Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Commercial Open Source is very healthy

Last week was Commercial Open Source week for me. I met almost everyone in the industry, since I spoke at OSBC in San Francisco and I attended OSGR in Utah. The latter was a lot of fun, the former a bit surprising.

I wrote in the past that I believed LinuxWorld was done, and I was right... I also wrote that the next one up was OSBC. I now feel I was wrong. OSBC is morphing, naturally (I do not think Matt was anticipating this, it just happened). It started as a club of Commercial Open Source people discussing about business models and licenses. It became an outlet for large companies trying to behave opensourcy. It is now an education conference, for people that know a little about open source and nothing about how to make money with that.

I gave a talk about my way to build a successful open source business (similar to the keynote I gave at the World Computer Congress). I started with basic concepts, like "what is open source" or "what is dual licensing". At least half of the audience was listening with a level of attention that surprised me. I was talking about concepts everyone knew at the first OSBC. Not now, not at this one.

Open source has crossed the chasm. It is mainstream. The rest of the population (which happens to be the vast majority) is now looking at ways to create businesses around it. They do not know the basic concepts. They come to OSBC to learn them.

That is why OSBC was packed and the rooms were full, during an economic downturn where nobody is traveling.

The other angle came from OSGR and some of the chat in the hallways at OSBC. Every CEO I talked to said the same thing: "we are doing pretty well, business is growing, despite the economy". OSGR was the last days of the quarter, and everyone was relaxed.

Open Source companies are doing well. The downturn is helping them. I talk to a lot of CEOs in the Valley and, believe me, everyone is hurting badly. They are all scared to death. No cash from VCs, their customers delaying payments, some dying, contracts slipping quarter after quarter.

Not in the Open Source world. This market is very strong. It is now attracting the bulk of the market. It is perceived as the Walmart of software. And that is where people go to shop in a crisis.

Long life Open Source. Long life OSBC.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The bar is way too low at RIM

As you might know, RIM has two different models to push email (and sync).

One is called BES, or BlackBerry Enterprise Server. It is installed behind the firewall at medium/large corporations. It does push email and sync with Exchange.

The other one is called BIS, or BlackBerry Internet Service. No server software is installed. You open a wap page on your BB, tell RIM where your email is (Yahoo, Gmail or your POP/IMAP server) and your email gets pulled from your server and then pushed on your device (kinda push email ;-) However, there is no sync. None. You have to plug in your cable in your PC to sync with your Outlook. And you have to install the horrible BlackBerry Desktop software to do it.

The interesting thing that many people do not know is that BIS is half of the BlackBerry users today. And growing faster than BES. The Pearl first and the other prosumer devices that RIM is pushing in the market are mostly attracting BIS users. And some BES replacement. But few new BES users.

I use a BlackBerry with BIS these days. The sync is provided by Funambol, with the local BlackBerry sync client (the new one syncs contacts, calendar, notes, tasks and even pictures). I have the Funambol plug-in in Outlook, which pushes the PIM data to the cloud, keeping it in sync with my BlackBerry. No cables. On top of it, I have a website where I can see my data and change it if I am far from my computer, I am too lazy to type on my BlackBerry or I am out of battery (which happens ;-) Both system can be accessed by my wife and my assistant, if they want to screw up with my calendar and life.

BTW, all the above is available today for free at my.funambol.com if you are a BIS user. If you are a carrier and you want to give this service to your BIS users, give us a call. It is one of the hottest products at Funambol these days.

I also use the Funambol email client on my BlackBerry, although it does not make too much sense because I could use BIS. The email client, though, makes sense if you use BES and you want to have a separate Inbox for your personal live, so that your assistant does not find out you like soccer or something else...

I use the BIS just to test it. I have a Yahoo and Gmail account set up. For a while, I noticed that every time I was sending out an email with Gmail, it would appear again in the Inbox (sometimes, more than once). I thought I was doing something wrong. Somehow the RIM marketing image of a "perfect company" created a reality distortion field. I could not imagine for a second this was a RIM bug, because it was just too big...

Yesterday, RIM announced BIS 2.6, the new release of the service. As part of the release, now you can see your password when you type it (wow) and, mostly:
*BlackBerry Internet Service 2.6 uses Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) to integrate Gmail® webmail accounts. This integration protocol introduces the following benefits:
o Elimination of sent email messages appearing as received email messages in the message list on the BlackBerry smartphone
o One-way synchronization of read status, sent items, and deleted items.
What?? I wasn't stupid... It was a bug, fixed in the new release as a "benefit". Man, I wish I could go by with a bug like that in the open source world. The community would be yelling at us at the alpha stage (some would notice it even earlier in a nightly build...). Not a chance. And RIM is live worldwide. And Gmail is the fastest growing email system!

There is more:
* To use these improvements, BlackBerry smartphone users must remove and reintegrate their Gmail webmail accounts.
Whaaaat? I have to remove all my emails, open the awful WAP page, remove my account and create it again (but I could see my password now ;-)? To fix a bug??

I just can't believe it. The open source bar is just so high that quality is a must, not an optional. There is nothing marketing can do, when you are out there naked. They see you. You can't hide.

Open source is changing the way software is developed. It brings a different level of quality. It is destined to wipe out any closed source alternative. Yep, even if it is RIM, the perfect company with perfect software. Just wait (a few tens of years :-))

Friday, March 20, 2009

Silicon Valley is the center of mobile

Today I was reading the latest newsletter by Gerry Purdy, the Chief Analyst for mobile at Frost&Sullivan. It is titled "Silicon Valley 'Golden Triangle': Apple, Google, Microsoft and Palm Mobile Platforms".

He writes:
It seems amazing to me that five of the top six mobile platforms are being developed near each other within Silicon Valley (an area that is approximately South of Highway 92, North of Highway 17 and bounded on the East by the SF Bay and West the foothills, although there’s no real boundary). If you connect the locations of these companies, it looks like three points a triangle.

Apple is working on the iPhone platform (OS, App Store, iTunes) in Cupertino. Set that as point one. Go about 10 miles North West up Highway 85 to the Bayshore Freeway (Highway 101 at Rengstorff), and you’ll find Google working in Mountain View on the Android platform (Android OS, Market Place and general mobile apps such as search and maps). You’ll also find Microsoft working on much of Windows Mobile in their Mountain View campus at Shoreline & 101). Set that at point two. Go South East around 10 miles to Sunnyvale, and you’ll find Palm working on the new Pre platform (Web OS, Synergy and Apps Store). Set that as point three. And, if you go around 10 miles back South West from Palm you end up back in Cupertino at Apple.
He adds that there are just two other areas of mobile development, Helsinki (for Nokia) and Waterloo (for RIM), but the message is clear: Silicon Valley is the center of mobile.

Somehow, I struck me as a revelation. Although I have been living here for ten years, when I moved to the Valley in 1999 (ohhh, the good times ;-) Silicon Valley was so far away from the center of mobile. I mean, my grandma had a cellphone in Italy and in my Silicon Valley company, about to IPO, there were probably five people with a mobile device that was not a pager (what is a pager you ask, my fellow European? Well, you must have seen one in a movie about doctors... They were everywhere in the US).

I picked Silicon Valley for Funambol because I thought it was the best of the best to headquarter an high-tech startup. Even if mobile was nowhere to be found. Even if I was going to 3000 Sand Hill to meet VCs and my phone had no coverage, so I could not give them a live demo (last time I was there last year, the situation was not very different..). Even if driving from San Francisco to San Jose on 280 meant five dropped calls.

Back then, I thought I was fighting against the odds. Hard to find investors with knowledge of the wireless market worldwide (the differences are striking, from Japan to Europe to the US). Hard to convince people mobile was the next big thing. That Silicon Valley was best positioned to ride the next wave.

Boom! Look at it now. The Valley is the center of mobile.

I just did not realize that I picked Silicon Valley as a natural headquarter, and then the entire mobile world shifted here. It must be the weather.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Apple: openness can't be faked

Yesterday, I spent a few good hours trying to download the documentation of the iPhone 3.0 SDK from the Apple Developer Connection site. The site was down for almost the entire day. Talk about interest by developers for the new OS version... And inability for a company like Apple to keep up with it (hey, they are not famous for servers, right? ;-)

My goal was to find the new Calendar API (we need it to provide calendar sync with Funambol). They claimed 1,000 new APIs in the slides. They built the entire presentation on openness to counter Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Palm. It must be there, I thought.

Unfortunately, it is not there. I could not find it. Either I am dumb (which is likely) or blind (nope, my vision is ok, I just changed glasses) or it is just not there.

I mean, 1,000 new APIs and none to give access to one of the two basic data elements in a smartphone (the other being the address book)...

Are they kidding me? Nope. They just play their cards. They do not want a MobileMe competitor on the iPhone. They will give you CalDAV, .ics support, even ActiveSync for the enterprise. But no access for developers. They might build something too good...

I know, I am bitter. But I am right to be bitter :-)

They are just playing the openness card and it is just a fake. Android is open, very open, almost too open... Windows Mobile has all the APIs you need. Same for Symbian, which is going to be even more open. BlackBerry has APIs for everything.

Apple does not.

You just can't fake openness, Apple . Even if you put names on a slide, it takes five seconds (or hours, if your site is down) to discover it is just words.

What I am sure about, is that they are going to pay for it. The lack of openness is going to bite them back one day. The world is going in a different direction and their tactics work when they are the only game in town. When they are not, it just relegates them to a small percentage of the market. I think it is just a waste, for such a fantastic company.

And I know, you are right, I am bitter...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Apple catching up

The tile of my previous post, with the predictions for the iPhone 3.0 OS presentation was "Apple raising the bar". After the presentation, I actually have to say Apple is trying to catch up... The features announced were unimpressive and there was no real news.

On my predictions, nothing from MEDIUM to LOW came true (hey, I got it right), while most of the HIGH made it (I am not sure about a couple yet, but I will double-check and report later).

My HIGH probability predictions:
  1. Copy & Paste. MADE IT
  3. Calendar API access from the SDK. NOT SURE YET, but they have said they have 1,000 APIs available. I would be shocked if calendar is not there...
  4. A Task application. NOT SURE YET. Definitely they did not mention it, so this is the one that might not have made it (or is it too small to talk about it, we'll see)
  5. Push support. Not the one that actually makes sense (for that you need multithreading support), but the one Steve Jobs announced almost a year ago for last September and never delivered. A crappy push, but at least some push. MADE IT (and the good push did not)
What else? Spotlight (for searching), landscape support for more apps (Mail, about time...), some improvements on the Stock app (news at the bottom), Caldav and .ics support for Calendar (good), Voice memos, API for hardware devices (very interesting, in particular the medical applications), Maps in you app (crucial for geolocation in social networking, it is going to be big), subscription paid models in the App Store (more ways to make money for developers, always a positive), Peer to Peer support via Bluetooth (very cool for sharing contacts or multiplayers games).

Not a bad list, but the rest of the pack is now ahead of Apple (wow). Palm in particular. Apple is behind the competition, they have to catch up. The question is whether Palm can actually deliver. If they do, we have a new ballgame.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Apple raising the bar

The guys at Apple are setting things up nicely: first, they had Palm go out with the Pre announcement and all the noise the WebOS generated. Then they had Google sort-of announce that the G1 is coming out with a new Android version in a month.

Now they are ready to raise the bar. When everyone has shown their cards, they will come out with something probably awesome, and have everyone else scramble to catch up. They are magicians at this. They could have released something new for the iPhone in a while: think about it, the iPhone 3G was just a minor upgrade, nothing really new came out from them on the iPhone front since that magic January 2007 (that's over two years ago...). There was no reason to do it. Now there is. Time to punch.

Next Tuesday, on March 17th, Apple will announce the iPhone 3.0.
What will be in it? Well, let me try to categorize my guesses.

  1. Copy & Paste. No questions on this one. You do not want people to migrate to other platforms for a stupid missing feature. Even if they are just geeks and business people.
  2. MMS. If you live in the US, you probably never heard of this one. Believe me, it is quite big in Europe and you can't sell a phone without it (unless you are Apple, but it is wise to add it anyway...)
  3. Calendar API access from the SDK. Ok, this is a small feature, but it would allow us to finally support sync of calendars on an iPhone. That would be nice, since it is the #1 request I am hearing when I travel around and I always have to explain that it is not my fault, but Apple's.
  4. A Task application. Yep, it is missing in the iPhone. Time to add it.
  5. Push support. Not the one that actually makes sense (for that you need multithreading support, see below), but the one Steve Jobs announced almost a year ago for last September and never delivered. A crappy push, but at least some push. Unless they go for multi-thread, which has its complications, as you can see below.
  1. Tethering to your PC. I just do not think this is going to make it, unless AT&T is allowed to come up with a specific additional plan attached to it. If not, they will prevent Apple to do it. No carrier will like it overseas as well (tethering to a PC means a lot of traffic, and they all have caps on data usage in Europe. You would think the carriers would be happy that you go over your data quota, but the cost to answer the phone when pissed customers are calling is too high. It does not make good business sense). Apple has learned they have to work with carriers to succeed in this market, so this happens only with them in agreement.
  2. Flash support. Apple wants to control the development environment, so they have not allowed Flash so far. But with the App Store so big, I feel Flash would be a second citizen anyway. The time to get Flash in has arrived, I believe.
  3. Multi-thread support and real push. The Pre has it. Apple can't allow them to steal the show. The new iPhone OS must allow more than one app to run in the background. The issue? Battery life. How do you solve this? With a new HW, which leads to the next item.
  4. A new iPhone. Gasp. What? Well, why not? They pre-announced the first iPhone to steal the thunder. They could do the same now. Palm is coming out with something cool, they announce a new iPhone coming out in June, show the OS now and have everyone wait for it (hurting Palm badly). It makes sense to me...
  5. A very cool wireless charger. The Pre has it, do you want them to be the only ones? Clearly, this requires a new device as well.
  1. An iPhone-based netbook. I actually bet on this months ago and most people said I was an idiot (I am used to that ;-) However, I am a persistent idiot, so I think it will actually happen one day. That day might be next Tuesday: netbooks are the only category of laptops that are growing at a fast rate. Apple is the king of high-end laptops. They can be the king of high-end netbooks as well (at $499).
  2. An iPhone keyboard. Hey, the Pre has it... Not a chance in my opinion, unless it is via Bluetooth as a separate item.
  3. Steve Jobs showing up to say hi, live or on video. He did not even attend the Disney board meeting, so I believe there is no chance. But it would be great, and hope is cheap (or was it talk?)
That's it. Buzz is building up. We'll know very soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Google is scary

I have been negative on Google in the past, due to their relaxed use of open source (i.e. returning code to the community only when convenient). However, I feel that is nothing compared to what is happening (and will happen).

Today Google announced a slight change in plans. They are launching "interest-based" advertising. Camouflaged under a "making ads more interesting" tag line, in reality they are starting to use the information they collect about you browsing the web. Any site that you visit that has Google ads (pretty much all) will be used to create a profile of you, so that they can target ads to your interest (and sell it to the advertisers, of course). Their top line must be hurting...

Ok, we knew they could do it, so where is the problem?

Well, let's look at mobile for a second. They just launched Latitude. They will not use the data they will collect about you for now. Until the business starts degrading a bit more and they will change the course.

Think about it:
  1. they know what you like and the site you visit, including when you do it and from where (ever noticed that Google changes language depending on where you connect from?). Not to be evil, just to create a profile of you to better target ads.
  2. they know where you go, with Latitude, with a precision of 3 meters if you have GPS in your phone (something all phones will have in a few years). With that information, is easy to understand if you have a job or not (are you going back and forth from home every day to the same place? Then you have a job). Are you a traveler, do you go to the airport often? Do you work long hours, are you back at home late or early? Do you go out at night and have fun or stay at home in front of your TV? Out in the same bar, different bar every weekend? Which area in the city, Castro? Knowing where you are every single moment they can build a profile of the kind of person you are, quite accurately. Do not give me the BS of "it is too much data to compute!". They are scanning every book on the planet, mapping every street in the world. Nothing is too big for them. Of course, they are going to create a very accurate profile of you, but not to be evil, just to better target ads (interesting ones).
  3. they read your email, if you use Gmail, which happens to be the only hosted email system growing. If you write often about soccer, you must like it. Hey, we do not care about what you write, we just read it just to create a profile of you to better target ads...
  4. they know what you watch, since you must be using YouTube quite often. Watching strange things? Well, now we know what you like... Not to be evil, blah blah.
  5. they have your cell phone, home phone, home address. I know, you say: I did not give it to them! Unfortunately, I am ready to bet that some of your friends have your email address in their address book on Gmail, including your cell phone and home phone. The fact you did not give it to Google does not mean they do not have it. They do. It just adds to your profile. In case they need to call you for delivering an ad you would really like.
One thing they do not have (yet) is your full social network. I am sure they are hurting. They know some of your friends, due to the address books, but they are nowhere close to what Facebook is doing. I am ready to bet it is not going to last long. They need that kind of information to better target ads... They might just buy Facebook and get over it.

Bottom line, Google is scary. There is nothing we can do about it. We can talk but at the end of the day, we use Google services (actually, I use Adblock Plus, so at least they can't target me through ads). You can opt out, but how many will? Few paranoids. In public, we are all scared about privacy. In private, we are a bunch of lazy people. Google knows it. And it collects data about us.

Very valuable data. Something they might not use. As they were not using the info they were collecting about the sites you were visiting. Wait for their stock to drop a bit, they will use the next weapon. I guarantee it.

Google is scary.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The next sync: app sync

These are very exciting times for cloud syncing technologies and products. MobileMe has started an explosion of look-alike and better-than. Everyone is jumping into cloud services these days, in particular in mobile. Mobile devices need a cloud service, because they represent just one chunk of our life. The rest is scattered among other devices, such as our desktop or laptop or netbook. And in our landline phone. And in our TV and music set. Bottom line, if you have a mobile phone that does just a bit more than just voice calls, you need a mobile cloud service.

That is why sync is big and is going to be even bigger. There are going to be more and more devices IP-enabled, getting in the space. All with the need to be synced to the rest of our (mobile) life. All pointing to the cloud.

What else to be done, once you have all your data synced in the cloud, and among all your devices?

App sync.

What's that? Well, let me try with an example. You are watching a movie on your mobile device on the train. The train stops and you have to get out, so you have to pause the movie (unless you want to miss your stop, and piss off your family because you are not home for dinner, then go for a lame excuse and a likely separation...). You get off the train saving your life from devastation, you go home, have dinner, put the kids to bed then you finally land on your couch in front of your TV. There, you find your movie waiting for a PLAY button, exactly where you left it on the train.

That's app status sync (or whatever it is going to be called, context switching or something like this... We'll get some marketing guru involved one day). One example of it is already visible with the launch of the new iPhone Kindle application. If you have a Kindle and you are reading a book, once you open your iPhone Kindle app, the book opens at the page you were reading on the Kindle. And vice versa. The status of the two apps is synced. Nice.

This applies to many apps, pretty much anything. I would like the idea of opening my mobile device and start from the Word document I was editing on my PC. Or on that email I was about to send. Or that music I was listening to in my car.

It is the next sync. First, you sync the data. Then, you sync the apps. I would really like to see the former one done (we are still far from it), but I am already looking forward to the latter.

Cloud syncing is going to be an interesting market for years to come. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mobile is still strong, despite the rest

It is hard to be optimistic on anything these days. When you look at your portfolio, read newspapers, watch TV, you are bombarded with negative over negative.

However, in a downturn there are always areas of optimism, sectors that fare much better than the rest. It is just a matter of picking them and ride the wave, while everything around is collapsing.

One of these markets - in the current downturn - is mobile. Just look at the figures below, coming from a recent IDC study.

Granted, it is not 500% year-over-year growth. But it is growth nonetheless. Personally, I would sign up my entire portfolio for those numbers. I am getting used to the -30% to -50% losses...

Why will mobile operator still do well in 2009:
  1. Voice. In a crisis, people won't give up their cell phone. They will give up their landline, moving everything to their mobile device. And they will talk more, because that is what you do when you have time and you are depressed (the other thing is playing games, which is the other market that won't suffer that much). Voice revenues are going to go up, not down, with zero capex for the mobile operators.
  2. Data. The trend towards smartphones and data plans is not going to change. People will wait a bit more to switch mobile phone, but the next one is for sure a smartphone. Some might even drop their DSL at home and go for an iPhone or the like, to save money and have everything in one place. Data plans are a great revenue generating tool for mobile operators and they will get more.
With all the clouds outside, it is hard to see clear and pick potential winners. But if you stop and analyze the market for a second, it is easy to see why mobile operators are going to fare much better than the rest. And with them, those who sell them solutions to improve data revenues and customer retention.

Life is good, I just have to stop looking at my portfolio, read news and watch TV ;-)