Enter… The Firefox OS

Do you know what’s interesting about the current free-for-all for mobile operating system dominance? You guessed right! New entries! We are sure you have heard of The Firefox OS by Mozilla? Sure you have!

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Launching a new mobile OS is a difficult project since the market leaders, Android and iOS, have such a big lead. Even Microsoft, with its near-infinite financial resources and vast ecosystem of complementary products, has struggled over time to gain traction. With the rising standards technology giants have set for themselves as they duke it out for market dominion, new entrants will have to face what I call a chicken-and-egg problem: developers don’t want to write apps for a platform without many users, while users don’t want to buy a phone without many apps.

First off, to sustain any early momentum, Mozilla will need to convince developers to build Firefox OS apps. Firefox OS apps will be built entirely using HTML5. According to Mozilla, the thousands of developers who already know how to build Web apps will be able to build Firefox OS apps with minimal additional training. And because they’re built on open standards, Mozilla hopes that Firefox OS apps will work reasonably well on other platforms that support HTML5—which is to say, all of them.

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Thanks to ArsTechnica, we know the Firefox OS architecture has three layers, dubbed “Gonk”, “Gecko”, and “Gaia”. Gecko is the rendering engine at the core of the Firefox browser. Below Gecko sits Gonk, a bare-bones Linux distribution derived from Android. Above Gecko sits Gaia, a touchscreen user interface not too different from those found on other mobile operating systems. It makes sense that Mozilla would choose to make Gonk a derivative of Android because many device makers already know how to make devices that run Android. According to Mozilla “If you’re an OEM, you already have basically all the capabilities to run our system.” It is also worthy to note that since Firefox OS apps are essentially just Web apps, app developers are not required to use Mozilla’s app store at all. A developer can distribute a Firefox OS app as a “hosted app,” delivered from any Web server.

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Firefox OS looks familiar to anyone who’s used Android and iOS: when you turn it on, you’re faced with the familiar grid of apps. Swiping left and right slides in other pages of apps. And across the bottom of each page is a fixed set of four apps: the phone dialer, a text-messaging app, the Firefox browser, and the camera app. As with iOS, swiping to the leftmost screen launches a search app. But unlike iOS, this search app is wired not just to your own apps but also to the Firefox Marketplace and to the Web at large — remember, this is a browser-based OS. If you find an app you like in the search results, you can pin it to one of your screens for easy future access. Firefox OS comes with a range of built-in apps such as Facebook and Wikipedia, and even mapping services. A long-press on the home button invokes a task switcher so you can juggle among open apps.

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A contacts app lets you open up a screen full of information about people you know. It serves as a hub to phone them, send e-mail or text messages, or check their Facebook walls. Facebook integration also lets people import their contacts; Mozilla plans to add import mechanisms for services like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail — something it knows how to do by virtue of its Thunderbird e-mail software for PCs.

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A camera app, which also is accessible from the lock screen, has tabs for taking photos or videos, and it’s got a link to the built-in gallery app. That app lets you crop photos, apply some basic color filters, adjust contrast, and take actions like sharing photos on Facebook or by Bluetooth wireless networking.

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It feels so much like an earlier version of Android. It’s definitely good, though, that Firefox OS can get a running start in the app ecosystem by mobilizing the vast army of Web programmers — programmers who might well be happy they can reach Firefox OS customers without having to jump through nearly as many hoops as the Apple App Store or Google Play present. It is already available of several phones such as the ZTE Firefox Phone, Keon and Peek by Geeksphone. Firefox OS should be fully open to all by 2014 and if successful, it should change the way we use the Web. We are used to visit websites but Firefox OS will bring an era where we will be using Web apps more than Websites. Ubuntu for Phones will also support Firefox OS to help bring in this change.

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