Open Source BlackBerry: RIM's Last Resort

Open source offers last best hope to once-proud RIM.

Lots of news is emerging about RIM's continued slide and their hiring of bankers to explore strategic options. Some options are to find licensees for their technology, or even an outright sale of the company. Back in December one of my predictions for 2012 was that RIM's efforts to reinvent themselves and their BlackBerry would fail and they would become irrelevant. I stick by my prediction and say that this will make it even harder for RIM to find any suitors to buy or license their technology at an acceptable price.

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So what is the best course for this once high-flying tech powerhouse? The strategy is simple, if you can't beat them, join them. RIM should open source the Blackberry OS. By setting it free, handset makers who want to offer enterprise-ready, secure mobile technology will have a viable alternative to Apple, Google and Microsoft. At the same time, these handset makers and other developers can give Blackberry what it lacks: more sizzle, more consumer appeal and greater app availability.

I believe there are plenty of companies out there who are not happy watching Apple and Google seize the mobile market, which will be the dominant computing platform for the foreseeable future. Microsoft and Nokia have formed one such alliance to battle Apple and Google. But there are others out there. Samsung, Sony and Facebook are some examples who would welcome another choice in the market. 

Of course, HP was a company that wanted its own mobile OS choice and we know how badly they fumbled the WebOS fiasco. But at the end of the day they had the right idea: open source WebOS. So far, we have yet to see the tangible results of HP's action, but really it was their only choice. Just as it is RIM's only play today.

So how does RIM make money by open sourcing Blackberry OS? There are actually several ways. They could continue to be a handset manufacturer building phones and devices that leverage the changes that the OS will undergo out in the open source wild. They could keep the server back-end and continue to monetize that. Another angle would be to concentrate on mobile device management, using the free Blackberry OS as a Trojan horse to gain traction with other mobile device makers and offer management of their devices as well.

I continue to believe that there is room for more mobile operating systems then we have now.  Blackberry is a trusted brand and, if open, I think developers would be more willing to expand and extend its capabilities in ways and to places that RIM was just incapable of taking it. 

Frankly, what other choice do they have? HP explored the same options RIM is looking at now. They found no viable options and in the end went the open source route. The same choices will present themselves to RIM. But what RIM can do differently is plan how to leverage an open source BlackBerry OS to save the company. RIM was a titan of the tech industry just three years ago. If they are to regain any of that cache, they need to leverage an open source model.

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