Mozilla shutters Firefox OS, gives up on smartphones

9 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Mozilla Firefox OS is not dead.

first debuted back in 2013, with Mozilla hoping that the open, HTML5-based operating system could end Google and Apple’s dominance of the smartphone market.

Some operators shipped Firefox OS phones, which were designed to be lower-cost alternatives to Android-powered ones and Apple’s iPhone, but the devices never gained significant market traction. “Firefox OS proved the flexibility of the Web, scaling from low-end smartphones all the way up to HD TVs,” according to a statement from Ari Jaaksi, Mozilla’s senior vice president of connected devices. “However, we weren’t able to offer the best user experience possible, and so we will stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels.” Mozilla’s change of plans illustrates just how difficult it is to develop competitors to Android and Apple’s iPhone, which dominate smartphone sales.The app goes beyond simply blocking ads, a feature first permitted in iOS 9, to give granular control over trackers used in ads, analytics and social media, based on Disconnect’s open source blacklist of tracking sources.Mozilla Corp.’s brief attempt at making a smartphone operating system, and eventually competing with the likes of Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows and Samsung’s Tizen platforms, has finally come to an end. While low-cost Firefox OS handsets enjoyed some popularity in developing countries thanks to their aggressive pricing, Mozilla this week has admitted defeat, announcing that it will no longer be developing Firefox OS for smartphones. It was likely particularly disappointing for Mozilla, whose Firefox desktop browser, which debuted in 2002, shot to popularity and spurred major, positive changes to web browsers.

The company claims in its blog that it “may also increase performance and reduce mobile data usage” by blocking web fonts, though this might make your pages look a bit weird. Even as its open-source desktop web browser Firefox was surging in popularity, smartphones were starting to emerge as the platform that would push PCs to secondary status for everyday computing.

Ari Jaaksi, senior vice-president, Connected Devices, Mozilla, confirmed this in a series of tweets from the Mozlando 2015 event in Orlando, Florida, earlier on Wednesday. Focus is at a relatively early stage, but its general availability brings the iOS version of Firefox up to the same level of privacy as the Private Browsing with Tracking Protection that is standard in Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. While Apple has become a lot more open to the idea of letting users decide whether to block content, the fact that third-party browsers have to go through Apple’s WebKit has meant that content blocking is, itself, blocked. Focus only works on Safari and not Firefox, Mozilla’s own browser, on iOS, but the company says that it couldn’t help it — Apple doesn’t make content blocking available to third-party browsers on iOS.

Firefox took a long time to get a decent foothold in the iOS landscape because of all these restrictions, but as in cases such as its climbdown over DRM, it has had to make compromises along the way. Although Mozilla is no longer pouring resources into its now-defunct smartphone experiment, users likely will be able to manually flash the software onto compatible devices, and may still be able to be pick up Firefox OS devices.

This one is, by all accounts, a fairly minor one but nevertheless, Mozilla has remained committed to bringing parity across platforms and in this case, an external app is the temporary workaround. Its flagship desktop browser has been losing marketshare for years, and the company recently proposed spinning off its email client Thunderbird, which it de-prioritized back in 2012. The HTML5 approach to app development seriously restricted the number of third party apps, which meant we really didn’t have much else to play around with apart from the default apps preloaded on the phone. Ad blockers give users more control over their internet experience, but at the risk of undermining the very sites they depend on for information and entertainment. “We believe content blockers need to be transparent with publishers and other content providers,” Denelle Dixon-Thayer, a Mozilla executive, was quoted as saying to The Post “rather than placing certain content in a permanent penalty box.” Mozilla also canned its smartphone experiment by discontinuing Firefox OS, although the company will still continue to experiment on how it might work on other connected devices and Internet of Things networks. “We are proud of the benefits Firefox OS added to the Web platform and will continue to experiment with the user experience across connected devices. Before the arrival of Firefox for iOS, there was Firefox Home, a cut-down overlay for the native Safari browser offering access to browsing history and other Firefox Sync functionality. µ

It was more of a web-centric phone that came much before its time, and the approach itself was far too different from what people had experienced with Android and Windows phones. However, Mozilla has gone on to reassure the developer community that it is actually not killing the Firefox OS, and instead, this is just a realignment of the focus. “We will enter IoT by using technology from #firefoxos. Mozilla said its Firefox OS team would remain intact and “continue to work on the new experiments across connected devices.” Firefox OS borrows much from the Firefox mobile browser and Gecko application framework, which is used to render Web pages and display applications.

For Mozilla, it was a way to get Firefox front and center on mobile phones, since Apple and Google bundle their own web browsers by default with their mobile operating systems. Meanwhile, power users, long the heart of Firefox’s user base, had plenty of other free and open source mobile operating system options, from the Android variation Replicant to the Linux Foundation-backed Tizen to SailfishOS. And rather than develop a new platform for those devices, it makes perfect sense to use an existing product that has been grossly underutilized all this while. Several operating systems are already in use in the connected devices market, from Google’s Brillo and BlackBerry’s QNX to LG’s WebOS, Continki and even a free version of Microsoft Windows. For years, before relenting last month, Mozilla refused to release an iOS web browser because Apple won’t let third party developers build browsers using custom rendering engines.

And no, Mozilla isn’t making an exception for Yahoo just because the web giant is its most important partner in the US—other tracking blockers, including Ghostery and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger don’t block Yahoo’s ads either. And perhaps that’s where its future lies: instead of creating a defining mobile experience itself, like it did with Firefox for desktop, it can create tools to help make mobile better.

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