Open Source Mobile: Volantis Mobility Server 5.1 released, an interview with Mark Watson

Volantis Systems few days ago announced the availability of Volantis Mobility Server Community Edition version 5.1. The new release aims at bringing the power of Web 2.0 to the mobile world, including optimizations for the iPhone.

Volantis Mobility Server was released under the GPLv3 almost one year ago, so I asked Mark Watson, Volantis Systems CEO, about how things are going, and how going open source helped.

Where is Volantis now, one year after?

The company grew revenue significantly, and is profitable. We’re continuing to see growth this year as well.

In product terms, we released new versions of Mobility Server and of our Storefront and Transcoder products (this list isn’t including maintenance releases of other products as well); released two new products, Feed Builder and Site Builder; we launched iPhone and Android clients for our Buzzcast feed management product; and we launched our award winning consumer service,

This last (which is also the basis of our Site Builder product) is important as a free product for non-developers, and we see it as complementary to Mobility Server – i.e. the idea is to provide free access to mobile content creation tools at different levels of user technical ability and the different types of content. The type of licensing (whether open source, or web service based) is then driven by the type of service; but the common idea is to provide an entry to the mobile Internet for free and to the widest group of people.

I do think we’ll add to this list with further free services over time, and I also expect to provide integration between Ubik and Mobility Server – for example being able to export a site created in Ubik into Mobility Server for further tweaking, as the developer becomes more confident with the technology (and both technologies are already capable of this – it’s more a case of getting round to linking them together in the service).

Volantis look at Ubik and Mobility Server as part of the same picture: to give enterprises and developers tools to go mobile, being held back by lack of access. Volantis still shows little interest in getting external contributions, differently from WURFL or Funambol, and uses forums and blog, just as every other proprietary vendors.

Mark, did open source help the business?

Most of our revenue comes from very large organisations, either directly (and in that case most of the revenue comes from mobile operators) or indirectly through partners (where there’s more of a balance with other types of company). These days we find that many of the technical people in the companies with which we deal have already downloaded and tried out Mobility Server (or have tried out Ubik) and the same goes for the partners who support us and them. So Mobility Server, by fueling that general increase in understanding, very much helps these larger sales, but I’m not sure how I’d measure that in terms of customer conversion.

Going open source seems a marketing choice to speed up the try&buy process. Nothing wrong with that, probably paying more attention to community management could be also effective.

What are you doing to foster your community?

We probably haven’t done enough in terms of community management; we’ve run and attended a number of events at our two development centres, in Guildford, UK and in Krakow, Poland. I think one area we’ll be looking at going forward will be enablement of applications, notably other open source projects, such as content management systems. If you look at the above, it’s clear that the real driver is the combination of the framework, or mobility server, with applications which deliver something. And as I said earlier, we’re also looking at providing more Ubik-like services to provide an easy on ramp for other types of mobile application.

Some inter-projects collaboration could help to spread the word about Volantis Mobility Server, and maybe incrementing the number of developers. Last time I suggested to register your project on Ohloh open source directory, or run developers bounty-programs like Code Sniper or Phone Sniper à la Funambol.

Let’s talk again one year from now!