Philippe's Revenge



My sense of personal computer history isn't really that long. I got my first PC in 1990 and started really paying attention to the PC industry a few years later after a temp job at IBM lead me into programming, so I missed out on quite a huge chunk of the PC history which occurred in the 80s. But being an über-geek that I am, I've read most of the required reading (like Startup) and seen Triumph of the Nerds at least a dozen times, so I've got a good handle on what was going one before I came into the industry. I was there for the dying days of the original big names. I remember Windows 3.0 and OS/2 were big when I first started with PCs. And I remember there were the suite wars between Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite and Borland Office... which included WordPerfect. As we all know, Borland, Wordperfect and Lotus fell off the map while Microsoft went on to become the $40 billion borg.

But though their companies may have faded from view, the guys who ran them are still around kicking up dust. For example Mitch Kapor - the co-founder of Lotus - has been in the news lately for his work on Chandra and for standing up against Groove's involvement in the U.S. government's dirty business. And it dawned on me just yesterday that there's another Old Schooler who we're probably going to see a lot more about again soon: Philippe Kahn, the founder of Borland.

Philippe's been a hero of mine for the past few years, ever since I read this Wired article about him in 2000. My worship of him didn't have much to do with him or his technology - though both are very cool - but more because he made his millions in technology and is now kicking back enjoying life with his family on the beaches of Hawaii and Santa Cruz, CA. The Wired article, if I remember correctly, talked about his high-bandwidth bungalo on the sand. Yeah. Baby. Where do I sign up for THAT life?

However, as fate would have it, there's a bit more about what Philippe is doing that I now realize has a lot more to do with me than just my desire to live in high-tech heaven on some tropical island. You see, after Philippe got ousted from the board of Borland in 1994, he went on to do some other cool things, which are now just becoming Very Important. First, he went on to start a company called Starfish Software which was eventually sold to Motorola in 1997. Starfish's main product Sidekick went away, but their sychronization technology called TrueSync - and related patents - have been a qualified success. In fact, Starfish worked with big names like Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Matsushita, Motorola, Nokia, Palm, and Psion in 2000 to create SyncML. There's one.

The other thing that Philippe has been working on for the past five years is a startup called LightSurf. And this company is the reason you're reading this right now. LightSurf makes software for managing digital images sent from mobile devices, i.e. MMS. Nokia is one of their customers. So now you're probably starting to see the picture (pun intended). SyncML and MMS - two very important technologies in the oncoming mobile revolution that's just starting and ones that I am currenlty obsessing over daily (including writing blog entries about it at 5 a.m. when I should be sleeping).

Yesterday, LightSurf announced version 5 of their Multimedia Messaging software for MMS which is what prompted my memory of all this. I remember when I first read about LightSurf and their software for compressing, sending and managing digital photos, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had heard of. Yep, that's me. Russell Beattie: Visionary. Well, in my defense this guy developed Pascal the year before I was born, so I shouldn't feel bad that he's way ahead of me on these things... But still, I'm just trying to figure out how to use these SyncML and MMS right now, and this guy has had a hand in creating/improving both. It's quite eye opening.

And just from a business perspective, if you compare Borland, which is slowly fading into oblivion with random name changes and various IDEs (that aren't as good as the open source Eclipse), to LightSurf you realize where the 'revenge' part of my subject line comes in. Philippe's set to get a tiny cut of all those billions of MMS messages sent in the next few years from licensing and the patents he has on multimedia messaging... Nice. There's a company I'd like to have stock in. ;-)

Actually, LightSurf looks like it needs engineers to work in its Santa Cruz offices, in case you're interested. I don't think my resume would get me a job right this sec, but in case my grand business plans for Mobile World Domination don't come to fruition, some of that work might look good enough on a resume to get me an interview, so that might be another "exit plan" to seriously consider. ;-)

Anyways, I wonder if Philippe is going to start becoming more visible in the news lately now that his company is becoming more and more relevant to many people's daily lives? From what I understand he was quite blustery back in the day, so it should be quite interesting to watch to see if he re-emerges from obscurity like some technical John Ritter...

Okay. Not tonight (this morning) but another business plan is coming up. This one - coincidentally - with an MMS focus.



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