Open Source Mobile: Funambol’s Differences between Community and Carrier Editions

On my way back from the Open Source Think Tank I met my friend Fabrizio Capobianco at his office in Reedwood city, and he took the chance to show me his new MobileWe portal, the Funambol’s version of  Apple’s MobileMe.

Funambol business model has always intrigued me, and I asked Fabrizio more about how Funambol manages the difference between the community edition and the carrier edition.

The difference between the Community edition and the Carrier edition is exactly the same, as it was. So we have not changed the business model, is working extremely well: we know that our community is growing fast and we haven’t had any problem with the community like other commercial open source have.

Community edition is for enterprise, while the Carrier edition, that is a commercial product, is for service providers that host our platform for consumers.

That is the distinction we keep, that puts features in one bucket or in the other. So if it is an enterprise that wants to download our server and integrating it with Exchange or Domino and give push email to everyone that hasn’t a Blackberry, that’s the Community edition. If you are a mobile operator and wants to offer mobile mail, calendar sync, pictures sync and all we call MobileWe, then you buy the carrier edition.

The main differences are the portal, the over-the-air configuration of the phones, the scalability to the managed users, the customer support interface.

We do not support commercially the community product, we are not taking any money from community members. If you are a community member and want support, we send you to a partner that can we help make money, doing what you want and give it back to the community.

Funambol keeps layering users and customers depending on their needs. Addressing commercially only the top of the ‘pyramid’, Funambol actually doesn’t upsell its enterprise-based community. Enterprises using Funambol are happy to contribute back their enhancement to get them in the next release, unless they create differentiating features.

Open source core is not bad or good per se, as far as the name confusion is resolved in favor of customers. Funambol makes this difference clear, and consistent. Funambol’s architecture of participation welcomes contributions in code, either in the from of subproject creation by interested third parties, or by coders enjoying the code Sniper bounties.

Even if Funambol retains full control of decision making and IP ownership, there is little or no tension between control and openness. Extrinsic motivations to contribute may vary, but it is a matter of fact that it takes place, like in the Blackberry case.

Mobile operators and carriers are not community users, and it is unlikely that they will ever want to spend time and effort to develop Carrier edition proprietary extensions. Besides that, Funambol – just as every software vendor – has to keep innovating, and speed seems also an enabling factor (think about carriers seeing Apple, Google and Microsoft trying to ‘steal’ their customers!).

When deciding on proprietary features, vendors segmenting their customer base and then the list of features, tend to be prone to errors.

Do System Integrators try to proprietarize your software?

The normal situation is an enterprise that download the software and build something around it. Sometimes S.I. are a kind of bundling our product and sell it as-it-is. In that case we are very aggressive in making sure that AGPL (Funambol’s license of choice) is respected.

How many community users exist?

Recently we did a check to see how many servers we have alive. We have a feature that updates the servers, and checking how many ping we received. It come out that there are about 12,000  servers. I didn’t have a look at where are they from yet, but I expect to see the same distribution as per the downloads, that last time we checked was 30% USA, 40% Europe, 30% Asia.

It is a pretty impressive number, really, congratulations!