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If the desktop is dying, mobile sync is king

As mobile devices proliferate, the importance of open cloud sync services enabling a many-to-many device syncfest becomes critical to computing freedom.

Google has proclaimed that the conventional PC will become "irrelevant" within the next three years, and it insists that it puts mobile first in development.

That's a bold statement indicating just how much Google is betting on the mobile Web. But it's also an indication of just how critical synchronization technology is going to become--especially syncing to an open Web.

Traditionally, sync has been that thing you do between your desktop and your one mobile device to ensure that calendars, address books, and even browser bookmarks are current between the two islands of computing. But in a mobile Web world 1 billion devices strong, as IDC predicts for 2010, it's certain that sync will no longer be constrained to one-to-one relationships, but rather will explode into a many-to-many syncfest.

And it will be all about mobile, all of the time.

Already, my family is converging our music libraries into a metalibrary from which we individually sync our preferred tunes on our various smartphones and laptops, while I sync bookmarks and address books across five different devices (three laptops, two phones/music players).

As perhaps implied by my example, we're not going to see the desktop die, as Google pontificates, but rather become more mobile (laptops become Netbooks become smartbooks become...?) and much more connected through sync technologies such as Funambol and Mozilla's wonderful Weave technology.

Mobile is additive, not destructive, to the traditional computing landscape, as even Google's search traffic experience shows.

Syncing is critical to making the mobile revolution work. And the nebulous cloud will become the anchor point for our mobile data, with the nodes (Android, iPhones, laptops, etc.) in a constant state of flux.

For this reason, open-source advocates and others who worry about freedom should give at least equal weight to open clouds, not fixating exclusively on open mobile devices. Hence, while I'm ecstatic to see open-source pioneer Tim Bray join Google's Android team, I'm unconvinced by his apparent argument that the device trumps all when it comes to freedom:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet's future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It's a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers.

The people who create the apps serve at the landlord's pleasure and fear his anger...The big thing about the Web isn't the technology; it's that it's the first-ever platform without a vendor...From that follows almost everything that matters, and it matters a lot now, to a huge number of people. It's the only kind of platform I want to help build.

An open node is a good start, but the problem is that the Web, as Bray envisions it, isn't truly a platform without a vendor. Not anymore. Google, Microsoft, and others are battling to own the Web and the data that resides within it.

For that reason, it's the cloud--that central repository for our data to which all the nodes sync--that matters, and if that cloud is closed, or simply hard to extract data from that cloud, it really doesn't matter how wide Google opens the access points. Google has been making strides toward opening the cloud, but it still has a long way to go. We all do.

It's this desire for open clouds and open syncing to those clouds that is blessing Funambol's open-source mobile sync business. It's the same desire that will likely create a host of new competitors in this fertile mobile-sync market.