Wave goodbye

 

Openwave Systems remains the Rasputin of mobile software, cheating death time and again. Last week the company released its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings report, and in addition to revenues of $68.1 million, down 18.4 percent from a year ago, Openwave posted a net loss of $91.8 million, including a $54.7 million charge after discontinuing operations of its held-for-sale Musiwave mobile music service, acquired in 2005 for roughly $121 million. Other than the appointment of a new CFO, Jean-Yves Dexmier, the brightest news was that revenues were up $5.4 million over the previous quarter--still, the carnage wasn't quite as extensive as analysts feared, so Openwave's stock inched upwards and the firm hangs on.

But even Rasputin got his in the end--poison, multiple gunshot wounds and hypothermia will have that effect, especially in quick succession--and it seems Openwave is lurching towards its inevitable demise as well. In mid-June Openwave's board unanimously rejected a $335 million bid by shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners that would have resulted in a merger with fixed mobile convergence specialist BridgePort Networks, calling the offer "inadequate and not in the best interests of all Openwave stockholders." The board added that Openwave would continue as a stand-alone entity unless a "full and fair offer" came its way. That offer may never come: Late last month, reports surfaced that enterprise software company Sybase was recently mulling a bid for Openwave, but opted against a formal offer after determining its software platform wasn't up to snuff.

So now what? With so many rival mobile browsers available from exponentially bigger, deeper-pocketed brands, what was once groundbreaking is now commonplace, and Openwave has done little to suggest it has either the vision or the resources to reinvent its business. Given the firm's string of precarious deals, recurring executive upheaval and generally shaky decision making, a takeover seems like its best bet for continued survival, but it's difficult to imagine a well-heeled savior coming to the rescue so late in the game. Maybe Openwave isn't dead, but at this point it merely exists, and that's no way to live. -Jason

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