Firefox OS: walled gardens between web and apps to be demolished

25 Feb 2013

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In what might yet rank as one of the historical moments in the evolution of smartphones as we know them, major manufacturers, including LG, Huawei, Alcatel and ZTE, set forth on a course to deliver computing to the next 2bn people on our planet based on the new Mozilla Firefox operating system (OS) for smartphones.

Some 700 journalists attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona watched as some of the world’s major mobile networks vowed to bring a mobile operating system called Firefox OS to the world, starting with some of the world’s poorest economies.

More coverage from the Mobile World Congress:

Huawei launches what it claims is the world’s fastest 4G smartphone

Operators from America Movil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etilisat, Hutchison Three, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom have undertaken to carry smartphone devices from the various mobile manufacturers who have committed to the new Firefox OS.

What started out as a vision a year ago has, thanks to the actions of operators, phone manufacturers and chip maker Qualcomm, become a reality.

A new OS has been created that enables every feature to be developed as an HTML 5 application. In fact, on the devices demoed at the event, there is little or no difference between a web page and an app made for the OS.

According to its proponents, the difference between an app and a web page have been obliterated.

“A decade ago, the founders of Mozilla called a group together with the intention of making the internet a common good for society and decided that it should not be dominated by two companies only,” Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said ahead of the Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona.

Kovacs said many of the contributors to the Mozilla community ushered in standards like CSS and JavaScript.

Kovacs said Mozilla’s vision of producing a new mobile ecosystem controlled by not a few parties but instead by users and developers has been welcomed by the community of operators like Telefónica, Telenor and Deutsche Telekom, who are targeting the new smartphones at emerging markets.

Kovacs said thousands of contributors and volunteers make Firefox a reality for a large number of today’s internet users. “At the core of Mozilla is the belief of these people.”

He said that in 2012, the Firefox web browser was recognised as the most trusted brand on the internet. “This is a browser that is not driven by the pursuit of two universally profitable companies who are just in it for themselves. This was about creating a level playing field.”

Fixing a broken model

Kovacs described the present model for apps marketplaces as a broken model. “This is about the half a billion Firefox users and the billion more in the next few years.”

Qualcomm’s Dr Paul Jacobs said the new mobile OS will cater for apps that will run cross-platform on devices that run on the company’s Snapdragon processor.

“The key here is to drive the full web into mobile.”

Jay Sullivan, a senior vice-president at Mozilla, explained that the new OS combines web principles and web technology on equal levels. “This is a new OS and the goal is to bring everybody onto the ecosystem and allow them to blaze their own path.”

He said developers can sell their software directly to the user base from their websites rather than having to be part of the walled gardens espoused by Apple and Google and the same technologies they used to build web pages and apps will work seamlessly with the new OS.

“If you are building for the web you are building for Firefox OS, you just didn’t know it yet.

“The rise of HTML on mobile is inevitable.”

Cesar Alierta, the CEO of Telefónica, said the important thing is to bring the balance back to telecoms and the mobile web.

He said that by 2014, all operating divisions of Telefónica will bring the OS to the world. “This has the potential to change the market forever.”

Or as Marco Quatorze, CEO of America Mobil, put it: “This is the beginning of the end of the walled gardens.”

Google and Apple, you have been warned.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com