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Building the Developer Community...One Company at a Time

Building the Developer Community...One Company at a Time

Gina Centoni, VP of the Openwave Developer Network, Openwave Systems, Inc., is responsible for Openwave's developer programs and partnerships. During her nearly 15-year career in software product development, which has included stints at both Sun Microsystems and Apple Computer, she has consistently developed strategic technology initiatives that have helped create broad and deep developer communities.

At Apple, Centoni managed the development and delivery of developer adoption programs for Apple's graphic technologies, and product strategy for component architecture. Then at Sun, her bailiwick was as a Java product manager, and later, leading the development and delivery of the Sun ONE product strategy, Sun's software strategy for Web services. During that time, Centoni was senior director, product marketing, and managed the consolidated product strategies for Java, Solaris, Forte, iPlanet, and industry standards such as XML. Previous to Sun ONE, she had driven and developed the Java Platform product strategy.

Additionally, she played a key role in creating industry initiatives for the developer community such as Openoffice.org, the world's largest open source project.

WBT spoke to her at JavaOne 2003, in San Francisco, one of the world's largest technology conferences, already in its eighth year.

First things first. Gina Centoni had a very successful run at Sun leading the Java product marketing team there. So the obvious question to get straight right at the outset is: What lured her to Openwave?

Her reply reveals an interesting way of distinguishing between the two phases of her career: "Having been a part of the amazing team at Sun that drove Java was an awesome experience," she says. "It allowed me to be part of an industry revolution. Now, at Openwave, I have the opportunity to continue Java's evolution, by becoming a consumer of Java."

At Openwave, she explains, the company is dedicated to open standards that in turn drive leading-edge product development. "So now," she adds, "I get to work hands-on with Java from an application and infrastructure development point of view."

Does she believe that Java can be positioned at the very heart of the next growth cycle of consumer products - wireless data services? She does. "Consumer behaviors have been considerably influenced over the years by technology in a number of ways - first laptop computers, then MP3 downloads, then online auctions, and so on. Wireless data services are the next evolution."

The wireless data industry has been in a growth period for the last five years or so, but it has been only the last year when critical elements have come together to drive great end-user data services - fast networks, affordable color handsets, and the availability of content and applications.

Great End User Data Services Are Now a Reality
"These critical elements combined make the wireless data industry a very attractive place to be," says Centoni. "Openwave is the only pure-play in the software business for wireless data services," she explains, "and since I cut my teeth in the world of software (at Apple Computer before Sun), coming to Openwave is a natural jump."

Centoni also sees, she says, an enormous opportunity to grow a developer community in this space: "I like fostering communities around a hot platform!" - and Openwave is uniquely positioned, in her view, "to support, not compete with, developers." Openwave, in other words, is in business to be a key player in the overall delivery of wireless data services.

Given her Sun background, it's impossible to resist the urge to ask what she would say if, through WBT, she could send a message back to her previous management at Sun?

Her answer is immediate: "Keep investing in the Java community."

Centoni now is warming to her theme and you can sense at once her passion and clarity of purpose. "As Bill Joy teaches," she says, "'Innovation happens elsewhere.' The community is where innovation will continue to be driven. So I would say [to Sun] reach out, support, foster, and drive that community so it can continue to grow and refine Java.

"At the same time," she adds, "I would say to them don't lose the elegance of Java - growing Java is good, in the sense of a complete and rich development environment, but don't let it grow out of control - so big and so unwieldy that developers will want to look for the next big thing.

While still on the topic of Sun, it seemed like a good opportunity to ask Centoni about what her thoughts are regarding the java.net announcement made at JavaOne in June.

"It was a long time coming," she replies. "I'm very glad to see that Sun made the investment here. Sun really needed to support the open source community around Java - I am pleased to see the continued commitment. Openwave is a significant supporter of open development environment standards. We intend to be a considerable contributor to java.net. Creating an environment for developers to gather together, without the boundaries of commercialism, will drive continued innovation - and that is what software development is all about."

Since Openwave is positioned squarely in the middle of the wireless ecosystem, Centoni arguably has a unique view of it. With all the companies she now works with, I ask whether she'd care to give WBT readers her two- and five-year predictions for the wireless market.

Looking Five Years Out: 2008
"I'll start with the five-year part of the question," she replies. "I'm convinced that by then every consumer's primary means of communication will be a mobile handset. Users will be dependent on a wireless data handset just like they're dependent on a laptop/desktop today.

"We're an increasingly mobile society," she continues, "and have to come to a fixed location to communicate today. The mix required today is incredible - through voice, messaging, data, e-mail. We are being pulled back today, because it's hard to use, hard to get access in a consistent and seamless way to a single means of communication. Technologies haven't converged enough, all the different layers haven't yet come together sufficiently as integrated solutions so that you and I can access all the features needed."

Centoni feels that the technology is here and that it's our failure to bring the industry together that's preventing us from going where we need to go.

"I think that currently there's a 'forcing function' that we're living through," she explains, "with the rapid decline of revenues the operators are seeing around voice services. Voice ARPU has been completely commoditized. Operators have no choice - they must find a way to find more revenue, and wireless data services is 'The Thing.'

"Typically, evolutions and revolutions happen through consumer demand," Centoni adds. "This time, market dynamics are forcing wireless data services onto the consumer in a different way.

"I don't think users will go on being satisfied with upwards of three devices that they must currently manage on a regular basis, depending on their personal and business solutions. Having a combination of handsets, PDAs, laptops, desktops, and iPods isn't good. Consolidation of hardware solutions will force a new usage pattern as well."

Creating services that are relevant, Centoni insists, is key. "This is how technology can provide real value worth paying for," she says. "It will all be based on how usable these technologies are when tied together."

Looking Two Years Out: 2005
What about in just two years? "By then our phones will be MP3 players, so we'll start to see convergence into a single device. The laptop won't go away. The notion of portable and mobile data versus fixed will still be around - you won't create a PowerPoint presentation on a handset.

"But think about mobility and the things that are valuable when you are on the road," she continues, "like checking e-mail, taking a photo, sending it as an enclosure as part of an e-mail, and off you go. Or even receiving an alert to confirm that that PowerPoint you needed to work on tonight arrived in e-mail.

"The user is burdened today," Centoni asserts. "But check out V7, our next-generation client software. We want to make technology easy for the user. So Openwave's vision is: as easy as it is to navigate Macintosh, it will be as easy to deal with the same set of services on a handset. And for $100 or less."

Next I wondered how Openwave's leadership of the browser market was faring, now that a new class of operating systems for mobile devices has arrived such as Opera and Symbian.

"The problem with Opera," Centoni replies, "is that its browser only works on high-end devices. Whereas Openwave enjoys the largest installed base of browsers today - 400 million handsets and growing.

"Our experience with handset manufacturers and users gives us a vision for the next user paradigm," she says. "The Openwave market is the mass market - we think about millions and billions of users - not a niche market. Openwave believes, and has demonstrated by our V7 announcements, that we lead the market in looking at or creating the finder on a wireless device for the mass market. It is a finder for the phone.

"And that drives a whole concept of usability for the phone. Users don't have to think about the technology. Our design centers around handsets that reach these large populations with a form factor and footprint that requires a very elegant and efficient design."

Content Partners = Innovators
Now that Centoni is in such a poetic mode, I feel I can ask her for help in understanding something that has never been entirely clear to me, the issue of what working with so many content partners actually brings to Openwave. After all, it doesn't cost anything for those content partners to join the Openwave Development Network, so I can't help asking Centoni to explain how she defines the value in those relationships.

"One of the best parts of my job is working with the developers," she begins. "Game designers, content designers are truly on the bleeding edge. They have creative imaginations to understand what will be appealing to users today and in the future."

So is that where the Openwave Developer Network partners come into the picture? I ask. "Absolutely," says Centoni. "The Openwave Developer Network partners are on the pulse of the market. They understand what the latest youth market craze is: Brittany or Eminem - or both? Consumers have insatiable wants, so what's hot today won't be hot in a month."

Makes sense, I say. But she's not done. "Working with our mobile connections companies (such as Digital Bridges, IN-FUSIO, Mforma, Sony Music, and Moviso to name but a few) allows us to deliver innovation to operators. They will also bring forward the yet-to-be-invented consumer idea - for example, they may take location-based services combined with gaming to come up with unique solutions."

Java and BREW
Since she has mentioned gaming, I ask Centoni what Openwave's Java strategy is, and her reply is fulsome and passionate, as you might expect of someone who has helped formulate Sun's software strategy in her previous job.

"We evangelize Java to the developer community as a means to deliver compelling applications and content," she says. "And we also integrate it with our products, such as the Openwave Download Manager. We're an active participant in the JCP, to ensure that we're contributing actively to the evolution of Java in the wireless community. We share Sun's vision to develop the Java language as an open platform where there's a universal developer platform so they can develop for wireless data services."

Does BREW threaten Java, I wonder, now that it has gained a certain amount of traction with operators? Centoni thinks not.

"It's healthy!" she retorts. "In any open economic environment, a competitive landscape raises the bar on innovation and drives the development of best of breed consumer solutions. So we wholly support the presence of alternative development environments like BREW.

"Just like the PC world, where consumers have a choice between MacOS and Windows," she continues, "so consumers have a choice in the wireless world - it's BREW or Java. I look at BREW as the MacOS of the wireless world. It's a complete and consolidated solution where QUALCOMM controls the entire life cycle - chipset to handsets and application development and distribution.

"What is key, however, is interoperability. BREW and Java environments must be compatible."

Nothing to disagree with there. So I ask her instead, is there such a thing as a "killer app" in the wireless data space, and her answer is refreshingly different - and revealing. This is the secret, clearly, of Openwave's success.

"Usability," she replies instantly. "The breadth and depth of applications needed to fulfill user requirements is enormous, so it's not any one service that will become the killer application. The key is usability."

Centoni's vision, put succinctly, is that wireless data services should be "super simple."

"A user should not have to be aware of the technology - SMS, MMS, Java, BREW," she says. "The user should be able simply and elegantly to send a message, access e-mail, play a game, or browse the Web, for example, without having to click 16 times."

What about Nokia's N-Gage, which has received a lot of attention? Does Centoni think this hybrid device will fly?

"I respect what Nokia has done with this product," she answers. "I like that they're driving vertical market solutions - targeting a specific consumer set. It's a first-generation product, though, and the market will decide if they've gotten the key features right - pricing, battery life, game card usability, and so on."

Mention of N-Gage and vertical markets leads Centoni to observe that Openwave is a leader in the area of customization. "With the availability of the V7 browser," she says, "Operators can deliver unique user experience for a specific audience, be it teens or an IT-configured device for employees."

Openwave does everything from customized skins to prepopulated applications, she adds. So I ask whether the company eats in its own kitchen.

"Yes indeed!" she replies "It's one of the corporate benefits at Openwave."

She explains to me that her team manages a project code-named "Alpo." Apparently Project Alpo is an ongoing initiative to provide Openwave employees with access to leading-edge, customized wireless data services and handsets. "Eating our own dog food," Centoni calls it.

"We at Openwave believe it's critical to lead in the area of usability," she concludes. "And using your own products is the only way to truly understand user requirements."

What's not to like about that?

* * *

WBT will be keeping its eagle eye on Openwave in the next couple of quarters. Headquartered in Redwood City, CA, the company's recent performance and momentum seemingly gives the boot to the old perception that "WAP is crap" and that wireless developers and operators would be better off just ignoring it.

In other words, WAP 2.0, which takes advantage of XHTML, browsing, push, location, multimedia messaging, and other mobile technologies that developers and operators these days consider essential, has empowered WAP developers once and for all to move forward with creating compelling wireless apps using the Openwave platform. Apps that operators can make money on. Apps that we all as end consumers can enjoy and use. Everybody wins.

That, combined with the partnership announced earlier this year with Aplix, makes Gina Centoni and her 1,400 colleagues a force to be reckoned with. After all, 400 million units of client software shipped can't be wrong, right?

In a future issue of WBT, we'll be bringing you an Industry Perspective from Openwave's Thomas Reardon, VP and GM of the client team, who will have some big news to wax eloquent about.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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