14 November 2007

Oh, Tell Me the Truth About Mobile

I don't really understand mobile, but I do understand its importance. So the news that the British company Volantis will be releasing a big gob of code as open source was clearly nice:

Volantis Systems, which provides the Intelligent Content Adaptation software delivering mobile content to more than 250 million mobile phone users worldwide, today eliminated price as a barrier to entry for companies that would like to capitalize on Volantis solutions to deliver content to mobile users. The Volantis Mobility Server is available immediately as a free download, and in the first quarter of 2008, Volantis will release the product under the GNU General Public License (GPL), version three, in the process contributing 1.2 million lines of code, based on seven years of development, to the community.

With more consumers and corporate customers moving toward the mobile Internet, enterprises need a simple way to build Web sites for mobile devices. Volantis Mobility Server provides an inexpensive path for companies to create this content and easily distribute it to the wide variety of mobile browsers on the market.

Which is all well and good, but couldn't you just do that with a CSS stylesheet? I asked Mark Watson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Volantis. He very kindly explained to me in words of one syllable why it was a smidge more complicated than that.

The basic problem is that there is no standard 640x480 resolution on mobile devices, which come in just about every shape and size imaginable, with handset manufacturers constantly adding more as they seek to differentiate their products from the others. This means that you need to reformat your Web stuff hundreds, if not thousands of times, depending on the device. And no, Google's Android doesn't really help here, because you've still got the hardware to cope with. This is clearly a pain, and where there is pain there is always a business opportunity to reduce that pain for gain - hence the existence of Volantis.

So, you might ask, why is Volantis giving away its crown jewels? The usual story: it currently has a number of jolly big customers, and thinks, probably rightly, that it will make more dosh if is has thousands of smaller customers. Since the latter are unlikely to fork out large sums for software, the code is going open source, with money made on services, as per usual.

Sounds sensible to me, but what do I know?

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