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Gizmo scores Nokia coup

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson has learned a thing or two from competing with Microsoft. Life is much easier if you can get the dominant hardware vendors to bundle your software.

After founding MP3.com, and paying around a quarter of a billion dollars in damages to the record labels, Robertson went on to create the Lindows Linux distribution. Shortly after that, he was one of the first entrants in the SIP phone business with Project Gizmo.

We caught up with Robertson in Brighton on Friday, where he was being interviewed by Jim Griffin at MusicAlly's Digital Day contribution to The Great Escape festival.

Gizmo is basically a proprietary wrapper around SIP. It began life on Windows, Mac and Linux, migrated to smartphones, and since February, even runs embedded in a web page. It might not grab as many headlines as his music ventures - orbiting around MP3 tunes - but it appears to have stolen a march on its rivals.

In particular, Gizmo's close alliance with Nokia is finally paying off. After 18 months of graft, the Gizmo client now integrates tightly with Nokia's S60 handsets. Robertson told us that Nokia plans to bundle Gizmo with all of its WLAN-equipped N-series and E-series handsets.

"You can't succeed if you're not bundled," is how he bluntly explained Gizmo's strategy.

When we mentioned the new wave of SIP start-ups in the UK, such as Truphone and AQL, Robertson was dimissive of their chances of success.

"What's the cost of acquiring new customers?" he asked. "You can put up a billboard, but even that's expensive."

Gizmo, like Truphone and AQL, now integrates tightly with the handset's native address book and call log, an advantage of third party SIP add-ins such as Skype and Fring.

Then again, even if a SIP service is bundled, it still has to run the gauntlet of being kneecapped by the network operator en route to market.

Nokia made a beta of the S60 client available from its Beta Labs website last week [here]. Unfortunately, only versions for the N95 and N80 are so far available. Which is a bit pointless. If you have an N95 which has survived carrier sabotage, then you can download it from the catalogs application right from the handset. And if you have an N80, you really, really don't want to be doing VoIP unless you're a masochist. Here's hoping versions for a wider range of models will be along soon... ®

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