If you use the Firefox browser instead of Chrome or Safari, chances are you have heard about Firefox OS, the new open source operating system for smartphones and tablets from Mozilla. The organization is serious in working to make the Web open and accessible to everyone.
Though this new mobile OS is an emerging technology, it is quickly catching the eyes of users, developers, and critics. In this post, we will have a look at what’s in store.
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Q1: What is Firefox OS?
Mozilla has developed Web APIs so that HTML5 apps can communicate with the device’s hardware, which was only possible for native apps until now, e.g. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Camera, etc.
Mozilla Foundation has always worked to make the Web more accessible to everyone, and apart from Firefox OS, there are other tools such as the Firefox Browser, Firefox Marketplace, etc. However, some critics report that it a Mozilla tactic to reach a bigger mobile audience in order to level up to its primary competitor, Chrome.
Q2: How is Firefox OS different from Existing Mobile OS?
A: “Built entirely using HTML5 and other open Web standards, Firefox OS is free from the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.” – Mozilla
Firefox OS is different – you can think of it as something more than a browser running on a very lightweight Linux-based operating system. Every app in Firefox OS including the Camera and the Dialer is a web app, i.e. a website in the form of an app. Simple!
Q3: What is The User Interface Like In Firefox OS?
A: Android is the inspiration for the user interface of Firefox OS. Hence, it has a lock screen, home screen and notification bar. However, there are some changes as compared to Android. The home screen shows a background image (along with the time and date) and has no support for widgets for now.
Sliding right on the home screen shows the list of installed apps; there is no dedicated icon to open the app drawer like on other mobile OS. Sliding left on the home screen shows the list of app categories, which when clicked, shows installed and suggested apps in the chosen category.
Long pressing the home key brings the list of opened apps along. Pressing the power button brings the power off menu. Pressing home and power keys together takes a screenshot.
Firefox OS’s user interface is better than iPhone or Windows Phone OS, but it is not as good as that of Android. Apps share common styling conventions, and thus provide a consistent design factor, making it easy for users to get around the app’s functionality.
Q4: How Are apps for Firefox OS different from apps for other Mobile OS?
A: Firefox OS, powered by Gecko engine, runs only websites in the form of apps, known as web apps. These apps are built using HTML, the same technology that powers the Web. These web apps will run on many operating systems in addition to Firefox OS. Every operating system (including Android and Windows 8) that runs Firefox browser will be able to run these web apps distributed through Firefox Marketplace.
Web apps will come in two forms for Firefox OS: hosted apps and packaged apps. Hosted apps will be hosted on Mozilla’s server and will be downloaded and loaded each time you access them, i.e., they are quite like web pages instead of apps, and they will not run if data connection fails.
Packaged apps will be downloaded once in the form of a compressed package and will be loaded from the local source each time you access them, i.e., they are quite alike apps on other operating systems. This is possible due to the local storage and cache features of HTML5 language.
Q5: What are the different ways to try Firefox OS?
A: Firefox OS, though still in its development stages, is worth a try. However, buying a phone for USD200 just to test the mobile operating system may not be in everyone’s immediate plans. Do not worry as you have other options to play with Firefox OS.
You can try Firefox OS in these four ways:
- You can use Firefox OS Desktop client for your operating system. Check the instructions for downloading and building Firefox OS Desktop client.
- Download Firefox OS Simulator add-on for Firefox browser (of course, you need to have Firefox browser on your system). Check the Firefox extensions page on Firefox OS Simulator.
- You can build Firefox OS Simulator from source and use Firefox OS in a simulated environment. Check the instructions on how to build Firefox OS.
- You can build Firefox OS from source and install it on your existing device (only if it is supported – check the question below).
It is suggested to use the Firefox OS Simulator add-on for Firefox browser because it is the easiest and safest method for trying Firefox OS. Building Firefox OS from source is tedious work and the Firefox OS Desktop client may or may not work successfully for you.
Q6: What are the devices that currently support Firefox OS?
A: Mozilla has released two phones with Firefox OS but so far they are only available for developers:
- Keon by Geeksphone
- Peak by Geeksphone
Firefox OS can be built and installed on some other compatible devices too. Check the guide for installing Firefox OS on a compatible device. It is even reported that Firefox OS can be dual-booted with Android on the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Some of the devices supporting Firefox OS are:
- Samsung Galaxy S
- Samsung Galaxy S 4G
- Samsung Galaxy S2
- Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Q7: How does it compare with Ubuntu for Phones?
A: Ubuntu for Phones is a mobile operating system built upon the Linux kernel, same as Firefox OS. Ubuntu for Phones makes full use of the mobile’s small screen and touch functionality. The full area of the screen is provided to the app’s content (i.e., options or controls are hidden) and swiping over the corners bring the controls in view. Thus, apps on Ubuntu for Phones provide better user experience to mobile users.
Firefox OS has web apps but Ubuntu for Phones has native apps as well as web apps. Native apps use advance APIs and powerful features, e.g device’s hardware and services, etc. Web apps are developed using HTML5 and CSS3, and lack powerful features that are provided to native apps in Ubuntu for Phones.
Q8: What are the plans for Firefox OS’ Security?
A: Mozilla is actively working on the security of its new mobile OS. Many of the security features are inspired from Google’s Android. These are some of the security features of Firefox OS:
Device screen or SIM can be locked with a PIN.
Permissions required by any app are shown to the user upon installation. Low-risk permissions (e.g., web access, etc.) are provided automatically to the app while high-risk permissions (e.g. location access, etc.) are first confirmed from the user, and then provided to the app.
Permission Manager (or App Permissions) allows the user to manually allow or block permissions for an app. This is something missing in Android.
Mozilla plans to bring device encryption (using a boot-time password) to Firefox OS in near future. (Source)
Q9: What does Firefox OS mean for the Future of Smartphones?
A: Firefox OS, if successful, will change the way we use the Web. We are used to visit websites but Firefox OS will bring an era where we will be using Web apps more than Websites. Ubuntu for Phones will also support Firefox OS to help bring in this change.