Thursday, June 26, 2008

The five best open-source downloads for your BlackBerry

If PC Advisor says that Funambol is one of the five best open-source downloads for your BlackBerry... you should give it a try. I have it on mine and it is quite good. The UI of the email client is definitely better than the native one. We are missing some features here and there but for your consumer email it should be good enough.
Funambol for BlackBerry
If your RIM smartphone is connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), you very likely already received 'push' email, at least from your corporate Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise mail account, and can sync PIM data such as calendar and contact information via USB.

But users who want push 'email' for web mail and OTA PIM sync have largely been out of luck... at least until Funambol released its latest free, open-source software.

The software consists of two parts: a push email component and PIM sync component. The push mail functionality works with popular web mail services such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail and it also supports any POP or IMAP server, according to Funambol.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Funambol Community Showcase #4: Connector for SugarCRM

Last month I posted about the Funambol Connector for SugarCRM, who won the "Project of the Month" award at SugarForge. We asked Phil some questions about it as well. Here it is.

Funambol Connector for SugarCRM

By Phil Shotton

Q: Your project is a Funambol connector for SugarCRM: what does it do, what problems does it solve?
The connector enables Funambol sync clients to synchronise their contacts and events with the SugarCRM database. SugarCRM is a complete open-source CRM solution with its own internal contact lists and meeting schedules per user. The connector allows a SugarCRM user to sync his mobile device, in both directions, with his contacts and meetings stored in SugarCRM.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of creating this software?
I started a new company and we decided to try SugarCRM as a customer management system. We wanted to be able to sync our meetings and contacts in Sugar to our PIM software and mobile devices. We have a mixed environment (Windows, Linux, various mobile devices) so an open sync system was needed. I discovered Funambol and found that it had an existing SugarCRM connector. I tried using it, found a few problems, started digging into the source and (to cut a long story short) was asked to take over maintaining the connector. So I'm building on the foundations laid by others.
Q: What challenges did you encounter and what achievements are you proud of?
I'm an experienced Java programmer, but the end-to-end sync process involved many technologies that I was not familiar with. Web services, php, the whole Funambol integration. I first had to learn how to monitor soap requests using the Axis tcpmonitor, work out how to debug the SugarCRM soap interface (written in php). Then delve into the underlying Sugar d/b calls, work out the mapping of results into Contact and Calendar objects, and understand the build/package process of a Funambol connector. All in limited time. I'm now proud of understanding the sync process, and being able to very quickly respond to issues and fix them.
Q: How would you summarize your experience developing Funambol?
A steep learning curve! A lot of concepts and standards to assimilate before becoming productive. But the experience has been extremely rewarding, it's great to have people from all over the world asking questions, reporting problems, requesting changes and then at the end, saying thank you!
Q: What are the steps that you would suggest to a newbie interested in developing a Funambol connector? What are the mistakes you made in earlier stages of development that you wouldn't repeat, knowing what you do now?
First, pick a connector for a system you understand well, so you are only learning one end of the system from scratch. My first big problem was having to learn two systems (Sugar and Funambol) and a new language (php) and a new technology (SOAP). Have a straightforward environment (use the Java client for testing, don't go straight off and try and sync with outlook). Put lots of debug logging in your code. Try to have each part of the connector testable in isolation. Look at as much other code as possible.
Q: What is the roadmap for future versions of the Funambol connector for SugarCRM?
Item 1 (apart from ensuring that it works reliably) is to allow sync of shared data. Currently the connector only syncs contacts that are owned by the specific user, but sugar allows contacts to be ownerless and therefore visible by all. I also want to look at email sync, but this is a whole new can of worms! I also want to ensure that I can support multiple versions (of both SugarCRM and Funambol) with the minimum of maintenance effort, by making as much as possible driven by configuration.

I also want to look at moving to maven, and building better automated testing tools.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Symbian goes open source: any more proofs?

Today Nokia has announced that they have acquired the remaining of Symbian and, most importantly, that it is going to put the code in open source.

A few years ago, when I was saying "Mobile Open Source" the best answer I was getting was: "What?". Followed by a "Are you crazy? You cannot put Open Source together with Mobile! Mobile is the most closed environment on the planet!!".

Well, let me smile for a second... Symbian is going open source. Android is open source. Mobile Linux is growing everywhere (and it is open source...). Nokia has bought Trolltech and now they are pushing forward with a clear open source strategy.

The two companies left behind are Microsoft and Apple. Ok, they are big, but not in mobile (yet, it is a long long road). And they might never get big in mobile if they do not go open source as well. The direction is clear. If you are HTC and you are offering Android (and soon Symbian), what are you going to tell Microsoft about the cost of Windows Mobile? You know the answer...

Now people will start realizing that the next step in mobile open source is the application layer. I am sitting on top of the pile with Funambol and I cannot hold back a smile :-)

What a day for mobile open source!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pavia and a Silicon Valley in Italy

I have made no mystery that one of my goals in life is to see a Silicon Valley in Italy. When we founded Funambol, it was just an abstract idea, but year after year it is taking shape. We are just at the beginning, but I am starting to see all the elements coming together: entrepreneurs, universities and investors. That is what has made Silicon Valley the place it is today (quite hot, I might say...). Once you put the three elements together and with the right mentality, it can happen.

One significant step towards an Italian Silicon Valley is seeing Silicon Valley companies opening R&D centers in Italy. This week Marvell (a $10B semiconductor company based in Santa Clara) has opened a chip design center in Pavia. Of all places, the same town where the Funambol R&D is based (and where ST Microelectronics has always had a strong presence). A great sign for the Engineering department of my Alma Mater and an indication things are progressing in the right direction. I found out through the press release that the center is managed by Francesco Rezzi, a guy I used to drive to school every day as a freshman: I was the one with a car and he was a senior of the Almo Collegio Borromeo where I spent five of the best years of my life. He was known as "the tractor" for his unstoppable focus on the books. Small world...

Anyway, great news for the Silicon Valley in Italy movement. This afternoon I am meeting with the Italian Ambassador to the US, Giovanni Castellaneta. I was honored to be chosen to present in front of him, together with a group of people I admire greatly:
Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza (one of the great fathers of Genetics), Federico Faggin (the inventor of the microprocessor) and Giacomo Marini (one of the founders of Logitech). I am a bit younger than everybody else ;-) and miles from reaching their levels, but I will do my best to suggest to the Ambassador a possible path to a Silicon Valley in Italy. I know it is possible and I am sure we will get there one day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How To Sync Just About Anything, Anywhere

I saw this review of myFUNAMBOL, used with a combination of Outlook and Windows Mobile and I could not resist to repost it here...

About freedom and privacy in the cloud

I wrote about Clipperz in the past on this blog. It is a company built by two very smart guys, Marco and Giulio Cesare (yep, you might guess their native country...), with whom I spent some quality time in the last year. They have a very simple idea called zero-knowledge.

In a world that goes more and more towards Software as a Service, the issue we are facing is that we are storing a lot of our personal data in servers around the world, owned by people we do not know - and we should not trust. Imagine how much data the Internet has about you, what you like (Google), what you buy (Amazon), whom you like (Facebook), your pictures (Flickr) and so on.

Zero-knowledge means storing the data in their servers but making sure they can't read it... It is your data, only you should be able to read it. As simple as that.

Their first product is a password manager. You actually store your passwords in the Clipperz server, but they can't read it because it is encrypted on your browser and can't be read by anyone else. They store ALL your passwords for all your sites, so you can login in every site with just one click.

Now Marco has posted a call for action about freedom and privacy in the cloud:
This is a post about freedom. The freedom to keep your data for yourself and the freedom to run free software. You should be able to reclaim and enjoy these freedoms also when using web applications.

If you are a supporter of the free software movement, you can easily opt for Gimp instead of Photoshop, or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. You can also protect the privacy of your data by using the many encryption tools that are available (GPG, TrueCrypt, …). But when it comes to web applications things get complicated.

The benefits of web apps (ubiquitous access, seamless upgrades, reliable storage, …) are many, but quite often users lose their freedom to study, modify and discuss the source code that powers those web apps.

Furthermore, we are forced to trust web applications provider with our data (bookmarks, text documents, chat transcripts, financial info, … and now health records) that no longer resides on our hard disks, but are stored somewhere “in the cloud”.

It’s not a nice situation when you have to chose between convenience and freedom.

Let me be clear: web apps are great and I’m in love with them. But I think it’s time to ask for more freedom and more privacy. Here is a three step plan to achieve both these results.
His suggestions:
1. Choose AGPL
2. Add zero-knowledge sauce
3. Build a smarter browser
I vote for Marco... And he now has RMS on his side, which makes the story a lot more interesting. Let's see if we can push this freedom further. I am now working at a zero-knowledge Funambol, working with the Clipperz guys. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

MobileMe: what device manufacturer can do

I found a very interesting post today about what Nokia can do to stand up against the iPhone. Andrew is sending a strong message to Nokia: "wake up or else...". I like the part when he talks about recognizing the Killer App in Software and Services and the mistakes Apple is making (e.g. offering only .mac email access in MobileMe):
Ever since my days with a Danger hiptop I’ve been seeking what I call PIM 2.0, a consumer-friendly version of Microsoft Exchange that works with SyncML. Apple thinks they’ve got it with MobileMe but they’re way off the mark — it costs far too much and supports but a single email address under their own domain.

This is your chance, Nokia, to offer up something better. But here’s the deal:

1. It has to be free.
2. It has to support multiple POP mail accounts from other domains — bonus points if you can include popular webmail clients like GMail, Hotmail, etc.
3. It must also include a Nokia-branded email account — something like “” would do nicely. This way lots of people get to see your brand name in their inbox. Clever, eh?
4. It has to launch soon, so it can steal some of the iPhone’s thunder — putting it out there with your new E66 and E71 would be particularly appropriate, assuming your July drop dates are on track.
5. It has to work on all S60 handsets!
Agreed. Every device manufacturer should be thinking about it, in my opinion. Man, I love how hot this space has become :-))

BTW, if you are a device manufacturer out there looking for an answer to MobileMe, I believe we have a product ready to go for you. And we can host it for you so you can be up and running in days.
Just add water...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cash and customers...

You might have seen it elsewhere, but... today we have announced that we raised $12.5M in our second round. The round is led by Nexit Ventures, the #1 mobile venture capitalist in my personal opinion. They are headquartered in Helsinki, with an office in Stockholm and one in Silicon Valley. The partner who joined the board is Michel Wendell. I have known him for years, since he invested in Bitfone. Together with our current investors Walden International and HIG, Castile Ventures joined the round. They are based in Boston. The partner who invested is Carl Stjernfeldt, who is Swedish, adding to the Nordic theme of the round ;-)

So, yes, I raised money from Europe and from Europeans. Strange thing for someone based in Silicon Valley. However, now
I have people on the board I can talk about soccer with... and they enjoy my espresso (known to be the best coffee in Silicon Valley). Definitely worth it ;-)

In the press release, AOL was so nice to let us slip in their name. We can't talk about it that much at this point, but it is a great deal for us (they have 200M users and are completely focused on advertising...). You'll hear more about it very soon.

Now if Italy would beat France...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cracking the iPhone in Italy

A few days ago, while I was in Italy, I met a journalist of Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian equivalent of the Financial Times. We had lunch and talked about a million things, among them the iPhone. Tuesday, he wrote an article about me where he pretty much stated that I cracked the iPhone... A bit too much, but journalists like hyperboles.

The same day my mom read the article and asked me what cracking meant and whether I stole something, with a slight worry I could go to jail. Considering the software was called Jailbreak, she wasn't too far from reality. I felt bad but I assured her I did not steal anything and that I am definitely not a hacker: I wish I could be one but I lack the skills for it.

Then on Skype I received a request to connect from Zibri. He is THE guy who made it all happen. The one who gives us Ziphone and allowed third party apps to be easily installed on iPhones. I was surprised at first, then shocked when I noticed he was asking for a connection in Italian.

Is Zibri Italian? Did the iPhone freedom derive from there?

Yep, he is. He lives in Rome. A friend of him read the article and asked him "who the heck is that guy who said he cracked the iPhone, didn't you do it?". Oopss. I had a nice chat with Piergiorgio (he did not call me to complain after all...) and I hope we'll do something together soon. He definitely seems a skilled individual :-)

Anyway, glad to hear that Italy is ahead of the pack in mobile once again. I had no doubts, but I still have to fight that perception every day. As quoted in the article, I had someone recently who asked me "Yeah, Ferrari looks great, you can tell it is Italian. But where do they get the engine from?". No, we do not get them from Germany. They are built in Italy, as Maserati, Ducati, Aprilia and more. They are the most reliable in the world. And the electronics too. On every Formula One car. We have the best engineers in the world, but we do not advertise them as we should. It is a high priority on my task list: it has to change. I am fed up with being know just for making pizza and clothes ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Surprise: it is a mass market phone :-)

Well, I can't say I got it right. The Apple conference was really boring. Nothing new. Nothing special. It was still much better than Italy's game, so I casually followed Jobs presentation instead ;-)

I believe the only big news is the price of the 3G iPhone: I predicted lower than $200 for the iPhone mini and it is $199... This price makes it a mass market device. It will cost less than iPods. Yes, it is subsidized and you have to pay the operator for that, but that is a cost you already are paying (with your current phone). So if you sum iPod and your phone, upgrading to iPhone is a cost saving... That's quite interesting.

What is curious is that Apple gave up the model that seemed to change the game in mobile: they are not getting a share of revenues from the operator anymore. They are like any other device manufacturer. It is a step back (a big one) and I believe it was a blow in Jobs' face by European operators (due to the lack of sales in the Old Continent). I was reading the Financial Times on the plane and the contrast with the US is spectacular: in the US everyone calls the iPhone a success, in Europe a failure...

Now, Apple probably figured out that instead of selling 10M iPhones and make money with calls and data, they could sell 30M and make the same money (margins on HW are 30% max, so they need to triple their revenues to make it even with the loss of rev share).

And AT&T figured that they could subsidize $200 of an iPhone, and raise the data plan from $20/m to $30/m, therefore making $240 more in 24 months...

That's it, you chop the price and you make the niche bigger, without introducing anything new... Everyone is happy.

Oohh, they did introduce something interesting, though. It is called MobileMe, the evolution of the .Mac (not a success, by all means). For just $99/year, you get syncing on it. Or you can use the Funambol client and myFUNAMBOL and get it for free, plus it works on more phones, more backends and you have the code to play around with it... In any case, this is another sign that syncing is hot and everyone wants a piece of the puzzle (good for us).

BTW, did you notice the stark contrast from the enterprise solution (ActiveSync) and the consumer one (MobileMe)? Phil Schiller on stage called the Microsoft protocol ActiveStink... Way to push it in the enterprise... I believe RIM can sleep well for a little more, but they have to be careful...

Question before going to bed: why is Apple not using an open protocol such as SyncML? Why do they have to do everything closed? It is just too sad. Apple could be 10 times bigger but they choose not to. Everyone has its limits.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The iPhone surprise

I have been predicting most of Steve Jobs moves lately with a good degree of accuracy. From the iPod Touch to the Macbook Air (the one I am writing this post with...) and more.

Ok, I got lucky...

Tomorrow, however, is another big day. I know you are thinking Steve Jobs keynote at Apple WWDC in San Francisco. I am actually thinking about Italy playing its first game in Euro 2008...
---- useless comment ---- useless comment ----
Do you realize that Apple has put the WORLDWIDE conference of developers the week of Euro 2008?? Nobody in Italy and the Netherlands will care less about the keynote tomorrow... This shows you the lack of priority management in Cupertino. They would have never put a conference the day of the Super Bowl, I can guarantee you that...
---- useless comment ---- useless comment ----
Coming back to Apple, tomorrow is their big day as well. The new operating system for the iPhone will be unveiled (iPhone 2.0), together with the Application Store and a bunch of new apps.

Everyone knows they will announce the 3G iPhone. Most predict it will have GPS as well and it will be thinner. I agree.

That's it. Nothing more. Boring news. A phone an AT&T VP told us about six months ago. BOOORING.

Not a chance, I believe. Jobs likes to surprise people. He will announce all that but something more. Something that will make people say "WOW, they did it again!".

Apple is known to launch a product and then work on it until it is perfect, branching off children. They started with the iPod, then they did the mini, the nano, the shuffle. Some were bad (like the first shuffle) but then turned out great in the next generation (like the last shuffle).

My prediction is that Apple will launch an iPhone baby. A mini iPhone. A mass market phone (the original iPhone is going to be sold as an enterprise product in Italy, at 500 euros or so...). Unlocked. Only available in the US stores, initially. Below $200.

What are the odds I am right? Very minimal, borderline zero ;-) But if Apple launches a mass market phone tomorrow, then Steve Jobs might be reading my blog for real... I wrote 18 months ago that the iPhone was going to be a niche product: it is actually turning out to be a niche product (although the good news is that the niche is growing ;-) More in Europe (where they sold just a few) than in the US. What is clear to me is that a mass market phone would be a game changer.

In any case, I'll find it out once the game will be over.