Mozilla Gives Up On Firefox OS
Written by Ian Elliot   
Wednesday, 09 December 2015

Mozilla has just announced in vague terms that it isn't going to be pushing Firefox OS any more. This isn't a huge surprise given the way things were, and are, going. What does the future now hold?

Mozilla has been in decline for some time now. Its main problem is that it is an open source non-profit that looks to the outside world very much like a corporation in the style of Google or Microsoft. It is an example of an entity that probably was never meant to exist and what we are watching is its decay back into something more like the other open source foundations. 

The announcement regarding Firefox OS was made in as low key a way as possible at the Mozilla developer event in Orlando - Mozlando - and so far details are few and far between. The main news seems to be that Mozilla isn't going to be producing any more Firefox OS phones and isn't going to be seeking partners to produce such phones. If this is so then there isn't much point in Mozilla developing Firefox OS any further. 

Of course as Firefox OS is an open source project this doesn't mean it is dead. Open source project don't die, this is one of the advantages of open source; they do, however, fade away. As Firefox OS depends a great deal on having the hardware to run it then it is probably going to fade faster than most. 

Why did Firefox OS fail?

One of the problems with Firefox OS is that it was more attractive to programmers than users. The idea of being able to write pure HTML/JavaScript apps that were "native" was, and is, a big technical plus. However, even Mozilla never really got into gear to produce the technical innovations needed to do the job properly. In the early days many of the APIs were not implemented, or were deficient in some way or other. Even when they were implemented and adequate, the APIs were usually non-standard with the threat that things would change at some point in the future. 




Overall the UI was fairly uninspiring and didn't really apeal to users and, of course apps were in short supply.

This might not have mattered if the OS had managed to capture the low end of the market but it didn't. Low cost Android phones seem much more attractive to the end user. Mozilla also didn't have and probably couldn't develop the cloud services needed to complete with the sort of things Google could offer by way of mapping, security, cloud backup and management, a personal assistant, translation, and crucially, the equivalent of Play Services. 

Mozilla might have had the resources to develop a mobile OS, but not to back it up with the infrastructure that users have come to expect. 

Where does the abandonment of Firefox OS leave us?

Firefox OS required the invention of a lot of APIs to provide access to native hardware and services. Presumably these will either become W3C standards or will be replaced by W3C standards within Firefox. This at least makes it possible to carry on creating Firefox OS-like apps that run under Firefox in Android or on the desktop. 

There is a hint that Mozilla might be thinking that Firefox OS could have a life as part of the IoT, but this is already a crowded arena. More to the point, Firefox OS doesn't really have any big advantages over just standard Linux or something like Windows 10 IoT Core edition. It would also require new APIs to be developed to deal with the sort of additional hardware encountered on IoT platforms - GPIO, UART,I2C, PWM and so on. 


Then there is the wider issue of Mozilla's future as it sheds projects. 

Mozilla was funded beyond the dreams of most open source companies by Google, but this flow of cash, around $300 million per year, has ended and despite Mozilla saying it has the money it needs from other sources, this doesn't seem likely.

Mozilla pays its top management large salaries and, apart from the occasional slip caused by a volunteer, it attempts to present a polished corporate face to the world. Put simply, Mozilla needs a lot of money and it is trying different ways to get it. Deals with other search engines to feature as the default is the main revenue generator, but there are regions of the world where there are no sponsors. Mozilla has tried and now dropped the idea of adding adverts to Firefox; it has accepted money to include Pocket as part of the browser and of course its public appeal is underway now. 

Overall Mozilla claims that it is doing fine and doesn't need Google's money, but we will have to wait and see if this is true. The fact that Mozilla seems to be cutting back on major projects - not only Firefox OS but also Thunderbird - could just be an attempt to focus on Firefox. But why release an ad-blocker for iOS, something Mozilla has just done, if this is the case?


Mozilla doesn't seem to be entirely coherent probably because of its strange mix of suits and activists. 


More Information

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Last Updated ( Friday, 11 December 2015 )