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Mozilla Release Firefox OS Mobile Simulator

By Craig Buckler

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iOS and Android will shortly receive more competition when Mozilla release Firefox OS for mobiles. A couple of manufacturers are reported to be launching devices in 2013.

Firefox OSBefore you comment “meh, whatever”, Firefox OS opens a few exciting avenues for web developers. The whole OS and all native applications are coded in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. A few CSS styles can change the look of the operating system and there’s none of that Java or Objective-C nonsense. In addition, Firefox OS applications are based on the Open Web App (OWA) standard; they should run on any desktop or mobile browser. Your app should work on iOS Safari, Android Chrome or anywhere else. In theory. But don’t bet on it just yet.

Admittedly, there’s no guarantee that Firefox OS will be a success, but it has a few benefits in its favor:

  1. It’s open. That’s really open, rather than Google’s Android-like open which restricts options. Smartphone manufacturers can do what they like with the OS.
  2. Performance is likely to be better than Android on less powerful devices. In essence, Firefox OS is a bootable browser; there’s no reliance on Java VMs or other components.
  3. Mozilla are creating a Marketplace which will allow developers to submit, promote and monetize apps for the Firefox browser and OS.
  4. Firefox OS is free. Hardware vendors will like that.

Try Firefox OS in Firefox

Firefox OSWhile you can’t buy a Firefox OS phone just yet, Mozilla has released a simulator which can be installed as a Firefox plugin. Head over to http://people.mozilla.com/~myk/r2d2b2g/ and click the appropriate link for your OS. You’ll need to allow the add-on and be aware that it weighs in at almost 70Mb. Once installed, select Firefox OS Simulator from the Web Developer menu and set it running; the OS will open in a pop-up window.

Note the simulator is an experimental release. It’s not stable, it’s not complete, it’s slow and buggy. That said, it’s usable, has a selection of apps and you can install your own. Long term, it should provide a viable tool for Firefox OS developers and anyone interested in testing their site on a mobile device.

While desktop emulators are no substitute for testing a real device, few OS vendors release cross-platform mobile simulators or development tools. Let’s hope Mozilla’s efforts go some way to rectify that situation.

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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