Open source entering the mobile computing space

Wake3 and Funambol leveraging open source to bring iPhone-style browsing and e-mail to devices.

Open-source strategies are gathering steam in the mobile computing realm with companies like Wake3 and Funambol leveraging open source to bring iPhone-style browsing and e-mail to devices.

During a meeting of the Mobile Monday Silicon Valley group at Microsoft offices in Mountain View, California this week, representatives of Wake3, Funambol, and Wind River noted the rise of open-source software on handsets. Wake3, for its part, is bringing the open-source WebKit mobile Web browser to Windows Mobile systems.

"WebKit for Windows Mobile really is, in essence, a kind of iPhone browsing for Windows Mobile," said Daniel Zucker, CTO of Wake3.

He and an official at Wind River stressed the paradigm shift brought on by the iPhone. Instead of persons inquiring about what type of wireless service someone is using, they want to know if they have an iPhone, said Bill O'Such, Wind River director of engineering.

"It's really changed the balance," O'Such said.

"The iPhone opened up everyone's eyes. For the first time, you could really get true desktop browsing on a device," Zucker said.

Wake3 plans a public beta release of WebKit for Windows Mobile in a few months. It will have full support for JavaScript, but Adobe Flash support is not expected. "You pretty much need a license," from Adobe, said Zucker. Instead, Wave3 will support technologies like SVG.

At Funambol, the company specializes in push e-mail based on the Funambol open-source project, formerly known as Sync4j.

"We're actually seeing a tremendous surge of interest in open source in mobile," said Hal Steger, vice president of marketing at Funambol. The company has commercial and open-source versions of its software.

Technologies like the iPhone and Google's Android along with the upcoming available wireless spectrum have spurred interest in open source for mobile systems, according to Steger. Also, prices are dropping for data plans for mobile phones.

"All things are kind of coming together," he said.

Open source has helped Funambol get its software into the hands of more developers, who can test the software, fix it, and contribute code changes back to the community, Steger said.

"If you've ever developed a mobile phone application and you're trying to address the mass market, there's a fundamental problem," he said. Half the world owns a cell phone but there are more than 1,000 models and many operating systems to support. But developers via open source can test the software and try it on their own phones.

"What we like to say is open source enables the largest mobile developer community to make any device work on any network. That's probably the biggest single advantage at least from our experience of open source to mobile," said Steger.

To give developers incentives, Funambol pays developers US$500 to US$3,000 to work on projects, such as a Google Android client for Funambol or a Google Gmail connector. The company also pays US$25 to persons to test their phone to see if Funambol works on it.

Funambol differs from Android, which is Google's open-source stack for mobile devices, in that Android is for the client while Funambol is a server application, Steger said.

Attendees pondered how Android would stack up against LiMo. The LiMo Foundation is intending to build a hardware-independent Linux OS for mobile devices.

"It's a hard question to answer," O'Such said. The market will decide, he said. Wind River Systems is part of the Open Handset Alliance, which has a hand in developing Android, as well as a member of the LiMo Foundation.

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Paul Krill

InfoWorld

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