Rumyra's Head

Firefox OS: What is it?

So you may have caught wind of some phones that were released recently - namely the Geeksphone - running new software, Firefox OS. But what the hell is it all about?

Some time last year, Mozilla - the web company probably best known for its browser Firefox - started developing software that could run on devices such as smart phones. This is Firefox OS. Think iOS or Android - you will see a very similar thing when you see a phone running Firefox OS - a nice flick through interface with icons representing the apps installed.

Firefox OS phones

These Geeksphones you've been hearing about are an initial release of handsets, running Firefox OS, which are aimed at developers so they can start developing and testing apps on them. There is the Keon which is more affordable, but not quite as powerful as the Peak. It looks like consumer phones will be available later this year in selected markets such as Brazil, Columbia and Hungary to name a few (more here). Mozilla are being supported in this venture by 18 mobile operators, including Telefónica.

So "why bother?" I hear you ask - we've already got iPhones, a million androids (some of which are quite affordable) and Canonical Ltd just released a mobile version of their free Linux distribution, (a free desktop operating system), Ubuntu.

Well let's think about the affordability - the Keon phone is €91, that's £78/$118 at the time of writing. This indicates it's not trying to compete for a space in the same market as the new iPhone or latest android, which you're looking at paying around £400-£600 new. Where as a new smart phone for under $120 in emerging markets, such as Brazil, begins to appear like a very sensible thing. What this affordability also brings is, not just phone connectivity, but also web access to markets which may not have been able to afford other more expensive devices previously needed to get on the web.

Apps are built on open web technologies. This means the same programming languages already used to make websites/webapps (e.g. HTML, CSS & Javascript) are used to make installable (packaged) apps. These technologies are free, modern and available to all. This is great for existing web developers as they can start to make apps with knowledge they already have. Using these technologies with more devices is also helping push them forward (a good example is the increase and development of web APIs).

Also, the code for the OS is open source, you can find it here on Github. Anyone can copy it and change it how they want and install their own modified version onto devices.

I hope this has helped explain a little better what Firefox OS is. Now we've looked past it just being another smartphone, things begin to look more exciting. Personally I'm excited, I support anything related to open web technologies and promotion of the Open Web Platform. And on top of all that we have a somewhat affordable smart phone. A sign of great things to come?