Italian Open Source projects: WURFL

I heard many times people saying there are many Italian developers but no Italian OS projects.
There are no Italian Red Hat, but there are no OS firms like Red Hat in the whole world!

Despite the absence of an Italian OS firm publicly traded, there are few stories to tell.

Few days ago I passed by a blog of an Italian developer and when I learn about his project I asked him to tell me more. Here it comes the WURFL project, a big repository of information that help to recognize browsers, devices and their capabilities about (almost) all known Wireless devices.

To know more about the project and its business implications I posed with questions to the mantainer, Andrea Trasatti.

How the project was conceived?

WURFL was born in 2001. Since 1999 there was a mailing list collecting people talking about WAP and WML issues.
As you might know every mobile phone had its own screen, any browser its own characteristics, and behaviors. Among us developers was quite straightforward to share information about mobile phones instead of buying all ones. That’s how WURFL started.

So the software started, as pointed out by Raymond, by scratching a developer’s personal itch.
The message from the WAP Forum to wait for implementations to converge didn’t sound good to them, and that’s why they began to develop a database of device capabilities, the WURFL.

How did it grow?

Despite many people were sending useful information, mantaining the project was a time consuming activity. At that stage I was employed by BWare Technologies, and I was working in a project for an Italian mobile operator. Since I was developing a multi-channel chat web and wap based, I was in the position to get information about a lot of mobiles. That’s how I became the mantainer of the configuration file.

Luca Passani was there from the very beginning. He was employed by Openwave, and his company was interested to make WAP aware as many firms as possible.

Many other developers joined the project as long as they were interested in the problem, then they leaved, while others were coming up to help the project.

Everyone was using a different framework, but this was not a problem, since the format of choice was XML, and everyone might keep using his or her favourite tools. Many decided to share their libraries to access the data as well, and the project was growing.

Then Luca Passani designed and implemented the WALL tag-library, enabling the delivery of applications to all devices (WAP 2, old WAP 1.X, XHTML and I-Mode). Using his library firms with almost no knowledge of WAP could wrote their own applications for WAP terminals quite easily. As maintainer and author of WURFL I have been invited as expert to join the W3C Mobile Web Initiative.

How did the project affect your professional life as developer?

At the very beginning I was employed by BWare Technologies, and WURFL took me one hour a week, there was no reason to raise the issue. Then increasing the number of new mobile devices I asked to allow me to spend some time mantaining WURFL, and it was easy to convince them, since we were taking advantage of it by some customers’ projects. Then I left Bware Technologies and WURFL became a medium to create business opportunities.
While working by DADA, a leading European provider of mobile community and entertainment services, I used WURFL as a key tool and they allowed me to spend time to empower it.

Nowadays I’m working with M:Metrics, their core business is about statistics.They’re really interested into WURFL, because it represents both a source of data and a marketing tool. Empowering content providers with a useful tool is a medium to help the Mobile market to grow.

Indirect funding then, to call things with their name. It’s worth to notice that M:Metrics sounds like the most interested in aiding WURFL development, where the system integrator and the content provider might look like the best suite candidates.

Who are the contributors?

Sometimes single developers, hobbyists, medium to large system integrators or phone mobile producers.

So the technological club, started from single developers, today encompass every kind of contributor. In terms of adoption today WURFL is likely more popular than pure UAProf solutions.

The idea of sharing a “standard” was really strong in their mind, they couldn’t wait for implementations to converge “naturally”. And they got big attention, as seen they were invited to join a W3C initiative, and they spoke clear and loud.

What about the coordination of production?

Our organization is simple. Luca Passani takes care of Java libraries and WALL, I take care of the PHP library. Then I manage all contributions, while he is busy with our web.
Both of us spend time reading the mailing-list wmlprogramming, he moderates it also.

We receive contributions from other developers in other languages, like ruby, perl, or .NET. Data are all free, while libraries are licensed with MPL, GPL or BSD.
The project is guested by Sourceforge, and source code is accessible via CVS.
Very few contributors have write privileges for their own modules.

We’re very happy and proud of our results, and I believe many firms use it not only because it’s gratis, but because of its open nature, and our mission is to keep it so.

Thank you Andrea, I wish you happy hacking, and please keep WURFL cool!