The VAR Guy

June 5, 2012

2 Min Read
RIM: Don't Open Source BlackBerry OS

As RIM’s business implodes, some pundits want the smartphone company to open source BlackBerry OS. The move, some pundits say, will attract developers to RIM’s mobile operating system and save the smartphone company from its death spiral. The VAR Guy says hogwash. And here’s why.

You know the basic facts. Research In Motion’s stock (RIMM) is trading at its lowest point since 2003. The executive team has suffered massive turnover. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trends tied to Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones and tablets are destroying RIM’s business.

Now, pundits like NetworkWorld offer this advice:

“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.”

Alas, The VAR Guy has heard this argument before from the open source crowd:

  • When IBM OS/2 was near death, pundits said open source it. That never happened and IBM focused its software efforts far more wisely on data management, business intelligence and middleware.

  • When Symbian was near death, pundits said open source it. That happened in 2010. Did Symbian experience a renaissance? Absolutely not.

  • When HP stumbled badly with WebOS last year, HP announced a WebOS open source strategy. Have developers flocked to WebOS? Absolutely not.

Bottom line: Each time a piece of proprietary software falls ill, some pundits automatically assume open source can save the software. That’s just plain wrong.

How about this for a vastly simplified RIM strategy:

  • Cut costs faster than sales are falling. Imagine that.

  • Offer fewer smartphones, which will speed customer buying decisions.

  • Kill the PlayBook tablet. (Why does this slow-selling product still exist? And why is RIM ignoring obvious warning signs about the PlayBook distraction?)

  • Refocus on what CIOs and CXOs love: Secure, responsive, reliable communication devices, especially in the government market.

  • Figure out a way to go private.

Bottom line: Open source ain’t the answer. Software developers are super busy writing apps for Android and iOS. Those ISVs don’t have time for yet another app platform. But what if BlackBerry could somehow emulate the best Android and iOS apps while still offering the type of security and mobile device management that top customers crave. Now that would be an interesting story…

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