Mozilla Wants Hundreds Of Thousands Of Firefox OS Developers

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Firefox OS will get overwhelming support because most apps are already written in HTML5, says Mozilla Europe president Tristan Nitot

The Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox OS, a smartphone operating system for smartphones originally called Boot To Gecko, caused a stir when it was announced in April.  The OS is based on HTML5, and Mozilla claims it will run lighter and cheaper than Android, providing an alternative.

Phone makers TCL and ZTE have announced plans to make Firefox OS phones. Operator Telefonica has promised to deliver “Firephones” in Brazil through its Vivio network, and showed a prototype in London earlier this month.

Boot to Gecko becomes Firefox OS

What does Firefox hope to achieve and how will it work with developers? Silicon France  asked Tristan Nitot, founder and president of Mozilla Europe.

The Mozilla Foundation has just renamed the project Boot to Gecko “Firefox OS”. But can we really talk about an operating system?
Absolutely. In terms of architecture, it is an operating system based on Linux, just as Android is. But we rely on Gecko, the Firefox web browser layout engine, to run applications written entirely in HTML5. We dropped XUL (the XML User Interface Language) in favour of HTML5, a language known to all web developers.

Even native applications, such as the dialer or address book, are written in HTML5, and users will be able to examine the source code to check it.

Your solution boasts its lightness and low hardware resource requirements. Can you adapt it for tablets or cheap laptops?
Initially, the Firefox OS smartphones will be powered by off-the-shelf Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM processors. It is therefore technically possible to adapt Firefox OS for other displays, but our priority is to focus on the smartphone market, because it will sell more of these devices, more quickly than computers.

More openness, not less

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When we see the difficulties of Microsoft or RIM to compete with iOS or Android, do you think the market really needs a new mobile OS?
Absolutely and it takes us back to the first purpose of the Mozilla Foundation. As you point out, the market is now controlled by Apple, whose IOS is completely closed, and Google, whose Android … is less and less open. Unlike the challengers that you cited, our ambition is not to impose yet another closed system, but rather to introduce more openness, and finally bring the whole web to mobiles.

Firefox OS is supported by several European operators, but not in France or the UK. Will “Firephones” reach more countries in 2013?
We will probably not see Firefox OS smartphone in France in 2013, even though our initiative is closely watched by French operators. Our biggest support is the operator Telefonica and we plan to launch a first line of smartphones, manufactured by ZTE and TCL , in Latin America and particularly Brazil.

[Update for the UK: A handful of networks have announced their support for Firefox OS (Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor, listed here).  We’re talking with many different networks and carriers, but not all of them are ready to announce publicly their interest, so I can’t comment further on this topic.]

Firefox already has an application store for its web browser. Will you turn it into a real App Store? How will you convince developers?
We will actually use the Firefox Marketplace ( ) to let mobile users download applications for Firefox OS, but we want to do things in a much more open way.

Applications can for example be installed directly from a website, without going through the Marketplace. There will be several application stores and applications can be submitted for free.

75 percent of apps are written in HTML5

We will of course build on the base of tens of thousands of developers of Firefox extensions, but our ambition is broader. By giving up XUL and adopting standards such as HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript, we want to attract hundreds of thousands of web developers on OS Firefox.

No need to learn the development languages of Apple or Google. It’s enough to adapt a site to the dimensions of a smartphone and then eventually take advantage of hardware features such as GPS, touchscreen and  accelerometer, that go with these screens.

We also believe that developers will overwhelmingly support our approach, because 75 percent of applications are already designed in HTML5, with an overlay to fit smartphones from Apple or Google.

The economic model of the Mozilla Foundation is based primarily on search referrals through Google  which is the default search engine in its browser. What will be that of your app store?
We do not know yet.  Firefox add-ons are free and those for Firefox OS will certainly be free also.  The war chest built up by the Firefox browser allows us to not worry about these issues at this time.

But we are not there to make up the numbers: Firefox OS is a strategic project for Mozilla and we hope it will  become a credible alternative in this market by reintroducing the openness it needs.

Jerome Bouteiller is Editorial Director of Net Media Europe. This interview appeared in French at Translation by (Google and) Peter Judge. 

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