Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 12:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android
Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.
Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.
This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.
Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.
The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.
Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.
The Dinosaur in the Room
Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.
The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.
While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | October 1, 2014 - 07:17 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Kickstarter, Firefox OS, web, chromecast
When Google released the Chromecast, it was a surprisingly clean solution for streaming video (my apologies if solutions existed before it). Just plug it into HDMI and connect to it with a PC or a mobile device to use the TV as monitor for content, and it is cheap. I figured that the open source community would like one of their own, but I did not think it was going to be done. Now there is a Kickstarter up, with FirefoxOS.
I constantly struggle with whether to discuss crowdfunding because, on the one hand, you never know if something will tank. On the other hand, is it really any less sketchy than pre-release information for computer hardware or video games (especially pre-release news for video games)?
In this case, I found out that it was promoted by Mozilla on their Hacks blog. It is based on a Rockchip 3066 SoC with 1GB RAM, 4GB of storage and 2.4 GHz Wireless-N. As stated earlier, it runs FirefoxOS which means that apps are websites. The SoC has a Mali-400 GPU that is capable of OpenGL ES 2.0, so it might even be able to support WebGL if the software and drivers are certified. Don't expect jaw-dropping 3D graphics, though. The GPU is rated at about 9 GFLOPs. For comparison, the Tegra K1 has a peak compute throughput of about 365 GFLOPs; alternatively, it is fairly close to later-model Intel GMA graphics (not Intel HD Graphics... GMA). Still, it might allow for some interesting 2D (or simplistic 3D) games.
Just a day-or-so in, it is already at over 150% funding.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 14, 2014 - 02:12 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, intex, Firefox OS, firefox, cloud fx
If you were on a mission to make the cheapest possible mobile phone, you would probably not do much better than Intex Cloud Fx. Running Firefox OS, it will cost users about $35 to purchase it outright. Its goal is to bring the internet to places which would otherwise have nothing.
I believe the largest concession made by this phone is its RAM -- 128 MB. Yes, I had a computer with 32 MB of RAM and it browsed the internet just fine (on Netscape Navigator 2 through 4). I also had a computer before that (which was too slow to run Windows 3.1 but hey it had a turbo button). This is also the amount of RAM on the first and second generation iPod Touches. Nowadays, it is very little. Ars Technica allegedly made it crash by scrolling too fast and attempting to run benchmarks on it. This leads into its other, major compromise: its wireless connectivity. It does not support 3G. Edge is the best that you will get.
Other than those two points: it has a 1 GHz Spreadtrum SoC, 46MB of storage, a 2MP camera, and a 1250mAh battery. You do get WiFi, Bluetooth, and a microSD card slot. It also supports two SIM cards if necessary.
Again, at $35, this is not designed for America or Western Europe. This is for the areas of the world that will probably not experience the internet at all unless it is through a mobile phone. For people in India and Asia, it is about the lowest barrier to entry of the internet that is possible. You can also check out phones from other partners of Mozilla.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2014 - 09:18 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Panasonic, mozilla, Firefox OS, CES 2014, CES
Panasonic and Mozilla have entered into a partnership, announced at CES, for future smart TVs to be powered by Firefox OS. This can be very useful for Panasonic. Provided they keep up with certifying new releases, performance should be about the only other barrier preventing their product from running the popular apps as they arise. It also lifts the burden away for developer support.
On the other hand, this could also be good for Firefox OS and the web itself. Mozilla is not a stupid organization and, while they certainly like their products adopted, I would not be surprised if they hope this effort brings content out to play. Netflix and other content providers who want to be on Panasonic's platform would need to support their flavor of Firefox OS. Netflix, in particular, has already made inroads with HTML5 albeit with certain encryption extensions.
Atwood's Law applies to televisions, too!
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Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 26, 2013 - 09:25 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Rock, Paper, Firefox OS, APC
Update: (9/28/2013) APC responded to my email and confirmed all models support up to 32GB microSD cards (so, microSD or microSDHC).
Firefox OS is an operating system which boots into a web standards rendering engine. All applications and user interface elements are essentially web sites, often hosted by the device but could obviously have online components as the creator desires, web standards making it easier to port and manage code.
Hardware designers are continuing to adopt the platform.
APC, an initiative of VIA Technologies, got our attention over a year ago when they launched their smaller-than-a-banana Android desktop. It was an interesting design which came out at roughly the same time as the Raspberry Pi. I cannot tell whether that boost or harmed consumer interest.
Either way, the APC has announced two successors: The APC Paper and the APC Rock. Both devices dropped Android (side note: the $50 APC 8750 based on Android 2.3 is apparently still available) replacing it, instead, with Firefox OS. Both devices are in the Neo-ITX form factor although that should not matter too much, for Paper, as it includes a case.
Paper covers Rock, get it?
The raw specifications are as follows:
- SoC: VIA ARM Cortex-A9 @ 800 MHz
- GPU: Built in 2D/3D up to 720p
- Memory: 512MB DDR3
- Storage: 4GB NAND Flash
Expandable Storage: microSD (maximum 32GB)
- Update: APC confirmed all models support up to 32GB, which is microSDHC
- I/O: HDMI, VGA (Rock-only), 2x USB 2.0, MicroUSB, 3.5mm Headphone/Mic
This build of Firefox OS contains mouse and keyboard support. If you wish to install your own operating system, while you are on your own, the kernel and bootloader are available on the APC website and the hardware is unlocked. They also provide access to the ARM debug headers for the real developer types.
If you are one of these developer types, would you consider fixing a known issue? APC will donate free devices to users who submit fixes for specially tagged bugs on their Github repo. Think of it like investing time fixing a product which, if you would have bought it, probably would have crushed the bug anyway.
It would have been nice to see a bump in processor performance and graphics functionality, and perhaps more than 512 MB of RAM, although it should be sufficient for light web browsing. As a developer of GPU-intensive web applications, which I expect to have an article on soon, I am not sure how much that colors my view of these devices. Then again, we are also talking about devices in the Roku price-point, so (apart from sticking with 720p... come on now) I may not have a valid complaint.
Both devices are available now, in limited quantities, through the manufacturer website. The Paper carries a price tag of $99 USD while the Rock is slightly cheaper at $79 USD.
Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2013 - 08:37 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: zte open, zte, smartphone, msm7225a, mozilla, Firefox OS
Mozilla has been working on its mobile Firefox OS for about a year, and smartphones running the OS are starting to become available stateside. The first bit of hardware running Firefox OS is the ZTE Open, which launched last week for $79.99 exclusively on eBay. Unfortunately, the limited stock ZTE made available is already gone, and there is no word on when more smartphones will be available. (However, in typical eBay fashion, users are turning around and selling the $80 phone for $170 if you really want to get your hands on it...)
According to the eBay listing, ZTE managed to sell 985 of the orange ZTE Open smartphones.
The ZTE Open comes in blue or orange and features low end specifications. Fortunately, Firefox OS and its HTML5 applications do not demand much hardware. On the outside, the ZTE Open has a 3.5” TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 320, a single home button sitting below the display, and a 3.15 MP rear camera. Internal specifications include a MSM7225A SoC with an ARM Cortex-A5 CPU clocked at 1Ghz and Adreno 200 GPU along with 2GB of internal storage expandable by micro SD card. Other specifications include 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, 3G cellular radio, a 1200 mAH battery, and various sensors (accelerometer, ambient light, and GPS). The Firefox OS smartphone measures 114 x 62 x 12.5mm.
Seeing the ZTE Open sell out of its limited stock in such a short amount of time suggests that there is some positive amount of demand for Firefox OS from enthusiasts, but the smartphone and OS platform still has a long road ahead of it before it becomes a true threat to Android and iOS. Much like the fabled Ubuntu Phone, more than enthusiast demand will be needed, along with support from US carriers and app developers. With that said, it is a good first step into the US market and I hope ZTE makes more phones available soon.
Read more about Mozilla's Firefox OS.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 26, 2013 - 09:19 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Firefox OS, mozilla, firefox, MWC, MWC 13
Mobile World Congress is going on at Barcelona and this year sees the official entry of a new contender: Firefox OS.
Mozilla held their keynote speech the day before the official start to the trade show. If there is anything to be learned from CES, it would be that there is an arms race to announce your product before everyone else steals media attention while still being considered a part of the trade show. By the time the trade show starts, most of the big players have already said all that they need to say.
If you have an hour to spare, you should check it out for yourself. The whole session was broadcast and recorded on Air Mozilla.
The whole concept of Firefox OS as I understand it is to open up web standards such that it is possible to create a completely functional mobile operating system from it. Specific platforms do not matter, the content will all conform to a platform of standards which anyone would be able to adopt.
I grin for a different reason: should some content exist in the future that is intrinsically valuable to society, its reliance on an open-based platform will allow future platforms to carry it.
Not a lot of people realize that iOS and Windows RT disallow alternative web browsers. Sure, Google Chrome the app exists for iOS, but it is really a re-skinned Safari. Any web browser in the Windows Store will use Trident as its rendering engine by mandate of their certification rules. This allows the platform developer to be choosey with whichever standards they wish to support. Microsoft has been very vocally against any web standard backed by Khronos. You cannot install another browser if you run across a web application requiring one of those packages.
When you have alternatives, such as Firefox OS, developers are promoted to try new things. The alternative platforms promote standards which generate these new applications and push the leaders to implement those standards too.
And so we creep ever-closer to total content separation from platform.
Subject: Mobile | January 10, 2013 - 09:23 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: zte, smartphone, mozilla, html5, Firefox OS, ces 2013, CES
Mozilla has been interested in smartphones for awhile now. The Boot2Gecko project has since transitioned to Firefox OS, and now the company is nearly ready to officially release the code and begin getting it onto smartphones and competing with the current giants of Android, iOS, and WP8. According to The Verge, who talked with the company at CES, Mozilla’s mobile operating system will be released within the next two weeks.
The Verge checks out a prototype phone running Firefox OS.
The mobile OS is coded in HTML5 and uses HTML5 applications. While Mozilla plans to introduce an app store to curate things, currently users are able to find run web apps on the Internet. Do not expect Firefox OS to take the smartphone world by storm this year, however. Mozilla will reportedly restrict the mobile OS to low end hardware, with up to 800MHz single core ARM processors. Further, no OEM phones are scheduled for a US release this year (so far). ZTE has confirmed that it is pursuing handsets with Firefox OS pre-installed. Currently, the company is planning at least one low end smartphone release in Europe late this year. US residents will likely not see Firefox OS shipping with phones until next year at the earliest, depending on how well the phones do in the developing markets and when Mozilla opens up the hardware restrictions to higher-end devices.
Until then, you can check out Firefox OS for yourself in a simulator using the Firefox web browser and a browser add-on called the Firefox OS Simulator. To test it out, open up a Firefox browser window and install the add-on from this webpage. Then click the Firefox button and navigate to Web Developer > Firefox OS Simulator. Then, on the left hand side of the window that opens, click the stopped button to start the simulator. A new window will open running the mobile operating system.
The Dialer, Messages, and Web Browser apps in Firefox OS.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
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Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 11, 2012 - 01:02 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: firefox, Firefox OS
Mozilla has released a demonstration of their mobile operating system, Firefox OS. As much as I like Mozilla and their influence on the PC industry I cannot see much reason for this operating system to exist as it stands right now.
We have reported earlier in the year on Mozilla’s push into the mobile and app store market.
Just last week as of the time of this writing we have been given a video walkthrough of current builds for Firefox OS. This is obviously a very early build of the operating system and we have no idea what the developers have planned for the platform in the future. The only position I can speak from is what I can see right now – and that is what I will do.
There’s also the whole issue of tablets…
The operating system as it currently stands looks like it could very well be a custom skin of Android. It is clear that Mozilla has put a substantial amount of work into the backend just because of how complex a mobile operating system fundamentally is. The interface could be little more than placeholder used to develop the fundamentals.
If not then it is somewhat disappointing to me. Mozilla has always had innovative hooks such as tabs or extensions to disrupt incumbent products. Apart from its legally open nature I do not really see anything yet that would differentiate the platform from its peers. Simply put, it looks like Android – and not even the most recent Android.
Hopefully we will begin to see some of the disruptive force Mozilla is known for as this operating system begins to mature. There just has to be a hook somewhere for it to gain any ground especially when it is this late to the game.