Email Gets Open-Source Push
Funambol v.3, as the new product is called, works over Blackberry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and WAP-enabled phones. Based on the device management and synchronization standard from the Open Mobile Alliance, the new open-source software allows users to check email on or offline, open attachments, schedule meetings, and synchronize calendars, address books, and task lists. V.3 works on the client pre-loaded on the mobile phone or PDA; in other words, users do not need to change out their existing device or client software to use Funambol's solution.
"The idea is we have a plug-in, you're not changing the user interface," explains Funambol CEO Fabrizio Capobianco. "It's a piece of code you plug into your device. You use the same user interface, the same email client, address book, and calendar, and when email is pushed to your device it's taken by our client."
Non-Blackberry options for mobile email have received increasing attention in recent weeks as the likelihood of a service shutdown grows, due to Blackberry-maker BlackBerry 's legal dispute with NTP over the patents behind mobile email. (See Supreme Court Rejects RIM.)
Many users, like Dave Rosenberg, CIO of San Francisco-based investment research firm Glass Lewis, have been forced to prepare backup plans.
"We have maybe 20 people using Blackberries," says Rosenberg, "but I actually have a Treo, just because I'm a big open-source guy, and I didn't want to be forced into using Windows, which Blackberry did for a while."
In the event of a Blackberry shutdown, says Rosenberg, his company would switch to Treo devices using the Palm operating system (to which users can write their own applications, making it a sort of midway point between "pure" open source and a fully proprietary platform like the Blackberry), with a "minimum of pain."
"But I would absolutely consider going with a full open-source solution like Funambol," he adds. "I've tried it on my Treo, and while it maybe doesn't have the complete set of features that you get with Blackberry or Palm, it has enough feature parity to make it a very viable option."
RIM's legal troubles have already given a strong boost to user interest in Funambol's open-source platform. Downloads of the basic Funambol solution have gone from 8,000 in December 2004 to 23,000 a year later, says Capobianco.
The open-source path, he adds, is inevitably the future of push email and other mobile applications.
"If you look at the market for push email, Blackberry and other proprietary systems really just work on smartphones," he observes. "But 96 percent of the market is for mobile phones. There will be 1 billion mobile phones sold worldwide this year. How can you make sure your platform works with 1 billion new phones every year? The only way is through the community effort that open-source provides."
Rick Osterloh, VP of products at RIM competitor Good Technology Inc. , naturally disagrees: "Wireless messaging and corporate data access, for the enterprise, is fundamentally a managed service business, not a software business. You can't leave customers to integrate and manage complex carrier relationships and integrate software components themselves. Businesses need an entity that can pull all of those components together, make them work together, and troubleshoot the entire system when something goes wrong."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung