I'm told that Openwave (NASDAQ:OPWV) is more than just a browser platform, and that the company's real future rests with content delivery solutions, mobile messaging, and so forth. Fine. Let me introduce you to another company that lives off of that kind of product -- one that admits to facing lean times straight ahead.

That would be InfoSpace (NASDAQ:INSP), which counts mobile messaging, a managed mobile Web experience, and handset search and portal solutions among its toast-and-cream-cheese services. Sound familiar? I thought so.

And the similarities don't even end on that level. Like Openwave, Infospace was approached by an activist investor group earlier this year, and was asked to share some of its cash wealth and give up a board seat or two. Really, stop me if you've heard this one before, Openwave fans.

But unlike Openwave, which put up a (mean-)spirited fight and eventually drove away its suitors for good, InfoSpace decided to cave to some of the demands, paid out a special dividend of $208 million, and gave a board seat to Sandell Asset Management.

It's still a standalone market entity, but one with a weakened balance sheet and not much going on business-wise. The just-reported quarter saw revenues plunge 26% from last year, as InfoSpace got rid of its underperforming mobile media division. The $28.1 million net loss wasn't good news either, though that includes a special payout to employees and directors to the tune of $22.3 million, connected to that special dividend loot.

The special $208 million dividend ate up a significant chunk of the company's cash, slashing the cash balance to $197.8 million. That accounts for nearly half of the company's $412.8 million cash balance at the end of last quarter. Thank heavens for that debt-free balance sheet!

I think that this sort of massive special dividend and/or huge stock buyback (which is what Openwave was asked to do) is a sign of two bad things: For one, a lack of confidence in the business prospects of the actual operations. Otherwise you'd ask for a board position or two and try to reinvest in the actual business, rather than throwing that cash out the door.

And that brings me to point number two: This is an incredibly selfish thing for these investment firms to do. Take a large position in the company, force most of the cash out to the owners -- which tends to be the investment firm itself, in large part -- and then watch the remnants of that poor company flail towards its untimely demise -- gutted, rudderless, and without the resources to do any better. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sandell reduce its InfoSpace holdings soon, or liquidate its stake altogether.

So Openwave did the right thing, really, and only needs to glance over at InfoSpace for a sobering example of what could have happened. I don't think that either company is much of a viable investment, but one is in clearly worse shape than the other. Misery, thy name is InfoSpace.

But don't just listen to me -- our Motley Fool CAPS community largely agrees, giving InfoSpace the lowest possible rating of one star, while Openwave gets two. If you're at all interested in the mobile space, you could go with four-star stocks like Nokia (NYSE:NOK) or Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), both of which are direct competitors to various Openwave and InfoSpace offerings. Yep, the hardware guys have their own software and services, too.

Foolishness to go:

Openwave Systems is a Motley Fool Rule Breaker because David Gardner and his team still believe in the company. To see why, sign up for a free 30-day trial and read the latest update on this pick.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure loves the smell of napalm in the morning.