Funambol CEO Fabrizio Capobianco: Linux Is Mobile’s Future

Google’s recent moves to create the next mobile platform by releasing its Android platform offers a strong statement about what the next mobile computing platform will look like. If Google’s move is any indicator, the future mobile platform is going to be based on open source technology.

Why? Because it is low-cost and consumers expect the same functionality on their mobile devices that they receive on their personal computers, believes Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol. That is just what they can get with open source, he asserts. Funambol provides open source push e-mail, contacts and calendars through its mobile communication portal.

Open Goes Mobile

Capobianco recognized in 2001 how open source and open standards were a requirement in the proliferating market of mobile devices. That is when he started the Sync4j open source project. That grew into Funambol, now a leading mobile open source project.

“This concept is not just nice to have, or a cheap alternative. It is the only way to advance mobile platforms successfully,” he told LinuxInsider.

LinuxInsider met with Capobianco to discuss his view on the role of open source in creating Mobile 2.0 as a voice and data carrier parallel to the Internet. The meeting occurred in the wake of Google’s announcement earlier this month that it was negotiating with wireless carriers, handset makers, software developers and hardware providers to use an open source mobile platform called Android. Google is developing this platform for mobile devices with the help of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that includes T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm and Motorola.

LinuxInsider: What is Mobile 2.0?

Fabrizio Capobianco:

Mobile 2.0 is the next large wave of innovative mobile services and data. Web 2.0 brings user-generated content such as wikis, photo sharing, collaboration (social networking) and interactive technology such as Ajax. Mobile 2.0 is ushering in a similar era to wireless, and Funambol is at the forefront.

LinuxInsider: What is driving this new trend?


Mobile 2.0 is the result of several compelling trends. It provides users with better, faster and cheaper wireless devices, networks and data services and plans. It goes beyond today’s messaging, where people are looking beyond SMS/texting for the next cool mobile experience. It is an emerging technology.

LinuxInsider: Why do you place so much importance on the use of open source programs in the mobile platform space?


My first exposure to community collaboration was in the early 1990s when I was working on creating a mouse interface for Linux. That was back in the days when all we had was text commands. It was very difficult to develop something that would work with all hardware and software components. When you apply that experience to the mobile platform today, you can see how difficult it is to get all mobile phones working on one system. This will not be possible without an open source community.

LinuxInsider: How does Funambol fit into this quest for a new mobile platform?


Our vision is to harness and popularize the innovation that open source can bring to the new world of mobile 2.0 messaging. We believe this will spur important, creative and exciting new forms of mobile communication, collaboration and entertainment.

LinuxInsider: What impact do you see Google’s involvement having on your vision?


I think that Google’s executives see this same need for open source as a solution to creating a universal mobile platform. Google has been the number one user of open source. Now it is becoming more than a user of open source technology. Google has become a participant in the process.

LinuxInsider: What competition lies in the path of an open source takeover of the mobile platform?


Google will go through something similar to what Microsoft is experiencing in trying to develop the Windows Mobile OS. Google is not a hardware maker, but all mobile devices will have to work with its platform architecture.

LinuxInsider: Who poses the biggest threats to a new mobile platform: Microsoft, Symbian or Palm?


Windows Mobile is not catching on. It has maybe a one percent adoption, which is so small that it is not much of a challenge. Clearly, Google is taking Microsoft square on. Google is taking a shot at Microsoft Mobile. But Symbian is the No. 1 contender.

LinuxInsider: What will it take to win the battle for top mobile platform?


It will take a huge share of the mobile user base. To do that, the developer will need an open source model. That’s what it will take to win. The iPhone reaction was like a warning shot across the bow. Everything moves faster in the mobile space. For instance, people change their phones every 18 months on average. But the same people upgrade their computers every six years.

LinuxInsider: What time frame do you see for this new mobile platform to gain a solid foothold?


We will see it start to grab hold in 2008. By late 2009 the new mobile platform will be full blown.

LinuxInsider: Given your enthusiasm for Google’s movement towards a mobile operating system, is there a role in this development for Funambol? Is there a partnership with Google at play here?


I can’t comment on that prospect at this time.

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