RIM Looks to Open Source in Mobile Browsing--Is Microsoft Listening?

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 24, 2009

Although Research in Motion (RIM) has more than held its own in the smartphone market, it's been plagued by the fact that both the iPhone and Android phones have better browsing experiences. In what looks to be a move to become more competitive in mobile browsing, RIM has acquired Torch Mobile, which has the Iris mobile browser, for an undisclosed sum. As CNet notes, Torch Mobile relies on the open source WebKit engine for mobile browsing, and this acquisition looks to be a smart move from RIM. Microsoft may also want to pay attention.

Both Google's Chrome browser and the iPhone browser rely on WebKit, among many other browsers that do, including the Palm Pre's. WebKit has, in fact, become one of the most influential of all open source platforms because of its ubiquity in browsers, and its flexibility. In addition to WebKit, some reports are coming in saying that RIM intends to include full Flash and Silverlight support in a new browser slated for 2010. These moves could make a big difference for the company in the mobile browser competition.

As we wrote about here, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has cited open source, and WebKit in particular, as possibly becoming part of its own browsing strategy, and that could include mobile browsing. Ballmer said late last year:

"There will still be a lot of proprietary innovation in the browser itself so we may need to have a rendering service. Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8."

Microsoft would probably be well-served by moving to an open source strategy for its browsers, including on mobile platforms. Mozilla continues to gain ground with its mobile browser, Fennec, and has just released a third beta of it. Fennec is likely to inherit many of the extensions that have been created for Firefox, which could give it many advantages.

Just last week, we covered this post on GigaOm, which suggests that Android may kill Microsoft's Windows Mobile, and includes acknowledgement from Microsoft officials that they have made mobile missteps. RIM will undoubtedly benefit from having an open source browser to offer up, and with all the trouble that Windows Mobile is in, Ballmer and Microsoft should be looking closely at open source solutions as well.