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Fighting the Good fight

Good Technology CEO Danny Shader sees a fundamental shift in the handheld market--toward his company.

In the market for mobile business communication, Good Technology is trying to put its best foot forward.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company creates software that lets pocket-size devices handle wireless corporate e-mail. It's the same kind of software that made Research In Motion famous.

At Good's helm is Danny Shader. The 44-year-old chief executive previously worked as a vice president and general manager at Amazon.com. He joined Amazon when it acquired Accept.com, a company he co-founded and led as CEO. Prior to that, Shader was an entrepreneur-in-residence with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and with Benchmark Capital. Shader also was on the ground floor at Netscape Communications, where he built Netscape's international marketing team.

CNET News.com spoke with Shader shortly before the company announced a partnership with Sprint earlier this month.

Q: What kinds of change are you seeing in the marketplace and what are your opportunities?
Shader: Well, you know, starting at a high level, we really believe that the industry is at the beginning of the next wave of computing. We've had the mainframe era, we've had the mini-frame era, we've had the PC/laptop era, and I think we're just at the beginning of the handheld enterprise computing era. The first killer app for that is e-mail, but it's clear that people want to do a lot more than that. They want access to all of their critical backend data sources, and as a result, there's a fundamental shift going on toward industry standard operating systems--and away from proprietary systems.

If the so-called first killer app for business handhelds is e-mail, what are the second and even the third killer applications we could see out of this handheld computing era?
Shader: I think CRM (customer relationship management) and field sales-force automation, trouble ticketing (alerting IT managers to problems in a network) and such, are the next emerging apps. But I think there's a subtlety to this e-mail thing that I think people lose. There's a tendency right now to describe the category as just e-mail. What's interesting is with e-mail, you know you can read your messaging. The question is, how, if you're an enterprise, how do you securely deploy 10,000 users of messaging or for that matter, even 100 users of messaging? So, the e-mail may be e-mail, but the systems involved in deploying that are increasingly sophisticated, and so it's a huge matter of effort on Good's part and, I suspect, on others' parts in order to make sure that that's manageable and secure. And I think that's where the next, you know, big chunk of effort goes, and then beyond that you get to these applications like CRM and trouble ticketing and beyond.

How you are trying to get more people to think of your company first as opposed to the competition like RIM's BlackBerry? When people talk about business messaging, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is the BlackBerry. It's almost like a verb in some ways.
Shader: Actually it's a noun and I wish we'd chosen a noun as the name of our company... It's like they picked a better name, I think. But our customer attraction speaks for itself. Microsoft, (Palm), Motorola, Nokia, Dell...all those guys know who we are.

There are a couple of issues at work here. One is that if you believe as we do, this is a handheld computing business and not a messaging business. And if there is a natural affinity for standard operating systems, then frankly, I think it'll be Motorola and Nokia and Microsoft and Palm who will drive a share shift from RIM's proprietary hardware to standards-based hardware.

Patent-holding company NTP says you license their technology. I'm curious if you had any thoughts on how the patent dispute and contract negotiation between RIM and NTP is going to shake out.
Shader: I can't speculate. We took a license because we think it's better to spend our time and energy innovating on behalf of our customers rather than litigating at the end.

Have you gotten a lot more calls since this debate heated up between those two companies?
Shader: You know, I don't think customers pay much attention to it.

You mean your sales force hasn't capitalized on this kind of argument?
Shader: Actually, I don't think you see us ever talk about our marketing materials or sales. You know, we just...focus on the product, customer...Customers don't want to be engaged in that role. They want to be engaged on how you're going to solve their problem.

Last year, you to discuss your momentum in the industry. What's changed since then?
Shader: Well, our customer base...must have tripled...I mean, we had just massive customer adoption. There's been obviously the huge success of standard devices in that period. We're seeing the (Palm) Treos sell like crazy. We're seeing Microsoft obviously announce, you know, Windows Mobile 2005, which is terrific for Good. We've announced our relationship with Nokia, and we're working very closely with them. We've announced a partnership with Symbol. We've done GoodAccess (which delivers applications besides messaging to handhelds). We've announced carrier relationships.

Talk more about your partnerships. Who do you see yourself aligning with more often than not?
Shader: What we do is we let customers get any combination of those really that they want. If they want to get a Palm Treo, and they want to deploy Microsoft Office out on it, and they want to do it over, you know, their favorite carrier, we let them do that. And so, as a result, we end up with partnerships on the operating systems' side with Microsoft, with Symbian, Nokia, with Palm. On the application side, we've announced relationships with Oracle, Siebel, Salesforce.com and others. And then on the handheld manufacturing side, we have relationships with Dell, HP, Palm, Nokia, Symbian, Samsung, Motorola and Audiovox for that matter.

How important is R&D to you? Do you just let Microsoft, Symbian and Palm call the shots?
Shader: No, we have a very large R&D engineering organization, but what they do is they write software on top of the platform providers. When I ran developer relations at Netscape, I learned a lot from that experience. The most important lesson I learned is, don't try to compete with the major platforms as a platform provider; add value on top of them. And so, what we do is we add value on top of the regular operating systems.

And those operating systems include Symbian, Windows and Palm?
Shader: Right.

What about Linux?
Shader: Linux is sort of the dark horse that, you know, may emerge as an important player...as people want to build more applications around it.

We run on the handhelds that sell. So if somebody makes a Linux handheld that starts selling a lot, we'll develop for it. Right now, it appears that customers want to buy Treos. They want to buy Windows Mobile. And they want to buy Nokia devices. So that's the stuff we're writing for.

So does Good Technology have a Linux strategy just in case something were to pop up?
Shader: I'm really not being flip. We are always watching the market to see what sells. If people start writing DR-DOS on handhelds, that's what we're going to write for. I mean we're an application company, so we go where the installed base is.