy (the one that knows the product) and the old guy about to leave the company for his new gig. NOTE: I used a male example, not because Europe is sexist... (Well, it is ;-)
Bottom line for me: Europe might be ahead in the quest of using open source, usually taking advantage of the communities built around it and government subsidies. But when it comes to building open source companies, there is no comparison. The US is the place to be. And dual licensing is the model to beat. Let a European who built companies on services tell you...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tmobile G1 and business? No way

So... Tmobile releases the G1 Evil phone (compare it to the Jesus phone from Apple...). Everyone looks at it and thinks "ugly!" but it has one feature that attracts a subsegment (those that do not care about the looks): the keyboard. It has a keyboard! Not like the iPhone! So who is supposed to buy a phone that has a keyboard? People that do email: business people (yep, those that do not care about the looks, consumers do). The G1 is an attack to the BlackBerry market, some say... Not for consumers.


I tried to buy it last night. I called Tmobile and they told me: "sir, you need to login to your account and buy it online". Fine. I can use a browser. I went online, logged in with our Funambol account and there was no way to buy the G1 (I actually wanted two, because I like to show off). So I called back and they said: "strange, it should be there, sir".

Then I thought "mmmh, let me try again with my personal account" (yes, I DO have a personal account with Tmobile, incredible as it sounds). Bingo, the box to buy the G1 was there. So I thought "mmmh, maybe I did not look in the right place". I tried again with the Funambol account and it was not there. Being a geek, I copied the URL from the personal account and tried to go in with the business account.

The message: "Sorry, you can't buy the phone with this account".

So I called back and I asked Tmobile: "do you allow business accounts to buy G1 or is it only for consumers?".

The answer: "I am not sure, sir, let me check". Five minutes after: "yep, we do not sell it to business accounts, but do not worry because we have plenty for the launch on October 22nd: we are selling now only black and brown, holding back all the white ones for the 22nd".

My comment: "Actually, consumers want cool white. Business want boring black and brown".

The answer was apologetic. We had a laugh and now I do not have a G1 waiting for me. But I found out it is a consumer device, not a business device. With the wrong specs. And the wrong color. At least the operating system is open source...