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Firefox OS challenges the closed mobile ecosystems (comoyo.github.com)
74 points by dagingaa on Dec 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

I wish they would implement an (open, as in, non-corporate) social network and single-sign-on system on top of that. It would be a killer combination, making a firefox tablet more easily marketable.

There are already lots of smart people (Tent, Diaspora, etc.) working on opening up and decentralizing social networking, which is super awesome. The foundation for that future is already being built, and you can help out: https://tent.io/contribute http://diasporaproject.org/get_involved

As for Single-Sign-On, Persona can already take care of that, today, for virtually any domain / browser combo. You can help out on that, too: https://github.com/mozilla/browserid

The future will be even better if the Tent and Diaspora folks make it easy for their servers to also function as Identity Providers for Persona's protocol. FWIW, it seems like there's interest on both sides to make this happen.

Persona perhaps? https://login.persona.org/

Persona is not a social network, though, just an identity system. But there has been talk of the Persona team potentially cooperating with the Tent (https://tent.io) team.

(edited to remove slangy word "rumblings")


Is it a part of firefoxOS? It could be a great way to push browserID adoption.

Yep! As I understand it, FxOS will ship with a native implementation the Persona APIs. However, I don't believe the devices require any sort of attached identity until you try to make your first purchase in the Marketplace, so it's not like the unboxing experience will be used to bootstrap Persona.

It is part of the Marketplace (bundled app store) in Firefox OS. I don't believe Persona is the main identity system in Firefox OS at the moment, but it's very possible it could be in a future version.

To me, the problem isn't with the OS, it is with the hardware. Android phone/tablet manufacturers had the chance to create a truely open ecosystem but instead they have opted to copy the Apple method of locking down everything.

With google controlling the app store, it wasn't like they had much of a choice.

well, in Firefox the access to apps on Firefox OS will be open. Still vendors need to implement some integrated system to do it, but any method to constrain the access would not fly with the consumers. At least vendors have the choice, which means consumers have a choice.

"wouldn't fly with the consumers"

what do you base this on? Current mobile market certainly doesn't support your thesis.

consumers are interested in the best value/experience they expect from purchasing a device. I believe that the open web will provide an environment which will result in a better user experience over time and hence will enable richer experiences.

Is firefox OS more open than android? Why?

I believe these could be the key statements from the article:

  Developing native apps today means accepting guidelines 
  and restrictions that potentially limits what services 
  can be developed, and how they should look.
  Firefox OS aims to extend the freedom of the internet 
  into the mobile ecosystem, by allowing anyone to easily 
  create a web app at the same time that they create a web page.
In short, Android is an open platform but you can't easily run Android apps somewhere else. Here, I think, they are aiming at providing runtime support on mobile and other platforms. Firefox has big enough market share to pull this through.

The open web is awesome because it's ubiquitous and built on open standards. Native apps are awesome because they can do things that web apps can't.

Firefox OS is a vehicle to fix that by building all of the phone's apps out of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and in doing so defining the gap between native apps and the web.

The ultimate goal is to bridge that gap with open standards. A great example is the JavaScript vibration API: http://www.w3.org/TR/vibration/. It's already landed in Webkit, too! https://bugs.webkit.org/show_bug.cgi?id=72010

Mozilla can make sure these sorts of APIs are supported across desktop Firefox, Firefox for Android, and Firefox OS, but we're not trying to do this alone -- the goal is for open, inter-operable standards to win.

Firefox OS is developed on GitHub. You can submit a pull request. Android is developed behind closed doors; they do not accept patches, and code dump a couple of times a year. But they don't want/accept any community contributions (and indeed, they don't think anyone outside of Google is smart enough to contribute anyways). Android is open-washing.

I'm not going to start a general argument with you, but Android does in fact, accept patches from the community.

They certainly think plenty of people are smart enough to contribute (though that was a nice ad-hominen attack on the Android team).

Open-washing. Now there is a great phrase. As if there was a "one true definition" of open, and Android was abusing it. Could you let me know who controls this definition?

I've been contributing to open source and free software projects for 14+ years now, and they all have had different levels of openness. So I guess half of them were just "open washing"?

It's really great that you can speak about this as if there was general agreement in the community on what it means for a project to be open. Instead, from where I sit, there are different people who think it means different things.

As a neat historical note, OpenBSD was forked from NetBSD partly over this: NetBSD's releases were BSD licensed, but were developed in secret. OpenBSD adopted a public anonymous CVS server so anyone could watch development as it was going on. Apparently they were the first project to do this[1]. A step on the way to GitHub, today, where code is the first thing you see and can be forked with a click of a button.

In 2012, development in public is so normal that I think it's completely fair to call Android less open than it could be. It's great that you can get the source code for Android's point releases (sometimes... 3.0 was completely closed-source, because Google said the code was too messy). But a code dump a couple times a year is not fully in the spirit of open source.

[1] http://www.usenix.org/event/usenix99/full_papers/cranor_f/cr... (pdf)

The thing is: android point releases are open source and open. Changes in the codebase that happen during development however, are not. To some, that is enough. Using OSI definitions and everything, Android is open source.

What differs is whats "open" to you. For my tastes, Android is not open enough to be "_the_ open mobile OS", it is still developed by a corporate entity that could (potentially) decide to not release the next Android release.

For Firefox OS, all development, even before the launch of the OS happens in the open. If the engineering team decides to change something, it is immediately visible. I can see the cards they play. With Android, I cannot. Thats a different level.

Still, thats a very personal thing and only of interest for people that want to integrate with a platform and have certain expectations. I wouldn't start a fight over it, although I will immediately buy a Firefox OS device for philosophical reasons only :), with Android, I did not.

If you don't want a corporate entity, you should not use Firefox OS either. Mozilla does a bad job of making it clear, but mozilla.org the non profit and mozilla.com the corporation are not the same entity at all.

I'm a Mozilla Corporation (MoCo) employee, as are most "Mozilla employees." The thing is, Mozilla Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the honest-to-goodness 501(c)(3) nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. Thanks to this structure, our work is in the service of the Mozilla Manifesto, http://www.mozilla.org/about/manifesto.en.html, not in pursuit of enriching shareholders.

Mozilla Corporation has been growing -- I think it's around ~700 paid folks right now -- but that's still very, very small compared to the number of people employed by its peer organizations at Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

But that's irrelevant, because the Mozilla project, emphatically, is not the Corporation. Mozilla didn't change the world by having the most money, or hiring the most engineers. It changed the world through the contributions of the world. By being born of the open source movement, and recognizing the potential of an open web. Insofar as Mozilla exists at all, it exists to support you, and the open web. Consider getting involved: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/contribute/


1. The corporation will still owe a fiduciary duty to it's shareholders, it's just that it's shareholders are a non-profit. Being a cynical lawyer, while this may be good enough for some people, I'm still cynical. I've seen plenty of non-profits, even in the open source world, go bad. Hell I've helped fund/start non-profits with completely altruistic purposes, like Mozilla does (IE "Helping to open government data and standardize it", or "Provide a completely free non-advertising/non-tracking search engine for non-profit volunteer opportunities"), and seen them go bad and do evil things, despite the best intentions of all the engineers working for them. So while I agree Mozilla is in a better position than most, the idea that simply being owned/responsible to a non-profit makes it "better" is, well, wrong, in my opinion. They go bad just as easily.

2. I used to be involved in some auxillary mozilla projects (bugzilla, etc). I stopped, because of the politics and development policies.

This was 6-7 years ago (maybe longer, i'm getting old), i'm sure things have changed for the better.

They actually do a good job at it, in my opinon. Also, Mozilla Corporation is still owned by the Mozilla foundation and aligned to their goals.

I didn't write that I don't want a corporate entity, I want a fully open product.

But while we're at it: Google is a corporate entity that did decide to keep development closed and showed their willingness to delay source code releases multiple times.

Mozilla (be it company or not) showed the willingness to keep everything in full open from the moment they announced the project.

This comes down to a question of governance.

I didn't mean to start an argument about what is and isn't open. Certainly open is a spectrum and Android fits somewhere in the spectrum. What I meant by open-washing was the intent. It is my opinion that Google open-sources Android for the PR benefit.

> They certainly think plenty of people are smart enough to contribute (though that was a nice ad-hominen attack on the Android team).

It came out in the Oracle trial that Google didn't include Sun in the development of Android because they didn't think they were smart enough to contribute anything.

> It is my opinion that Google open-sources Android for the PR benefit.

Clearly Android is less open than some OSes, but I don't agree it was open sourced just for PR. There is also a huge benefit in that many other parties have picked up Android as the basis for their products, which would not happen if it were not open source. For example, the kindle, nook, various chinese-market devices, etc.

There isn't always a big benefit to that, Google doesn't directly make money from the kindle to my knowledge. But (1) it prevents another OS from being used in those places and getting a foothold in the market, and (2) it creates a large potential ecosystem of developers and apps, even if things don't just work across that entire ecosystem, they are much closer to doing so than say between Android and Blackberry OS. If versions of Android dominate the market, Google is in a great position to benefit from that, even if "official Android" is just part of that.

That strategy has been a huge success over the last few years. Much more useful than any PR benefits.

I can categorically state that google Open Sourced android for the right reasons. I was literally in the room when it happened. It still open sources it for the right reasons. You don't have to believe me, of course, but ...

I can't really talk about the Oracle trial, but i don't believe that is accurate.

Your right reasons and my right reasons differ. I think if they did it for the right reasons it would be developed in the open, and non-Google employees could earn commit privileges. And they wouldn't punish parties who used the source in ways Google disapproves.

There's not one true definition, but it is often obvious when X is more open than Y. For instance, if Y has an open core but includes a ton of proprietary software but X is entirely open source.

TBF to Mozilla, have you tried to submit a patch to Google? I mean look at the furore that's begun over Google's recent decision to remove the ability of apps to toggle Aeroplane Mode. It blind-sighted developers and Google haven't made a single comment in the bug to justify their decision. At time goes on, there are less and less freedoms available to Android users/developers. I personally don't think Firefox OS has a chance to be a successful alternative. But their presence may encourage Google to be more open in their decision making process.

The fact that it runs entirely on web technologies is what they are saying makes it more open. Though I am not sure I fully agree with this because they are using special javascript api's implemented in the OS to access the hardware. Unless Android and iOS devices adopt these javascript API's, you are still in the same boat as developing for any other app eco system.

AFAICT the special Javascript APIs are implemented in Gecko itself and aren't specific to the OS. As in, if you're using Firefox right now, those same APIs exist in your browser regardless of your platform, though they may be dormant if your hardware doesn't have e.g. hardware support for vibration.

Beyond that, Mozilla's also submitting all of these new APIs for standardization, so that any app you build that uses them could potentially function in all browsers.

That's true, I forgot you could can run their app environment, aka firefox, on Android. Still won't help iOS though.

I understand they are submitting them for standardization, but do you really think Apple is going to implement a standard which competes with their app store?

Well, Mobile Safari uses Webkit, which both Apple and Google are working on (amongst others), and both have been pretty darn good about supporting web standards. Hell, Microsoft's gotten the religion, too.

If the APIs are useful, and make it through the W3C, then I'd be surprised if they didn't show up in Webkit, and thus on iOS and Android. The Vibration API made it in, after all: https://bugs.webkit.org/show_bug.cgi?id=72010

Maybe not in the short run. We'll see. But if Apple decides not to implement an open standard for business reasons, that doesn't make said standard not open.

I'm guessing since we're seeing this from Mozilla, those APIs will be implemented in their browsers as well. A while ago they started an initiative to standardize some native access APIs for mobile. Hopefully this means that native mobile browser offerings will implement these APIs as well, making it truly implement once, run everywhere. I think Firefox OS is a great driving force in this direction, whether or not it reaches mass appeal only time will show.

If it's 100% open what are they doing to prevent fragmentation?

Also what has been done to make sure they can update any handset running Firefox OS independent of the manufactures and service providers?

If you refer to fragmentation as manufacturers slowing down upgrades because they are "differentiating" their Android devices then I believe the web ecosystem already has some experience there dealing with different browsers :)

I believe an alternative mobile ecosystem not centrally controlled like iOS and Android, but rather with a standardised core and fragmentation / innovation on top is a very exciting model. It's working great for the web, why is mobile fundamentally any different? It beats having to program every application three times from scratch to reach a full market.

> It beats having to program every application three times from scratch to reach a full market.

How are you going to counteract the interests of Apple/Google and other established players, who are going to hold onto their turf with all the power the network effect will give them?

Apple's and Google's (and Microsoft's) platforms already contain web browsers. The "web platform" already exists on every relevant device sold on the planet. The only variable is to what degree each browser implements web standards.

The biggest missing piece of the puzzle is a webapp store that enables distribution, promotion, and monetization. And you don't even need a native app for this, as the "webapp store" could just as easily be a web page, thereby surpassing e.g. Apple's and Google's 30% cut (what are they going to do, block the web page?).

It's a long shot, but if Mozilla can pull it off it would be a huge leap for openness and consumer choice.

> thereby surpassing e.g. Apple's and Google's 30% cut

I think you meant 'bypassing'.

I did! I heartily depreciate your diligence.

> what are they going to do, block the web page?

I know for a fact that this can be attempted in iOS. I bought a Chinese iPad 2, and it has google.com blocked.

It's interesting (and somewhat surprising) that very few in this thread are criticising the "web stack" for being slow or lacking features or something along those lines.

If web standards now are getting performant and expressive enough to compete with dedicated, close-to-the-metal, technology stacks on mobile then the altruistic incentives of the web ecosystem might be enough. The incumbents have their incentives less aligned with users.

I'm not convinced Google will crush attempts at making the web a first class citizen on phones. After having pushed and developed the web for so long I think they already see it as their turf.

Their network effect doesn't extend everywhere -- Mozilla is initially pushing this in regions where there's a definite gap in the market.

A truly open 'anything' means that fragmentation is neither good nor bad, and implementations of this open thing can exist on an island (unable to upgrade).

Truly open might be messy and a little scary for some people but it means that diversity and open access can thrive.

Android only goes part way towards this idea while still trying to maintain control and influence over several key (money making) parts (I don't blame them). This hybrid approach to being open however doesn't sit well with all users.

Fragmentation has killed android for developers In china. Instead of one platform to target there are grater than 30 each with their own Apis, quirks, bugs and markets.

Instead of spending time making apps you spend time porting.

Each modified version also has its own proprietary market.

My question is, how will Firefox OS prevent this same problem with a 100% open system

While I do hope success for firefox OS a true Open source OS, I can't help but wonder what is the site using for hosting such a nice dynamic blog on github ?

Looking at the source[1] of the blog. It appears to be built with Jekyll[2].

[1]: https://github.com/comoyo/comoyo.github.com

[2]: http://jekyllrb.com/

I can confirm this. We built the little bits ourselves without using something like http://jekyllbootstrap.com/. I kind of regret that now as JekyllBootstrap is more mature.

All in all we are very happy with Jekyll (and looking forward to development picking up on it now).

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