Firefox OS: it isn't for you (yet)
22nd Jan 2013 | 17:20
Mozilla wants to save the web again
I have a lot of love for Firefox, and for the good people of Mozilla: the web might be nice now, but if they hadn't come along and fought Microsoft, today's internet would be marginally less fun than getting punched repeatedly in the face.
The problem at the turn of the century was that developers were coding for and testing on just one platform - Microsoft's Internet Explorer - and ignoring everything else. "To the codemobile!" Mozilla shouted. "We must save the web!"
Save the web it did, but as every superhero knows, when you knock down one bad guy another one always comes to take his place.
Today, developers are either coding for a single browser platform - WebKit - or they're bypassing the web altogether, lured into the warm embrace of walled-off app stores selling platform-specific wrappers for web services. To the codemobile!
Everyone's a winner, baby
Firefox OS isn't for you, Mr iPhone user, and it isn't for you either, Miss Galaxy S3. At least, it isn't at the moment. We live in countries where the markets for smartphones are so saturated that we'll throw a big strop if the iPhone 6 doesn't make us levitate.
Most of the world isn't that jaded, and doesn't have our spending power - and it's those markets where Firefox OS could make a big impact. It's designed to run on what to us looks like hopeless hardware (single core processors? How 2008 of you), and it doesn't do native apps. They might look like native apps, and they might work like native apps, but they're just website bookmarks. It's all HTML5.
Mozilla reckons that we're doing apps wrong, and that if we're not careful we're going to lose the open web we take for granted today. By making Firefox OS hugely popular in emerging markets, Mozilla hopes to stop that process in its tracks.
Will it work?
Optimistic-me hopes so, but grumpy-me isn't so sure. Firefox isn't the only OS targeting developing markets - there's Tizen and Ubuntu too, and while RIM hasn't even relaunched the BlackBerry OS yet, it's already talking about a possible future where it doesn't do hardware and licences the OS out instead - and we've already tried the web app thing.
Remember the original iPhone? It launched without native apps - and the entire world blew raspberries at Steve Jobs until he changed his mind.
Mozilla is betting that it can make the web as good as native apps, not just on smartphones, but on low-powered featurephones too. It's a big bet - but then again, so was going up against a web browser with near-99 per cent market share. You might not end up running Firefox OS, but you might enjoy the web apps it spawns.