Open-Source Startup Pushes Mail to Millions of Phones

6/18/08

Castile Ventures of Waltham, MA, together with Nexit Ventures, Walden International, and HIG Ventures, have invested $12.5 million in Funambol, a firm based Redwood City, CA, that develops open source e-mail software for mobile phones.

There are billions of cell phone users in the world, but only a tiny slice of us use our handsets for reading e-mail. That might change, however, if messages were “pushed” to our phones, the same way they arrive at our computers. Until now, push e-mail has only been available on a limited number of phone platforms, like RIM’s Blackberry.

The demand for broader access to push e-mail is there: I can see my editor Bob reach for his Blackberry to read his e-mail every other minute during Xconomy’s editorial meetings. But the variety of handset models and operators around the world combines to make the development of the necessary software extremely complex. Funambol’s idea is to apply the same open source model that has been successfully used to develop computer software like the Linux operating system or the MySQL database to mobile phone software.

Users, operators and software developers can download the Funambol program code, tinker with it, and tailor it to their needs and environment. So far, the software has been downloaded more than 2 million times, the company says.

Funambol and its commmunity of users are also developing programs for synchronizing calendar, address book, and note data. Several operators have already started to use the commercial version of the programs.

“Funambol recently signed a Web services company, two top device manufacturers and a large U.S. carrier,” Carl Stjernfeldt, general partner of Castile Ventures said in a press release. “With its blue chip customer base and market momentum, Funambol is the leading provider of open source mobile email solutions for the mass market.”

Erik Mellgren is a Swedish journalist who worked for Xconomy Boston in 2008 as part of the Stanford Innovation Journalism Fellowship program. His real job is with Ny Teknik, a leading technology and innovation magazine in Sweden, but he loved seeing the Red Sox at Fenway. Follow @

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