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Funambol – AGPL’d, ad-supported mobile open sourceJay Lyman, June 12, 2008 @ 3:23 pm ET
Mobile open source player Funambol is certainly giving us plenty to watch these days with its Affero GPL licensing, its use of ad-supported mobile phone access to email and general bet on mobile open source software. Like an audience watching the tightrope act, we’re observing intently (Funambol translates from the Latin words funis (rope) and ambulare (walking) to give us the company name and tightrope walker logo). I recently met with the company’s VP of marketing, Hal Steger, who demonstrated perfect balance drinking a cup of coffee and talking at the same time.
For me, one of the more important and serious questions about Funambol centers on its licensing choice. Will AGPLv3 licensing, viewed as both a positive and a penalty by different parties, prove to fuel a larger, more effective developer community? Or will it mire the vendor and its SaaS model down in sharing requirements? Steger says the move appears to be paying off given Funambol was among the first to adopt the AGPLv3 and adoption of the license is now growing.
Another big thing to watch with Funambol is its use of advertisements to support its push email offering, primarily intended for mobile operators and service providers. Steger reports the ads are not yet producing revenue, but instead are intended to compliment the company’s use of open source and make push email free. This is a recognition, as Steger explains it, that consumers’ interest in email on their mobile phones comes with an expectation of low or no cost.
In terms of mobile Linux and mobile open source software, Funambol sees, as we do, issues of fragmentation and an overwhelming number of mobile Linux flavors that are far less open than server-side Linux. Still, Steger sees this as Funambol’s challenge and opportunity, that is, to enable mobile phones of all kinds to handle push email from a variety of email clients.
As the company balances commercial and community growth, including a recently launched forge site, the results will give us some insight into the impacts of open source licensing and business model decisions.
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