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In Pictures: New Firefox mobile OS

Mozilla officially jumped into the crowded mobile OS field at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company demonstrated an early version of Firefox OS, which is being developed under the Boot to Gecko project.

  • Mozilla officially jumped into the crowded mobile OS field at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company demonstrated an early version of Firefox OS, which is being developed under the Boot to Gecko project. Just as Google rejiggered Chrome into an operating system, Mozilla is doing something similar to its Firefox browser by OS-izing it. As for when Firefox OS will be released, phones running it are slated to debut in early 2013 first in Brazil. Here are 10 facts about the upcoming OS that are known as of this writing.

  • 1. Built with HTML5 Firefox OS is built entirely with HTML5, and powered by several other open Web standards including CSS and JavaScript. So there won't be APIs specific to this OS that developers need to use to write apps for it. Like for Chrome OS and the Chrome browser, the emphasis will be on encouraging developers to write Web apps that would work on virtually any HTML5-compatible browser, besides Firefox OS.

  • 2. Targeted at mobile devices Unlike Chrome OS, which Google has been developing for lightweight netbooks (so-called Chromebooks), Firefox OS is being designed for mobile devices. Mozilla's developers appear to be focusing for now on getting their OS to work on smartphones first, but it likely won't be difficult for them to re-factor it for tablets.

  • 3. Uses Gaia UI Firefox OS features a UI code-named Gaia: Icons representing Web apps are pinned onto a home screen interface which you can swipe through horizontally. It includes a phone dialer. All of this is written in HTML5, including this dialer. Mozilla is designing its OS so that Gaia's essential tools will work offline without the need for a live Internet connection -- the HTML5 code for them would be cached onto the mobile device.

  • 4. Mostly Firefox code Mozilla has stated that Firefox OS shares 95% of its codebase with Firefox the browser. This leads us to speculate that this OS could be an enhanced version of the mobile version of the browser, but augmented with a home screen UI (i.e. Gaia) for pinning and launching Web apps, a phone dialer, and other components appropriate for a smartphone that are all running atop a Linux kernel.

  • 5. Open hardware drivers (hopefully) Mozilla wants Firefox OS to be a completely open OS, which would presumably include the software needed to make it operate the network (3G and Wi-Fi), phone, sound and video chipsets of a device. Our opinion: This could be one of the most challenging goals to achieve -- convincing hardware vendors to open up or provide open versions of driver software that they tend to feel necessary to keep proprietary and closed for legal and competitive reasons, or even to get them to agree on universal hardware standards.

  • 6. Partner support Mozilla intends to sign up partners to support Firefox OS on several fronts representing software, hardware and phone carriers. Thus far, Telefónica of Spain and Mozilla partnered to launch the Open Web Device platform, and Deutsche Telekom of Germany will lend its own employees for development support. Mozilla's developers are working with Qualcomm to write Firefox OS around that company's mobile processors. Sprint is on board to be the first U.S. carrier to support Firefox OS phones on its network. One interesting partner is Adobe -- although known for Flash, the company in recent years has moved toward supporting HTML5 development in the mobile device sector.

  • 7. Developers working with Galaxy S II Mozilla's developers have been using the Samsung Galaxy S II to write and test Firefox OS. The Galaxy S II is a smartphone that originally runs Android 4.0.3. It comes with a 4.3-inch screen and a Qualcomm processor. The final reference device -- the first to be sold with Firefox OS on it -- probably will have different (and likely more powerful) specification. Such phones will be manufactured by Alcatel and ZTE.

  • 8. No Firefox or Mozilla phone Google has an official "Google phone" that runs Android through the Nexus line. But Mozilla says it has no plans to release or endorse an official Firefox- or Mozilla-branded phone.

  • 9. Mozilla Marketplace Firefox OS will include Mozilla Marketplace, where you will be able to browse for and install Web apps onto your device. Because it will feature HTML5-written apps, this app shop will probably be more technically akin to Google's Chrome Web Store than the platform-specific Google Play and Apple's App Store.

  • 10. An alternative OS for Android phones? Since Mozilla is developing Firefox OS on an Android phone, this suggests that its mobile OS could be used as a replacement for owners of older smartphones that have not had their firmware updated by their makers. Volunteer developers could come together to customize the free and open source OS to run on several smartphone models, like what the CyanogenMod community has been doing getting the latest versions of Android running unofficially on no-longer-supported phones.

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