Thoughts on Tech: Firefox OS

Even in the unlikely event that Firefox OS itself disappears in the process, if web-apps become mainstream, it will have succeeded.

That’s a quote from Sergi Mansilla, a developer for Firefox OS, a new mobile platform from Mozilla. Mozilla is creating a platform for phones that runs HTML apps. Sound familiar? Palm tried that with WebOS and it’s dead now. He says that performance problems with web apps are in the past, and links to the famous Zuckerberg HTML5 flip-flop fiasco. And he says that it is unlikely that Firefox OS will disappear. I’ve got a few comments about those statements.

First, HTML apps are currently not as performant as native ones. There hasn’t been any recent technology, other than faster hardware, that has changed that. In addition, Firefox is a dog on my computer in comparison to Safari or Chrome. It’s slower and uses more memory. I don’t think that the apps on Firefox OS are going to be performance leaders. Most will probably be fine, but the complicated ones that deal with social media, music, or gaming, will be slow and glitchy. I also think that it’s pretty ballsy to say that it is an unlikely event that a brand new platform running on zero devices is going to disappear. It’s very likely that Firefox OS will disappear. The Windows Phone platform has been lauded for its unique and intuitive design since it came out two years ago and it hasn’t made a scratch in the market. Blackberry 10 just came out but that probably won’t make a dent either. As long as Android is available for free on a ton of phones, it will be hard for any platform, let alone a brand new one, to gain traction. 

I’d like to try it out. There is an add-on for Firefox that lets you play with it without having a phone, but you are running it on the full power hardware of a desktop PC, which doesn’t give you an accurate idea of performance. I expect Firefox OS to ship on a few phones with some fanfare but to quickly run into issues filling up its app stores. In two years time, I think Firefox OS will be a faint whisper in the soundtrack of technology. As for web apps, I don’t think they are going to take over just yet. Regardless of how fast hardware gets native will always be faster. At some point, browsers will be fast enough, but native will still carry the crown for having the best device integration and the best performance. Above all though, I’d still like to see Firefox OS succeed if it can be compelling. New ideas are good. Better web apps are even better.

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