Funambol opens portal, looks to push e-mail

Open source mobile application server startup Funambol launched a beta version of a new product, Sync4j Portal, Tuesday.

Open-source mobile application server startup Funambol launched a beta version of a new product, Sync4j Portal, Tuesday. The free personal information management (PIM) portal software will enable users to wirelessly synchronize between address books and calendars on their computers and mobile devices, according to the company's chief executive officer.

The Sync4j Portal is "a way for people to have access to our technology so they can try it out," Fabrizio Capobianco, chief executive officer at Funambol, said in an interview Tuesday at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) East taking place in Newton, Massachusetts. The software supports a variety of mobile devices including mobile phones and iPods, he added.

The startup also plans to support push e-mail in the next release of its Sync4j software due out in 2006.

Taking a leaf out of Google Inc.'s book, Funambol will offer the Sync4j Portal beta in a similar way to what the search company did when introducing its Gmail Web mail software -- by inviting selected users to access the product -- according to Capobianco. "We'll keep it in beta until it's ready, so it can grow in a natural way, " he said, not committing to a launch date for the finalized software.

Adopting the Gmail approach to limiting the number of users downloading the portal, the startup can both ensure the software's quality and also not be overwhelmed by a large number of users all signing on to use the portal at once, Capobianco said. "It's a smart way to launch a service," he added. The beta version of the portal can be downloaded from www.funambol.net.

Using the portal can help users access their existing data when upgrading to a new mobile device or replacing a lost or stolen device since the software maintains a secure free backup of the user's information, according to Capobianco. Other features include a smart-merge function designed to do away with data duplication, say multiple copies of an individual's contact details, along with an undo capability should an individual accidentally delete a chunk of their contacts, he said.

Funambol's Sync4j server is an open-source implementation of the Open Mobile Alliance Data Synchronization and Device Management standard, more commonly known as SyncML. The standard supports data mobility between devices, applications, servers and networks, and is included in the majority of wireless phones shipping this year worldwide, according to Capobianco.

As of October, there had been 200,000 downloads of Funambol's Sync4j server, he said. Forty percent of the downloads originated from the Americas, 30 percent from Asia and 30 percent from Europe, Capobianco said. In Asia, China was the number-one downloader followed by India, while in Europe, Germany was the top downloader, with the U.K. in second position, he added.

The startup is working on the next release of Sync4j, with an alpha version of the software due to appear by year-end, Capobianco said. The release will include push e-mail, the automatic transmission of e-mail messages from an individual's computer to mobile devices. The additional functionality will position Funambol as a "RIM killer," he added, alluding to Research In Motion and its BlackBerry wireless e-mail devices.

In its ongoing collaboration agreement with Nokia first announced in June, Funambol is working with the company on having the upcoming version of Sync4j with the e-mail push capability preinstalled in its phones including Nokia's upcoming E61 phone, which includes a keyboard in the handset, according to Capobianco.

The startup is also testing its software with other phone manufacturers including Motorola, Capobianco said.

Funambol is also working with fellow open-source companies enterprise collaboration software startup Zimbra and e-mail and calendaring vendor Scalix, Capobianco said. The aim is to come out with a "fully integrated open-source e-mail solution" next year, he said.

Funambol secured US$5 million in venture capital (VC) backing in its Series A funding round in August.

Funambol (pronounced "foo-nahm-ball") is a combination of the Latin words funis (rope) and ambulare (walking) to mean tightrope walker. The company's symbol is a stick figure holding a balancing pole as if navigating a tightrope.

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