David Zax

A View from David Zax

Here Comes Firefox OS

Mozilla puts out an alpha version for testing.

  • November 21, 2012

Mozilla has long been promising to make a mobile OS of its own, and this week, it opened up a prototype simulator for all to test. The thing is a little buggy still, but by putting an early build out there, Mozilla presumably hopes to entice developers to create apps for the platform. You can even try it out yourself by heading here.

If you’re not inclined to fiddle around with the OS yourself, there’s also this video released in September. The mobile OS doesn’t seem to break a lot of new ground, at first glance.

Florence Ion over at Ars Technica, something of an Android expert, says that Firefox OS “borrows a lot of its design elements from Android.” The OS is very much in the alpha stages, so some of the features presented are only promises, so to speak. You can send a virtual text message, not a real one. And when you pull up the camera app, you can’t actually take a picture–though it will pull up image you have on your computer.

Ion nonetheless thinks the OS “shows promise,” and that overall it’s “a good thing” to have another mobile OS in the world.

The reason to be excited about Mozilla throwing its hat into the mobile OS ring is that Mozilla’s platform will be more open, it claims, than the likes of iOS. Mozilla says its OS will be “free…from the encumbrances of the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.” So long, walled garden. Hello, wild forests.

“We’re collaborating with OEMs and carriers directly,” says Mozilla, “giving them more influence to meet the specific needs of their users and market. Users and developers aren’t locked in to one platform, so they can access their info and use apps across multiple devices.”

Another reason to be excited by Firefox OS is that, as a browser company first and foremost, Mozilla takes a different approach. As Ion succinctly explains, “The platform is entirely based on standards-based Web technologies (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) and this makes the barrier to entry for developers quite low.” The OS has Web DNA through and through, and the Web is a notoriously open place.

Mozilla’s Andreas Gal recently spoke at a summit in London, the Guardian reported, and Gal laid out Mozilla’s vision. He wanted to break out of the “silos” presented by competitors like iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7. “We think we can change this.. by doing the same thing we did on the desktop,” he said. “The idea is that you take the web and web technology in HTML5 and make it the central piece… The goal is not to lock people into our services, but to create a level playing field.”

Gal added that the initial market Mozilla would focus on was entry-level smartphones; it wouldn’t be taking on the likes of the iPhone 5 anytime soon. Fundamentally, to have a non-profit organization entering the money-saturated world of smartphones can only add a refreshing new dynamic to the system.

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