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Firefox OS Phone on Display at LinuxFest NorthWest (Video) 96

Posted by timothy
from the first-comes-iphone-then-comes-android-then-comes-firefox-in-a-baby-carriage dept.
Jakob Perry organized the first LinuxFest Northwest when he was still a student. He got off to a good start: now LFNW has been running for 14 years, and has retained its flavor as a low-key, friendly conference. Exhibitors from Linux distributions from tiny (CrunchBang) to huge (Red Hat) were on hand for 2013, and enough speakers and topics to fill about 80 different sessions over the two days of the conference. Not all of it's about Linux per se, either: the EFF and FSF were represented, along with a BSD table, and a local astronomy group with a great name. At this year's event I ran into the first Firefox OS phone that I've had a chance to play with in person. Firefox OS integrates Linux by way of the Android kernel, but is otherwise its own beast. Ubuntu and Mozilla contributor Benjamin Kerensa was on hand to talk about what makes it tick, and to give a demo of the all-HTML5 interface.

Tim: Benjamin, you have a Firefox OS phone in front of you.

Benjamin: I do. I have a Firefox OS developer phone.

Tim: How is that you happen to have one?

Benjamin: So as Mozilla rep, one of my contributions for the Mozilla community is to evangelize different products and projects that Mozilla has. So I am here at Linuxfest Northwest just evangelizing the Firefox OS platform and that’s how I happened to get my hands on one of these phones. I am also a contributor to Firefox OS project itself.

Tim: You are also a contributor to other open source software being done?

Benjamin: I am. I am also an Ubuntu developer.

Tim: So the phone you’ve got, can you talk about what distinguishes Firefox OS from the other bigger name players right now in the phone OS world?

Benjamin: So the main thing is I think the big key aspect that makes a difference between other platforms is HTML5. So Firefox OS uses open web standards like HTML5 and JavaScript. And it is an open source platform. And that right there, sets it apart from Android and iOS. And Blackberry if that’s even relevant any more. But Android is open source, but it is a semi it is a delayed process thus far and they don’t release everything. So there is a slow release of the Android open source project and with Firefox OS when the code’s up there, it is up there every day. When new code is pushed, it is out there in the public, it is on GitHub. It is in the Mozilla repositories, and you can check it out, and pull it and compile it, and hack on it. It is open as any other open source project. That is what makes Firefox OS great.

Tim: Now as a browser, Firefox obviously, to read and interpret HTML, HTML5 now, what else does it take to make a phone, with that as the base?

Benjamin: Well, you need a kernel, you need an engine. So Firefox OS has three components: They have Gonk, which is a Linux distribution, they have a Linux kernel, and various other libraries and stacks that allow the phone to have all basic functions such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and the ability to make calls. So this has some Android components there that are open source but it is also it is on its own base Gonk. Then you have Gecko which does the rendering of the JavaScript and handles HTML5; and then on top of that, you have a nice display which is the Gaia - that is the UI that sits on top of the phone, and that is also open web standard of HTML5. And then on top of Gaia you have apps that are made by different developers and community members and partners of Mozilla.

Tim: People have gotten used to so many things in smart phones like the ability to take pictures to take movies – where does the Firefox OS sit right now in those kind of capabilities?

Benjamin: Firefox OS is like any other mobile phone. It has a great camera. I would say it is comparable to Android in taking photos and video. And it works great. It is fast. It has a great interface.

Tim: People also tend to install a lot of apps, because that is what a smart phone lets you do. If somebody has a favorite app, is it likely that they will find its equivalent right now on Firefox, or where does that infrastructure fit?

Benjamin: So I would say that Firefox OS is apps eco system. We call it the Marketplace. It is still young, it is still an early start, so we’ve got Twitter, we’ve got SoundCloud, we’ve got AirbnB, we’ve got a lot of popular names as far as apps and Marketplace is growing all the time. And of course, Mozilla is out there supporting app developers to porting their apps over from Android and iOS to HTML5. So that app development and support is occurring all over the globe right now. So we are going to see a lot of apps entering the Marketplace at a good pace.

Tim: For some apps that are basically websites, things like Google as a search engine, and Airbnb that you mentioned, they want traffic to get to them, but what about people who develop apps in order to make money on the Android Marketplace or the iOS world? Is there a way for people who want to make software make money for them in Firefox?

Benjamin: My understanding is that the plan is to eventually support paid apps; I believe that it is already there, but there aren’t any paid apps yet. So there will be the potential for making revenue. Of course, you could also potentially put advertisements inside of your apps to support those apps without charging for them.

Tim: And Firefox the browser gets money as everyone knows, you’ve got an agreement with Google, where search engine hits are generated that way. Is it the same here with the phone?

Benjamin: I don’t know what the arrangement is for that. My understanding is they have a set contract for the Firefox browser; now that is not something I was told, but it is just my understanding of their arrangement, so I would think because Firefox OS is so new that it is not part of the arrangement with Google right now but it could be as Firefox OS takes off. I am imagining that eventually that will be something that they discuss and negotiate with.

Tim: When it comes to carriers, what is your network coverage that people need if they get one of these phones that are now becoming commercially available? What do they need, that you can get on the network?

Benjamin: So right now, you just need a SIM card, of course it only supports certain frequencies right now this phone specifically supports T-mobile. I am not sure if the Geeksphone is one of the first OEM partners that is launching, and they’ve actually already sold out. And I believe that that would also support T-mobile. And I am thinking that with all the different OEM partners out there and the carrier partners which is Sprint and T-mobile that we are going to see it open up to more carriers as we go, and maybe even get a CDMA model especially with that Sprint partnership.

Tim: At the back of your phone, you have got a sticker, can you hold that up to the camera a little bit?

Benjamin: Sure.

Tim: That says, “B2G Test Drivers”. Could you talk about that?

Benjamin: Yeah, sure B2G Test Drivers is just a program that’s within the Firefox OS initiative to get people doing some QA testing and hacking on Firefox OS early. B2G was a codename for Firefox before the name was changed to Firefox OS, and so it still has that code name, and that is still used as a reference in the community.

Tim: And your phone is not certified by the FCC - the one in your hand?

Benjamin: No it is not.

Tim: But it works fine on a T-mobile network.

Benjamin: Yes it does. You can make calls with it. This one with the SIM card on this, is having airtime, but yeah, the calls work great, Wi-Fi works, everything works on this right now. All the apps that are here, there is no place for other apps like Ubuntu Touch or something like that. Everything is working right out of the box right now.

Tim: What do you find for battery life?

Benjamin: Because the apps are so lightweight, with HTML5, we found that the battery life is actually pretty exceptional. I get better battery life than Android on my Galaxy Nexus. So battery life is pretty good.

Tim: If you don’t mind Benjamin, let’s walk through some of the apps that are on that device.

Benjamin: Okay. So right now we are at the home screen of Firefox OS. As you can see, we’ve got the dialer, messaging, contacts, and of course, the Firefox browser. If you move directly over to the right with a swipe, you’ve got settings, FM radio, Gallery - so you can see images that you’ve taken with the camera app; and Marketplace; and also HERE Maps which is the map application for Firefox OS. If you go into the right here, you’ve got some basic apps like your social media; these are like bookmarks to the mobile sites for the various sites, and then if you go back over here, you go to Marketplace, I don’t know if it is I am going to try to load it here, Wi-Fi is kind of bad, but it is loading.

We’ve got a Marketplace where you can actually install some apps instead of just going to the website. As you can see we’ve got Twitter, SoundCloud, Airbnb, HERE Maps which is already installed, Wired it has got an app, we’ve got an MTV app, AccuWeather - so you can check your weather, Pulse News- which is really a cool app, I’ve been using it even on Android but it is great to have it on Firefox OS. It is going to make the transition a lot better. As you can see, we’ve also got categories, there are quite a bit of games.

Some of these games are really fun, I have found them to be just as good as the ones on Android one of my favorites is Jewels right here. So as you can see, we’ve got a pretty decent app ecosystem already. And with the support for developers, specifically app developers, we are going to see more and more apps being ported over especially knowing that there are already people out there like Twitter that have ported apps. That is basically Firefox OS. And you guys can buy a Geeksphone through one of the partners and go on and try it out, or you can also flash it on to a Galaxy Nexus device, so the instructions are on Mozilla.org.

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Firefox OS Phone on Display at LinuxFest NorthWest (Video)

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  • My bet is next month. Got to release new versions of the phones faster than android manufacturers, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      2.0?

      They should be at 15.0 by the end of the week.

  • Another layer on top of Android on top of Linux.

    Mozilla needs to focus on their core business. The number of Firefox bugs fixed remains lower than the number being reported, and the internals, which date back to the Netscape era, need replacement.

    • by kthreadd (1558445) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @04:20PM (#43603759)

      I don't think a phone would be very useful if all it had was the Linux kernel. You would need a userland, and using one as a base that is already established means a lot of people already know how to use and develop for the platform.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Another layer on top of Android on top of Linux.

      Mozilla needs to focus on their core business. The number of Firefox bugs fixed remains lower than the number being reported, and the internals, which date back to the Netscape era, need replacement.

      So, the "layers" here are 1. Kernel. 2. Userland. 3. UI. Which one of these do you consider unnecessary for the purpose?

    • by Lennie (16154) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:38PM (#43604949) Homepage

      There is no Android in FirefoxOS.

      They do support running on the same Linux kernel though, so they can make use of the same drivers that were already developed for devices that can run Android.

      Actually, it has been shown FirefoxOS can run on less powerful devices than Android can.

      • by exomondo (1725132)
        What's the point of it though? Why not run it like Facebook Home on top of Android and utilise the Firefox browser? At least that's as easy for users to install as any app and underneath is completely compatible with all existing Android functionality. I see no reason this would end up any different than Tizen or webOS or any of those abandoned mobile OSes. So the question is why would somebody choose this over an Android phone?
        • by roca (43122)

          The reason not to run the Android user-space is footprint. If you use Android apps and a browser, you have two parallel platform stacks --- rendering, compositing, VM, networking, UI, etc both running on a phone at the same time. Getting rid of the Android Java stuff means you can use the Web and local HTML5-based apps at the same time with only one stack. Saves a lot of memory and simplifies the software design considerably.

          • by exomondo (1725132)

            If you use Android apps and a browser, you have two parallel platform stacks --- rendering, compositing, VM, networking, UI, etc both running on a phone at the same time. Getting rid of the Android Java stuff means you can use the Web and local HTML5-based apps at the same time with only one stack. Saves a lot of memory and simplifies the software design considerably.

            All that does is limit you to html apps, which is what webOS was trying to do, on Android in the end Google made the NDK available because they realized that the abstracted environment wasn't flexible enough but you can still run HTML apps. Even the first iteration of iOS was supposed to be based around web apps and that idea was abandoned, but you can still run HTML apps. So given that HTML apps can already run on any modern smartphone I still fail to see what the appeal of Firefox OS is supposed to be unl

  • by theurge14 (820596) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @04:37PM (#43603869)

    Demo isn't really a demo, he doesn't open up anything or scroll much, just shows off a bunch of icons.

    • by dpak1170 (2645165)
      Whats the point of a demo without showing the actual phone capability. It was more of a sales call lol.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A phone that isn't tied to Microsoft or Google or Apple is a GOOD thing.
    Yes maybe the hardware won't be able to compete with the iphone, the galaxy 4 or winphone but on the other hand you sure as hell won't have google/microsoft/apple right up your ass tracking your every move.
    Remember for those companies, the phone is not the product being sold (although you pay a hefty price to buy it), you're the product being sold. So anything that trumps this vicious circle is good.
    I'll give firefox phone a chance, eve

  • I don't object to the idea of getting a tattoo but really, a product logo? That's going to look really dumb in 10 years when he's tired of ubuntu, they go under or change their logo.
    • What about the nostalgia factor? The original logo, etc.

      I wouldn't tatoo myself ANYTHING but I don't see how that is bad...

    • by ci13urn (1653273)
      Obviously you don't know what tattooing is about for some people. Many people are not doing it for fashion, but as a merit badge or mile marker in life. Ben has contributed a lot of his time and energy to the Ubuntu community in Portland, OR; organizing parties to package installers for version releases as well as bug hunting events, which I am sure he doesn't get paid to do. So that tattoo is much more than a logo to him... in 10 years he'll look at that tattoo and think, that was awesome.
      • i'm not saying he doesn't have a good reason to think that's a good idea but really, turning yourself into a billboard is a bit silly. I suspect the people defending him would feel different if he was a Jersey shore jock with a Louie Vuitton tattoo but it's pretty much the same thing.
  • by tech.kyle (2800087) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @05:58PM (#43604659)
    I got to play with it there. I didn't know I was holding something newsworthy. As a Galaxy S3 (with CM10.1) user, I thought it ran very well considering it was on what appeared to be some older mid-range hardware. Everything seemed quite smooth and snappy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lennie (16154)

      That is the whole point of FirefoxOS, get rid of all the extra layers and pretty much only run a rendering engine on top of a Linux kernel (exceptions are things like: wpasupplicant).

      It has been shown that FirefoxOS can use less resources than Android that way.

      Which is good because their target market is not the first world countries, but countries like Brazil, Mexico, Poland, Spain. Where smartphones are not as widespread (in Spain and Poland it might be certain parts of the country or markets), mostly bec

      • by exomondo (1725132)

        That is the whole point of FirefoxOS, get rid of all the extra layers and pretty much only run a rendering engine on top of a Linux kernel (exceptions are things like: wpasupplicant).

        What extra layers?

        • by roca (43122)

          Android's entire Java stack --- Dalvik, SurfaceFlinger, stuff like that.

          • by exomondo (1725132)
            That doesn't really save you much, given that you can write with the NDK or write web apps you can mostly avoid Dalvik if you want to anyway, but it's still there if you need/want it, limiting to html apps seems pretty silly outside of targeting the extreme low end of devices.
          • by kllrnohj (2626947)

            Android's entire Java stack --- Dalvik, SurfaceFlinger, stuff like that.

            SurfaceFlinger is still there, it's why you can see shit on the screen at all. You can't remove that layer. You can *replace* it, but you can't remove it. And good luck finding a replacement for SurfaceFlinger that is lighter and faster than SurfaceFlinger.

            And no browser runs on top of dalvik anyway (browser UIs might run on top of dalvik, but the engine itself does not), so removing that doesn't get you anything.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Spain not a first world country? Are you serious?

      • by kllrnohj (2626947)

        That is the whole point of FirefoxOS, get rid of all the extra layers and pretty much only run a rendering engine on top of a Linux kernel (exceptions are things like: wpasupplicant).

        FirefoxOS runs *on top of* Android, it *adds* layers, not removes them. And the very few "layers" that are actually removed (dalvik) are replaced with *slower* layers (JavaScript)

        It has been shown that FirefoxOS can use less resources than Android that way.

        No it hasn't. And if FirefoxOS with the insanely inefficient and not in the same universe as lightweight HTML5/CSS/JavaScript can use fewer resources than a lightened Java runtime with a specialized rendering pipeline I will be shocked. If that happens either Google is incompetent or Mozilla employs actual wizards.

        Seriously people,

        • by caspy7 (117545)

          That is the whole point of FirefoxOS, get rid of all the extra layers and pretty much only run a rendering engine on top of a Linux kernel (exceptions are things like: wpasupplicant).

          FirefoxOS runs *on top of* Android, it *adds* layers, not removes them. And the very few "layers" that are actually removed (dalvik) are replaced with *slower* layers (JavaScript)

          Why are you correcting him when he was right? Did you bother to look it up? FxOS is running on a Linux kernel the same as Android. It is not running on top of Android. You said that it does not remove layers and then immediately cited a layer that was removed.
          Here is an overview of the Android architecture, can you tell me which layers *didn't* get removed? (I'll give you a hint, there's only one)
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Android-System-Architecture.svg [wikipedia.org]

          • by kllrnohj (2626947)

            Why are you correcting him when he was right? Did you bother to look it up? FxOS is running on a Linux kernel the same as Android. It is not running on top of Android. You said that it does not remove layers and then immediately cited a layer that was removed.
            Here is an overview of the Android architecture, can you tell me which layers *didn't* get removed? (I'll give you a hint, there's only one)
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Android-System-Architecture.svg [wikipedia.org]

            I'm correcting him because he is wrong, just like you are. FxOS runs on top of Android's userspace. It literally boots Android, then launches Firefox. This is not a "both run on the Linux kernel" thing, especially since FxOS doesn't run directly on the kernel to begin with. No, FxOS is instead just a native Android application, compiled against Android's userspace.

            • by exomondo (1725132)

              No, FxOS is instead just a native Android application, compiled against Android's userspace.

              I thought it had it's own userspace running on the Android kernel with Android drivers, or are you saying that Gonk wraps up the entire Android system with Gecko and Gaia sitting on top of that?

              • by kllrnohj (2626947)

                Gonk is Android in a literal sense. When you build FxOS the first step is actually downloading and building AOSP, as that's the "gonk" layer. It uses repo and lunch and the rest of the Android build chain as well.

                Here's the manifest file for the FxOS emulator build: https://github.com/mozilla-b2g/b2g-manifest/blob/master/emulator.xml [github.com]

                You can see plain as day it's pulling in a huge amount of Android code, including the framework.

                Not that this is a bad thing, this is the point of open source. Just that the cla

  • Is it going to spy on/track everything you do and report back to it's corporate overlords like iOS and android?

    • Re:Tracking? (Score:5, Informative)

      by caspy7 (117545) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:59PM (#43606233)

      From what I've seen (the non-profit) Mozilla is probably one of the most trustworthy organizations on the net. Protecting users is a part of their mission and they've historically gone out of their way to make sure user info is protected and is not monetized.
      As an example, Firefox Sync (which is actually open & could be implemented on any device or browser) encrypts bookmarks and passwords with extremely high encryption on your device before sending it to the server. The key is only stored on your device such that even if a governing body forced Mozilla to give up your data they still could not decrypt it.
      Recently they've become very unpopular in some circles (ok, just one primarily) by choosing to block third-party cookies from sites you've never visited. This prevents tracking cookies from ad companies (following you and your activities around the net).

      So as far as phone makers, I'd put them at the bottom of the list of folks I'm concerned about tracking me.

    • does Firefox do that? Do you know what Mozilla stands for? Research that and you'll have your answer.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        The Mozilla Foundation is desperately looking for new ways of acquiring revenue that does not depend on large grants by fickle corporations. Especially when their core competency is being made largely irrelevant by those grantors. Guess the fastest, most common--and apparently very easy to justify morally--way to monetize user access on the Web?

        Come on, guess...

    • Short answer: "No!"

      Long answer: "You do know what Firefox is right?"

  • The last thing we need is another mobile operating system. We already have iOS, Android and Windows Mobile, and it's hard enough to get cross-platform support for apps at times, much less having a fourth or fifth entry in the market.

    Nothing against the Firefox folks, but just as in Linux, there are problems with having too much choice.

  • I wonder if FirefoxOS can look up the definition of Balkanization.


    /runs away

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