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Firefox OS: Disruptive By Aiming Low 286

Posted by timothy
from the picture-worth-1k-words dept.
judgecorp writes "As Apple launches a new slightly-improved iPhone 5, Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich says if you want a really disruptive phone you should look to Firefox OS. It's a low-cost low-end device — and that's the point. It uses standards so should be resistant to patent infringement suits, it will fit on featurephone-grade hardware, and it will run HTML5 apps without the restriction of native apps in an app store. In other words, it's aiming for the next 2 billion smartphone users, people who can't afford the iPhone/Android model." Reader rawkes has some (very warm) thoughts about Firefox OS, too, which helpfully includes both screenshots and a video demo.
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Firefox OS: Disruptive By Aiming Low

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  • WebOS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:01PM (#41341949)
    This sounds a lot like my current WebOS phone.
  • I read the title... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:08PM (#41342015)

    And thought: "What a load of crap." then I read TFA and the other thing and I was like: "Oh wow, this is not a bad idea at all." and then I thought: "Could have done with this earlier, though."

  • Apple will sue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by A12m0v (1315511) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:12PM (#41342041) Journal

    The homepage is a grid of icons with 4 icon dock in the bottom,

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:27PM (#41342225)

      Apple will sue

      The homepage is a grid of icons with 4 icon dock in the bottom,

      It's okay, the icons are round so they should be safe.

      ...Until a jury decides a circle is just a square with extremely rounded corners.

      • by jmerlin (1010641)
        So would you say.. Apple might sue over squares with rounded corners with rounded corners??
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by markjhood2003 (779923)

      It's remarkable how many phones copy that lame icon grid from iOS. The first reaction I have whenever I see a phone like that is how dense and cluttered the screen looks, and how little information it actually provides.

      You have to at least give Microsoft credit for coming up with a distinctive UI that doesn't look anything like Apple's.

      • by jovius (974690)

        True, but at least in the Firefox OS the layout is customizable with CSS. From the Rawkes article:

        Because Firefox OS is constructed using HTML, JavaScript and CSS it means you only need basic Web development skills to reach in and completely change the device experience. You could literally change one line of CSS and completely change the way the icons on the homescreen look, or re-write some core JavaScript files that handle phone-calls.

  • As compared to Firefox for Windows that is. If they can make Firefox run smoothly on a poorly spec'd device only a hardware-hacking Slashdot reader would love, why can't Mozilla make it run smoother on a multicore GHz-class desktop?

    Does this mean the X + desktop environment layer really sucks and that baremetal Linux can run Firefox faster than Chrome on steroids?

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      It just means that they disregard Linux completely and make all their design choices for Windows, even if those choices cripple the Linux version.

      The funny thing is that Chrome, which was originally Windows-only, runs better on Linux than Firefox, which was multi-platform from its inception.

      • The funny thing is that Chrome, which was originally Windows-only, runs better on Linux than Firefox

        I think it has something to do with Chrome being essentially the only UI toolkit available on Chrome OS netbooks. Google had to get it right.

      • It just means that they disregard Linux completely and make all their design choices for Windows, even if those choices cripple the Linux version.

        The funny thing is that Chrome, which was originally Windows-only, runs better on Linux than Firefox, which was multi-platform from its inception.

        You must be using a crappy version of Linux, or you haven't optimized FF properly. Try openSUSE - it's kept pace with the Windows version of FF very well for years. They've got their own Build Service and software optimization - they don't just slap together a bunch of pieces from various Debian repositories and call it a "distribution".

    • by godrik (1287354)

      last time I checked, the main reason was the compiler. They are not compiling the FF release for windows with gcc. But most distro use gcc.

  • Web as an OS (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:23PM (#41342167)

    The model of the web as an OS has been passed around since the turn of the century. The dot com bubble tried it. Oracle has tried it, repeatedly. Microsoft tried it. Every attempt so far has failed, and it was by people with far more resources than the Firefox team. I could type out a long list of reasons why this is, but what's the point? History tells us that no matter how promising it looks, and how pretty it is, it's destined for the scrap heap.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      You're talking about network computers? These were not web-based. They ran a special OS with server storage; applications were written in Java.

      When this idea was big (1997) they were too optimistic with their assumptions: that it was easy to wean people away from Windows, the absence of network infrastructure would not be a problem, and that Java was mature enough to write serious applications in.

      Now there seems to be rather less MS Office lockin, everybody has fast networking, and instead of Java we have s

      • there's this little company called Google that has this thing called ChromeOS. it is EXACTLY this ... an OS that boots into a browser. it's not lighting the world on fire either.

        • by fm6 (162816)

          So one particular product, promoted by a company with the marketing skill of an over-ripe banana, goes nowhere and the whole concept is dead? Whatever.

        • Re:Web as an OS (Score:5, Informative)

          by jlebar (1904578) on Saturday September 15, 2012 @12:27AM (#41343667) Homepage

          there's this little company called Google that has this thing called ChromeOS. it is EXACTLY [Firefox OS] ... an OS that boots into a browser. it's not lighting the world on fire either.

          (Firefox OS developer here) This is a common misconception, but Chrome OS is a lot different from Firefox OS, at least from an architectural perspective.

          Chrome OS is, as you say, an OS that boots into a browser. You're running a full desktop Linux client, including a window manager.

          In Firefox OS, the window manager is an HTML page. Gecko (that is, Firefox) shows the window manager. All your apps, are iframes (with special attributes on them). The browser is an app (a special iframe). The browser's tabs are more special iframes inside the browser iframe. There are a lot of iframes in Firefox OS.

          Also note that Chrome OS is not targeting smartphones (afaik). It's really quite different.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Agreed.

      This story comes hot on the heels of Facebook complaining html5 was a bad choice for their app as it was too slow compared to native.

      And now they want to run this already-slow (compared to native at least - and it will always be slower than native code) and put it on low-end hardware. Slow+slow. Great plan.

  • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad DOT arnett AT notforhire DOT org> on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:28PM (#41342239)
    When I want my phone to be 'disruptive', I usually just turn up the volume and then set my ringtone to some pop song...
  • no contract phones like Net10 and Tracfone. You just buy minutes and service days and each thing you use deducts a certain amount of minutes. No iPhone will do that yet that I know of.

    Tracfone I have, I bought a $15 Motorola Tracfone 5 years ago and still use it, averages $7/month for me. I am thinking of switching to a different model, but no iPhones and Android phones are available for the Tracfone pre-paid service. They are more likely to use the Firefox OS phone because it is cheap.

    • There are plenty of Android phones for pre-paid, like mine, though perhaps Firefox OS ones will be slightly cheaper.
  • Is it running on top of a typical POSIX environment on which I can run bash? That's all I want from a pocket computer.

  • Way off the mark (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:42PM (#41342333) Journal

    From TFA:

    The low-end approach means Firefox OS will run on phones with 256M of memory and a single core 700 â" 800MHz CPU, the kind of system which is underpowered when compared with iOS or Android.

    This is nuts. They're not targeting feature-phones at all... I was expecting something really low-end, with a fast HTML5 interpreter, instead of mobile java. Instead, they're targeting the low-end of current 1st world smart phones.

    Those specs are better than the Samsung Replenish, going for $80 on Boost Mobile or the Alcatel Venture, going for $30 on Virgin Mobile. Those are unsubsidized prices, too, meaning you can go out any buy as many of those as you want, without ever signing-up for service.

    So think of it this way... Do you want some phone specificaly designed for poor people, which doesn't have any apps, or a generation-old Android phone, which is much cheaper because they recouped their R&D selling it in the USA/Europe for years, and because the specs are slightly lower? A device which can run most of the millions of regular Android applications out there...

    It's pretty clear which way to go. Of course cell phone makers are nuts, and will try anything once, because the successes are so damn profitable.

    I think the FirefoxOS guys just know they don't have a product, so they're saying it's for poor people, so they can pretend they don't have to compete with Android, because nobody believes they have a snowball's chance in hell of competing with Android, here or in the 3rd world.

    • what a great marketing campaign- "the phone for people that can't afford anything better." i'm sure that'll go over well in the west.

    • by Karlt1 (231423)

      The original iPhone in 2007 ran on 400mhz Arm with 128mb of RAM. So the FF OS doesn't seem to be that efficient. Even my old HTC Hero ran well on less specs.

    • by Dan East (318230) on Friday September 14, 2012 @11:52PM (#41343493) Homepage Journal

      This really makes no sense to me. Rendering HTML is not easy nor is it efficient (memory or cpu wise). There are millions upon millions of iPhones and Android devices running with lower specs than 256 MB memory and a 700 MHz CPU, and they are very usable and responsive - EXCEPT for web browsing!!! So in essence, they're taking the one thing that low-end phones do worst, which is rendering HTML, and only allowing them to do that. The alternative is allowing NATIVE applications (and although Android is Java, the NDK allows binaries compiled directly for the CPU, which is what all non-trivial games use), which provides the best performance even on low end hardware.

      Really, in my mind, they have this completely backwards.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        To be fair, web browsers are so damn slow because they have decades of backward compatibilty, bug workarounds, special page rendering settings, and similar. It would certainly be possible to have a strict, legacy-free HTML5+js interpreter that is as fast as any other VM language (ala Java). But that still doesn't give FirefoxOS an advantage, just a fighting chance to possibly compete.

        They're betting that there are a huge number of javascript programmers... more than native and java/dalvik combined, which

  • by SeaFox (739806) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:51PM (#41342397)

    It uses standards so should be resistant to patent infringement suits,

    You'll be surprised what's patentable lately. And whether something is a standard or not has little to do with it.

    it will fit on featurephone-grade hardware,

    Running and running well are two different things. I'm skeptical until handsets are actually in the wild.

    and it will run HTML5 apps without the restriction of native apps in an app store.

    This is how "apps" were done on the original iPhone. There were Apple's apps, and there were 3rd party AJAX applets that generally ran from within Safari. And people complained because the quality of the user experience was hobbled by them not being native apps. The restrictions have nothing to do with whether they're native apps or HTML5 doohickeys. You can make native apps and not have an app store at all. Just let people load them to their phone direct from web downloads anywhere on the web or uploaded from flash memory card or USB sticks, kinda like how actual PCs work (for now).

    In other words, it's aiming for the next 2 billion smartphone users, people who can't afford the iPhone/Android model.

    Considering the iPhone 4 can be had for free now plus the iPhone has been available on prepaid for years, you could buy an older does-not-support the latest iOS iPhone pretty cheap now unlocked on Craigslist and avoid even the required Data Plan stupidity. If you can't afford one now you probably have things you should be focusing your money on instead (like food).

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:53PM (#41342421)

    No this isn't one of those asinine Apple did it first posts, but do try to remember back to the days of the original iPhone. The SDK wasn't available and people had to make do with Web based apps. There were screams for Apple to hurry up and release a native SDK.

    I wish them luck, and I do think cheap web based phones are a underserved market. However I think Brendan Eich isn't doing Mozilla OS any favors by trying to compare it to the likes of iOS or Android. They may find themselves in the same grave as WebOS as people wonder when or if a native SDK will come out.

  • At first I was like "OMG", but then I was all "Hmmm...."
  • by jbolden (176878)

    If I want a phone that's cheap then I want to use bad hardware. If I want to use bad hardware program efficiency becomes more not less important. Further to use HTML5 I need a rather expensive data connection, which means it is unlikely the phone is too cheap. OK so he say's he targeting 256m or Ram 700mhz processor.

    Just to put this in perspective:
    iPhone 1 420mhz 128m ram
    iPhone 3G 412mhz 128m Ram
    iPhone 3GS (being sold for another 2 weeks, runs iOS 5) 600 mhz 256m Ram

    So he's targeting the bottom of the s

  • Not that Disruptive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fm6 (162816) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:01PM (#41342487) Homepage Journal

    To be disruptive, a device has to attract developers and users. This one hasn't even got a hardware vendor. In any case, the constant screwups with Firefox and Thunderbird make me very skeptical that Mozilla can disrupt a church picnic, never mind find a place in an extremely competitive mobile device market.

    • by theweatherelectric (2007596) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:30PM (#41342685)

      To be disruptive, a device has to attract developers and users.

      The developers and applications already exist. It's easy to make existing HTML5 applications installable to Firefox OS. Just add an app manifest [mozilla.org] and an application cache manifest [mozilla.org]. It would be easy for ZeptoLab, for example, to make Cut the Rope [cuttherope.ie] installable to Firefox OS.

      This one hasn't even got a hardware vendor.

      You should read one of Telefonica's press releases [telefonica.com]. Firefox OS has both operators and hardware manufacturers.

      • by theurge14 (820596)

        All I see are press releases, no phones. What exactly is so "disruptive" about this? Existing smartphones available in stores now are already running HTML5 applications.

      • by fm6 (162816)

        It's easy to make existing HTML5 applications installable to Firefox OS.

        Provided they don't use any of the HTML5 features that Firefox doesn't support. If you send FF to html5test.com you'll get a score of 350 or so — not very impressive.

        Anyway, you're missing the point. The issue here is not what technologies Mozilla has. The issue here is their habit of screwing up the technologies they do have. I stuck with FF for years after Chrome came out because their developer ecosystem was so much more mature and advanced. But I finally got tired of their screwups and switched to

    • by fermion (181285)
      If it is HTML 5, there are developers. The only problem is that many developer develop for a specific screen size, so though HTML and CSS should be able to automatically adjust to devices, it seems we mostly do not have the tools to allow the average developer to do so.

      The limitation of such a device is the limitations of all networked devices. The network must be always on and efficient. The advantage of Apps is that even when one is not in a good coverage area, one can still do quite a lot. This is o

  • by mcrbids (148650) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:14PM (#41342583) Journal

    ... THIS TO SUCCEED!

    As a developer of web-based apps, we're often asked for "an app" for our product. Yes, our app is web-based, and we do make a custom CSS for mobile that eases some of the pain, but being purely web-based has problems too, in that even with cellular you can't truly bank on 100% online 24x7, resulting in application errors, lost data, etc. There are "local install" options but it's very tough to get much done with only a few MB of local storage available without having to endlessly bombard the end user with requests for more space.

    Simply put, there's just not a good way to build a standard, packageable js-only app and I really, REALLY want the Mozilla/Firefox team to come up with a compelling enough solution that Android/IOS has to follow suit for compatibility and let me FINALLY build an app usable by everyone.

    Apple will fight this tooth and nail. I may have to do the same thing I did with IE years ago: simply refuse to support it. (sigh)

  • It's a 6 cylinder Chevy Nova, Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant. Get the job done. Little else really matters. Frills tend to backfire.

  • that I can use to overwrite the Firefox OS if I ever get a mobile device with FirefoxOS in it
  • I'm betting on HTML5 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Art3x (973401) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:37PM (#41342717)

    Let the reader be warned that the two articles linked to from the summary are a gushing review by a Mozilla employee and an interview with the Mozilla CTO.

    Even so, how many operating systems announced lately are saying that their API is basically HTML, CSS, or JavaScript? Google Chrome OS, Tizen, node.js, Blackberry 10 (sort of at least?), Windows 8 Metro, and now Firefox OS.

    DISCLAIMER: I am a web programmer. (And right now, I'm happy to be one.)

    Standard response to the myriad complaints about having to use JavaScript: JavaScript, as a language, is nice. Its history is tainted by incomplete browser implementations, namely Microsoft's. Also, its low level of entry flooded the web with really bad examples. If you really want to learn JavaScript, read JavaScript: The Definitive Guide or JavaScript: The Good Parts.

  • Less is more (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Art3x (973401) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:41PM (#41342753)
    It sounds like they agree with Jason Fried, who cowrote the book Getting Real, which you can read free online. To wit, this chapter: Build Less [37signals.com].
  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:49PM (#41342791)

    It uses standards so should be resistant to patent infringement suits,

    That is NOT how it works. Standards are not a defense against patent claims, especially on the web, where some of the basic technologies like video display codecs are patented up the wazoo.

    The evil of patents is that even if you mind your own business and do everything right, some American Troll who paid money to Uncle Sam's Patent Emporium can attack you and 1) stop you doing business, 2) demand money for past "infringements".

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday September 14, 2012 @10:03PM (#41342901)
    I'm always struck by how consistently Slashdot comments go extremely negative on new technology. According to Slashdot everything new is already a failure. This is a true knee jerk response.

    This is just like the whining about the Raspberry Pi. It was pronounced an utter failure on Slashdot before it shipped, and they have now sold 200,000 units. Demand is still high enough that there are complaints about delivery times.

    Did it take over the educational market for tiny computers? It's too soon to tell. It has to get into the hands of early adopting teachers first. Then it has to get wider acceptance in the educational domain, which can take time. Even if it doesn't have the impact they were hoping for in education, it can be a success in other areas. Success is success.

    Consider Firefox OS. When it gets going it will be considerably less encumbered then Android. Look at what Google did to Acer when then tried to bring out a smart phone: http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/12/09/13/1916211/alibaba-says-google-threatened-acer-with-banishment-from-android [slashdot.org]. It will also be intrinsically much less vulnerable to the ridiculous patent wars.

    Mozilla has already shown that it can run on the Raspberry PI, which is a very cheep device. I can see an opportunity for a Chinese manufacturer to bring out a dirt cheep smart phone/tablet for their domestic market and not worry about Apple/Google/Motorola or other patent parasites. Since they practice Real Capitalism in China (unlike the monopolistic pseudo-capitalism here in the US) I expect to see someone try this.

    Maybe Firefox OS will be a dud. I honestly don't know. I am very interested to see how the effort turns out.

    I do know that this kind of bashing is a form of public masturbation that is extremely popular on Slashdot. It's boring and stupid. Can't you go somewhere else when you decide to wank off in public?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2012 @11:29PM (#41343393)

      My favourite is the people on /. who still, consistently, claim the RPi is a giant waste of money and that people should just buy old used x86 machines from a dump. It's even more amusing when these people claim such a plan is suitable for stocking a /computer lab/.

      I gave up a long time ago reading the comments here to try and get any sort of useful insight, as most of them are people ranting over and over again about how the glory days of the 90s should live on forever, and how anything else is just not worth bothering with.

      Possibly a more contextual example to this story is the comparisons to WebOS and the original iPhone's software stack, and how HTML5 apps were a giant disaster on those platforms, as well as the people who claim that HTML isn't a platform and never will be. Well, aside from the fact that people, you know, learn from history's mistakes, turns out there have been major improvements in the last 5 years in computing:

      - Huge optimisations in graphics in general, which is really what 99% of consumers care about in terms of their phone experience
      - Huge optimisations in layout engines and rendering engines for HTML
      - Optimisations in JavaScript runtimes that are now orders of magnitude faster than they were back then, even on the same hardware
      - Huge optimisations in memory management
      - Several new revisions of the OpenGL API for embedded systems
      - SIMD instruction sets for ARM are now widespread

      Whether people here like it or not, turns out the web is already a platform. Is it ideal? No. But it's an accessible platform for any reasonably intelligent person to be able to make something half decent, and it seems that far outweighs any sort of technical superiority for a content delivery platform (which is effectively what the web is). To claim the web is not a platform is just outright denial. Zuckerberg has about 900 million reasons why those people are wrong.

  • So, their angle is to offer a "truly open platform" and pair up with hardware vendors to sell cheap devices to "emerging markets" instead of taking on iOS and Android directly. And I should think not since they are 5 years behind both of them.

    But yet again what we see is another potential contender pay lip service to users by claiming that what they are clamoring for is an "open, flexible platform" that they're not getting in an iOS/Android world. And again when we read between the lines we see the true f

  • Users won't care (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afgam28 (48611) on Saturday September 15, 2012 @12:48AM (#41343755)

    There's not much I enjoy more than watching their expressions as they go through the various stages of emotion while playing with the devices
    1. It starts with mild confusion — a sort of 'Why have you just given me an Android device?' look
    2. Following confusion is sudden realisation that this isn't Android, it's built using JavaScript
    3. After a short while the excitement starts in a sort of "Holy shit!" mind-blowing moment

    So people get a "'Holy shit!' mind blowing moment" because they realise it was programmed in JavaScript instead of Java? That's only because they're programmers, and they know that HTML/JavaScript has historically had shit performance and a crappy UX. Try this with non-programmers, and they will have no reason to be impressed.

    Users don't give a fuck whether apps are written in JavaScript or Objective C or Java or C#.

    Let's do a car analogy here. Suppose you're at a dealer's lot, checking out a car. You're looking at a car that is totally average. Nothing special, and it even felt a bit sluggish during the test drive. So you're wondering why all your automotive engineer friends are so impressed with it. Then you ask them, and their response is "Did you check out the wiring harness? It's routed really cleanly! And all the drivetrain components are totally modular and extensible!"

    This is what it feels like talking to programmers sometimes. It's astonishing how so many programmers just don't get it.

    Apple got it. When the iPhone was first announced, Steve Jobs didn't get up on stage and talk for two hours about what language they developed the apps in. The iPhone wasn't awesome because it used Objective C. It was awesome because you could hold a web page in your hand and directly manipulate it with your fingers! It was awesome because pinch and swipe gestures made an app like Google Maps possible on a phone.

    What does Firefox OS give users that Android doesn't? All these guys have done is recreate the Android experience using JavaScript. If the users don't know what JavaScript is, why should they care?

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