What's so amazing about Mozilla Firefox

Wait, Firefox is now an operating system? Firefox OS explained

Did you know that Mozilla is creating a new Firefox-based operating system called Firefox OS? This isn't an operating system for your computer - Firefox OS is Mozilla's attempt at using a smartphone operating system.

If you're up to date on any technical news, you've probably heard of Firefox OS. If you're a regular person - or just a busy geek who doesn't read all of the tech news - you may not know a lot about it yet.

Firefox OS is for smartphones (and tablets)

Mozilla's Firefox operating system is a smartphone operating system. It will no longer be available on laptops or desktops any time soon. However, Mozilla plans to release tablets with Firefox OS.

Firefox OS will not have its own devices installed on your computer. Instead, it's an operating system that will be available on new devices. You choose a new smartphone or tablet running Firefox OS instead of Android, iOS, or Windows.

Why Mozilla created Firefox OS

Mozilla is a nonprofit organization that makes the web better than other browser makers - Microsoft, Google, and Apple - who are nonprofits. Mozilla sees Firefox OS as an important competitor in the wireless communications market.

Mozilla believes in web-based software on the open web and wants to replace native applications with browser-based applications based on open standards. This is increasingly true of desktops and laptops, where most of the users spend most of their time in their browser. Whether it's checking email or watching videos, it's likely being done in a web browser - and there's a good chance they're using Firefox to do it.

However, smartphone and tablet users spend a lot of their time in native apps. These apps have to be written platform-specifically and are usually sold in app stores. Apple, Google and Microsoft have their own ecosystems with their own apps that can only be run on certain operating systems.

Mozilla would like to create a mobile operating system based on web standards to provide first-class web apps for the mobile world and to counteract the new trend towards proprietary ecosystems with their own incompatible apps.

How Firefox OS is different

As expected, Firefox OS name and name are provided Mozilla's Vision, Firefox OS, does not run traditional "native" apps. Instead, every app on Firefox OS is a web app written in HTML and JavaScript. Much of the code in these apps might run locally, but they are still written in web technologies.

To achieve this, Mozilla added a variety of APIs that web apps can use to interact with hardware functions. On Firefox OS, the dialer you use to dial numbers is written entirely in HTML and JavaScript. It runs locally but is implemented using web technologies. In theory, you can view the source on the dialer to view the code, just as you can view the source code of a webpage.

Mozilla provides its own app store in the form, the Firefox Marketplace, the official source for Firefox OS apps. Wireless carriers can also set up their own Firefox OS app stores. Of course, web apps can also be accessed from outside of the store as typical websites.

Mozilla also wants these apps to be portable. For example, Mozilla creates a full version of Firefox for Android. In theory, one day you could install Firefox for Android and access the Firefox Marketplace to use Firefox OS apps on Android.

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Firefox OS has a lot in common with Chrome OS; Google's browser-related operating system for laptops. Just as everything in Chrome runs on Chrome OS in the end, everything in Firefox runs on Firefox OS - even if these apps can be run "outside of the browser" and installed locally.

Where Firefox OS is sold

If you're in North America or Europe, there's a reason you haven't heard of Firefox OS. Mozilla is avoiding these markets for the time being and is selling cheap, lower priced Firefox phones in price sensitive markets.

The first Firefox smartphone is called ZTEOpen and has been available in Spain, Latin America and India since July 2013. The ZTE Open costs around $ 80 without a contract, unlike high-end phones like the iPhone 5s, which sell for $ 649 without a contract. Firefox OS phones are being launched in other countries across Europe, but there are no plans to launch phones in North America yet.

Because Firefox OS is only available on such low-end devices, it is so new that it is not surprising that they do not offer an amazing experience. Just as cheap low-end Android smartphones can be delayed and slow in practice, the ZTE Open also doesn't offer a particularly amazing performance, according to reviewers. Mozilla seems to think that there is an opening due to the poor performance of Android on low-end phones. Firefox OS doesn't seem to offer amazing performance, however, and Google is working hard to optimize Android, especially due to the reduction in the large memory footprint in Android 4.4

Don't hold your breath on Firefox OS. It will take time for Firefox OS to mature and become available on a wide variety of devices in more markets.

Try Firefox OS for yourself

If you're really curious about Firefox OS, you can explore it a little by installing the Firefox OS Simulator add-on for Firefox on your computer. This simulator isn't perfect, but its goal is to provide a "Firefox-like environment that looks and feels like a mobile phone" that developers can use to develop and test apps for Firefox OS.

If you're a really crazy geek, you can find Firefox OS is designed for the Nexus 4 smartphones online and allows you to play with it on an actual phone. We wouldn't recommend this at all - people who have tried report that various hardware features are not working and that they have encountered various crashes. You are better off using the simulator.


Firefox OS was formerly known as "Boot to Gecko" or "B2G" because Firefox OS is a minimal Linux-based system that boots on a platform based on Gecko, the Firefox rendering engine.

Photo credit: Wojciech Szczęsny on Flickr, Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr, Wojciech Szczęsny on Flickr