I installed Funambol on an iOS device to test it and all went well… until I tried to sync the pictures. I was greeted with the request to allow Funambol to access my location, request that I promptly denied. Why on the planet would Funambol want to know where I am? Smelling that Apple may have to do with this, I asked Funambol developers who confirmed that this is due to the nature of the ALAsset API from Apple. Apparently I’m not the only one to think that iOS ALAssetsLibrary is broken.
What is broken is not only the user experience, but also the bad habit that Apple is spreading: users should pay attention to the permissions they grant to apps and deny to run those that make unreasonable requests. Mobile phones are computers and everybody should keep in mind that apps have access to personal data stored on the phone. Everybody should check that apps have permission only to access the minimum necessary to operate. Are you installing an app to sync addressbook and pictures? The app should ask permission to read/write addressbook and pictures. Not to read location!
Once you get a new device, the first thing to do is to put it into a usable state by transferring the addressbook and calendar. This is the bare minimum, followed by bookmarks and passwords (Meego people: please, put Firefox on Meego, instead of Chromium).
While there is a Sync application in Meego, powered by syncevolution, the user interface doesn’t allow to configure Funambol or a custom server. You can still do it from command line though. Here is how:
start the terminal application and enter the following (as user!):
My adventure with Funambol ended. Since January 2008 I’ve been working with an amazing company managing an amazing community. I’m proud to have helped the company increase its download number about 30% every quarter and also am glad to have seen the number of active servers skyrocket. I’m glad to have contributed back to the community with some money with the Funambol sniper programs. I’ve immersed and learned a lot about the mobile world, understanding the challenges that the free software community faces in this environment. I made new friends and I’ve enjoyed every day here.
There are things that I wish I’ve done differently or pushed more aggressively to be done, but so is life: I learned from the mistakes and I definitely feel good about all I did. Now it’s time to change. So long, Funambol and good luck to all.
I wanted to make sure that newest Ubuntu 10.04 being a Long Time Support one would be capable of running the newest Funambol DS Server version 8.5. I can confirm: not a problem there. I downloaded the 32bit .bin package from Funambol Forge, issued the install command with sudo sh funambol-8.5.0.bin and I was ready to sync with Gnome Evolution and my Nokia E71 in a breeze. While I was at it, I have created a VirtualBox appliance that you can download and use for an even faster test drive (username: funambol, password: fun2test). It’s a massive 1.3gb download: if you find it useful, I may use some help to make a torrent file. Since this virtual appliance doesn’t have an X server, you need to run the Funambol Admin Tool (for Windows or GNU/Linux) from your desktop machine. Have fun.
My previous post on the topic generated quite a discussion about Open Document Format (aka ISO 26300) documents on mobile platforms. My argument was that ODF support on most mobile platforms is still poor compared to the proprietary counterparts. From the discussion that happened on identi.ca I learned about a quite decent Symbian reader for ODF files, called Office Reader. I tested it using Funambol email push and sync client on my Nokia E71 and the results are quite good. You can see from the screenshots below (taken from a pretty complex ODT test file) that the text rendered correctly. I’m confident that I would be able to get an idea of the attached document and, if it was a press release, for example, I think I would OfficeReader would present enough information to approve it or not. This is the if you want to compare to the mobile version. I’ve tested also a couple of ODP presentations and spreadsheets: they are rendered good enough to get an idea of what kind of document it is, but not as well as the text file.
I downloaded and installed OfficeReader directly from the phone’s browser, but of course all other options are valid. Check the FAQ if you can’t install or run it (I had to allow your phone’s operating system to run unsigned apps).
PS I took the screenshots with the free software Screenshot application (GPL license but the install screen says ‘freeware -not to be sold’ ?!?).
When it comes to doing anything, finding a job, an apartment or a used car, what counts most is who you know. In the old times it was the size of your rolodex, now it’s the size of you digital addressbook. Being so powerful, it’s no wonder that everybody out there wants it: Facebook, Plaxo, Vodafone, AT&T … all want YOUR addressbook because who you know says a lot about who you are, what you like. Also the FBI likes to know that 🙂
It’s good to notice the quantity of efforts from the free software community revolving around your social capital. After my disappointment with the pretty lame addressbook in Thunderbird 3, I was amazed to learn about MozillaLabs Contacts. It’s a Firefox extension that makes the browser aware of your online contacts and friend lists. Why should you care? Because your addressbook is yours and you shouldn’t be sharing it with everybody only to invite them to join yet-another-social-networking-site. As Michael Hanson puts it in his blog post
This information is also special, because it represents the boundary between “my data” and “your privacy”. When you disclose your friends’ email addresses on a website (maybe you want to invite them to a cool new site you just joined), you are trusting the website to keep that address private. […] The disclosure of your friends’ contact information is an important step: we think you should be in control of it.
Contacts also uses the Portable Contacts definition internally. I aggregate and keep all my contacts in sync with Funambol, so I’m thinking that the best way for me to use Contacts would be if I could have it grab the addressbook from Funambol server. How hard would it be to add a Portable Contacts representation of the contacts stored in Funambol? If anybody is interested, I can sponsor the investigation of the issue and the development with Code Sniper grants.
After revisiting the Funambol Code Sniper, I thought it was time to adjust also the Phone Sniper program. Funambol Phone Sniper is the easiest way to contribute to the community: participants help by testing the compatibility of their device with Funambol sync and push services. It’s very easy to participate: you need a phone included in the list with an Internet data plan and about 30 minutes to execute a standardized test. Once you’re done testing, submit the report and you’ll be awarded a 12 months free account on myFUNAMBOL portal. If you test more than one phone you get $25 for each full report submitted. I want to build a Hall of Fame of Phone Snipers: don’t forget to let me know if you want to appear in it.
I watched Eben’s speech but now I can quote it too thanks to the transcript done by the friends at Software Freedom Law Center. Talking about the problems of the cloud services, Eben hits Facebook hard with his rhetoric:
The human race has susceptibility to harm but Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record. He has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age. Because he harnessed Friday night, that is, ‘Everybody needs to to get laid,’ and turned into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality and he has to remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal, namely ‘I will give you free web-hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time’. And it works. How could that have happened? There was no architectural reason. Facebook is the web with, ‘I keep all the logs, how do you feel about that.’ It’s a terrarium for what it feels like to live in a Panopticon built out of web parts. And it shouldn’t be allowed. That’s a very poor way to deliver those services. They are grossly overpriced at ‘spying all the time’, they are not technically innovative. They depend on an architecture subject to misuse and the business model that supports them is misuse. There isn’t any other business model for them. This is bad. I’m not suggesting it should be illegal. It should be obsolete. We’re technologists we should fix it.
As Nicole says, Facebook is Internet for the lazy people that don’t know or want to setup a blog on their own and learn how to use search, RSS or even email. And there are many of those.
So what do we need? We need a really good web server that you can put in your pocket and plug in any place. It shouldn’t be any larger than the charger for your cellphone. You should be able to plug it into any power jack in the world or sync it up with any wi-fi router that happens to be in this neighborhood […]
This is stuff we’ve got. We need to put it together … I’m not talking about stuff that’s hard for us. We need to make a free software distribution guys.[…]
Great social networking, updates automatically, software so strong you couldn’t knock it over if you kicked it, and you know what, you get ‘no spying’ for free. We can do that …
Since Mozilla Messaging launched Thunderbird 3 I started using it to see if this new version is better than GNOME Evolution, the email/calendar application I used in the past 4 years. Evolution is a decent email and calendar client and I love the integration in GNOME, but it stopped evolving and its GUI has many annoyances. I’ve used Thunderbird 3.0.1 for a couple of weeks and here are three reasons to choose it and why I decided to postpone the adoption.
Search and indexing: Thunderbird 3 indexing is fast and very good. The interface for searching and drilling your mailbox is fantastic, very well done and fast. Check the screenshot.
Tabs: I like to be able to read messages in different tabs. Lightning calendar and tasks conveniently open in a tab and it’s also possible to run Google Wave in one. This shows the power under the hood of this client: it has the potential to become a messaging hub for all services. It’s annoying that Addressbook and compose new mail open in a new window instead of tab though.
Add-ons: just like Firefox, there are many ways to add functionalities to Thunderbird. The first add-on I installed is Funambol in order to test it and help its development. Then ThunderBrowse, in order to avoid opening Firefox only to check a link in an email and EnigMail to add GPG/PGP support. Nothing mind-blowing yet, but I hope somebody will develop a replacement of the Addressbook with more ‘social’ features. A topic for another post 🙂
Bonus reason: finally! There is an “Archive” button: once you’re done with a message or a thread, and you don’t want to delete it, you hit a button and the message goes into the archives (archiving criteria can be specified). A neat solution for Capo’s problem 🙂
The Addressbook, on the other hand, is pretty lame. It doesn’t contain enough fields, it still has space of a ‘pager number’ (anybody still using them?), it opens in a window and not in a tab. I hope it’ll improve in next version.
I’m still using Evolution as my main source of data, especially address book and calendar. Even if Funambol add-on for Thunderbird 3 works decently, it’s still unstable and it has other small issues (if you want to help, Funambol offers Code Sniper grants).