Firefox is no longer just a browser; it's a mobile operating system.
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Mozilla on Monday gave its Boot 2 Gecko mobile platform a new name, Firefox OS, and announced seven new mobile carrier partners have endorsed the project.
Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telenor are supporting Mozilla's Firefox OS, though the extent of that support remains unclear. Mozilla has lined up endorsements from executives at its new carrier partners, but those expressions of enthusiasm stop short of commitments to ship actual phones with Firefox OS.
"The network operators confirm their support for the objectives of the [Firefox OS] initiative," a Mozilla spokeswoman said in an email, "[specifically], building a new mobile ecosystem using open Web standards. The operators also confirm their high level of interest and belief in the new platform and commit to working with Mozilla to define the opportunities for Firefox OS devices in their footprints, particularly in developing markets where there is a significant opportunity for a better smartphone experience at low price points."
The first Firefox OS devices are expected to launch in Brazil in 2013, through Telefonica's Vivo. Device makers TCL Communication Technology, via its Alcatel One Touch brand, and ZTE plan to manufacture the first Firefox OS phones, which will be based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon line of processors.
Firefox OS was announced last July under the name Boot 2 Gecko as an effort to build an open mobile operating system based on Web technologies. Mozilla's primary benefactor, Google, already offers open-source mobile and Web-based operating systems, Android and Chrome OS. But Google's openness is insufficiently open for Mozilla.
"The introduction of the open mobile OS continues the Mozilla mission to promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the Web for users and developers," said Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs in a statement. "As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use."
Firefox OS aims to allow developers to create mobile apps using HTML5 atop a Linux-based operating system that anyone can modify. The two dominant makers of smartphones, Apple and Google, limit the ability of developers to alter their operating system code, and would-be challengers like Microsoft do the same.
HTML5, however, has not proven to be as appealing to developers of high-profile gaming projects as writing apps in native code. This is due to the immaturity of HTML5-oriented development tools, gaps in HTML5 compared to native APIs, and lingering performance issues, particularly related to audio.
Jay Goldberg, a research analyst for Deutsche Bank, expressed skepticism about the appeal of Firefox OS. In a research note published on Monday, he said, "While [Firefox OS] is promising, it also still has serious limitations that will limit developer interest, especially around gaming. While most of the industry believes that Web apps represent the future of mobile computing, the HTML5 standard still needs a few more years to prepare."
Forrester analyst Charles Golvin sees little demand for another open-source mobile operating system. "There's already an emerging duopoly market with Android and iOS," he said. "And Microsoft with Windows 8 will be the most aggressive to expand the market."
Pointing to open-source mobile platforms that have emerged, such as webOS and Tizen, he said, "Pretty much every one of these open-source alternative OS platforms has been dead on arrival. We're in a market today where the platform is secondary to the larger ecosystem of apps and content and partners."
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