Firefox OS Is Fast, Open And Commercial – Brendan Eich

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Mozilla’s mobile platform is 100 percent open, but developers can make money, says Brendan Eich

Mozilla’s mobile platform Firefox OS is causing a stir. What TechWeekEurope has seen so far suggests a serious bid for app developer support, but raised further questions – we took them up with Mozilla’s chief technology officer.

Mozilla wants hundreds of thousands of developers for Firefox OS, the new name for the Boot to Gecko project. It now has support from operators including Telefónica, the O2 owner that recently showed off a prototype and plans to launch Firefox phones in Latin America.

Mozilla Europe head Tristan Nitot  told us developers would want to work with the platform, and a set of screenshots backed up his claims. However, some questions remained in our mind.

Can a system as open as Firefox run fast enough and will developers actually be able to monetise their apps? And if the idea is to develop in HTML5, didn’t HP’s WebOS try that already?

Mozilla’s CTO and creator of the JavaScript programming language, Brendan Eich, was kind enough to answer our queries.

Is Firefox OS fast?

FirefoxOS_HomeHow good is the performance of HTML5 apps?  Can HTML5/JavaScript compete with Objective C?
We believe that the Web is the platform and with the Firefox OS, we’ve built the technologies and APIs to make the Web a rich and viable option for application developers.

To date, these applications on mobile have been held back because they can’t access the device’s underlying capabilities as native apps can. Mozilla’s Firefox OS project overcomes these limitations and provides the necessary APIs to show how it is possible to run an entire device using open standards.

Performance of JavaScript has improved in an order of magnitude in the last several years. We are working on approximating safe native code performance for certain programs such as 3D games – feel free to check out the BananaBread demo I gave at Fluent TXJS

Also, neither JavaScript nor Objective-C dominates the critical path for web applications… the fast paths are often dominated by custom C++ code written to handle HTML mark-up parsing, CSS layout, DOM [Document Object Model] manipulation, etc. JavaScript is only part of the story and not directly analogous to Objective-C in Apple’s native stack.

Is it commercial?

Can the Mozilla Marketplace allow developers to monetise their work?
The Mozilla Marketplace will offer developers discovery, distribution and monetisation opportunities and will also be customisable by partners.

For example, Telefónica will provide direct-to-bill capabilities in the device, in case app store owners would like to bill Telefónica customers directly. But app developers are free to use their own billing systems if they want. You can read our Marketplace Payments Guide for further details of how payments work.

Is it harder to restrict and charge for a piece of HTML5 code?
No, it’s not harder to restrict and charge for a piece of HTML5 code, simply because such code is typically compressed, minified (if JavaScript) and optimised to be unreadable. Java code in Android apps is no more restricted. Generally the ability to charge for an app does not depend on obscuring the binary or higher-level code that is conveyed as the executable package for that application. Charging depends on many factors, including service integration, leader boards and new levels for games.

And didn’t WebOS already try this?

How does Firefox OS differ from Palm/HP’s WebOS, and why will this succeed where WebOS failed?
At the heart of Firefox OS is Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko, which has always been open and open source. The Open Web Device is also using a Linux Kernel (the same one used by Android devices) which is also open. This is a 100 precent open project where, for instance, operators and OEMs can actively and openly contribute to the code, instead of Mozilla developing internally and making code drops available.

WebOS failed to standardise or build on web standards, instead inventing another proprietary large framework. WebOS also suffered internal competition with an older, non-Web (Java-based) OS.

Mozilla has led the way on standardising missing APIs needed to run web apps on a smart phone. You can find more details on this here: http://brendaneich.com/2012/02/mobile-web-api-evolution/

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