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.
Admittedly, there’s no guarantee that Firefox OS will be a success, but it has a few benefits in its favor:
- 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.
- 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.
- Mozilla are creating a Marketplace which will allow developers to submit, promote and monetize apps for the Firefox browser and OS.
- Firefox OS is free. Hardware vendors will like that.
Try Firefox OS in Firefox
While 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.