MWC 2014 Day 2 : Firefox OS – Why the hullaballoo about Gonk ,Gecko and Gaia?

Presentation1Judging by the number of visitors thronging the Mozilla stand , Firefox OS is creating major waves in Barcelona ( just as it did in 2013 ).The PR machinery has been running overtime bolstered by the announcements from Telefonica who announced that it plans to further leverage Firefox OS and redouble its efforts to provide access to the Internet to the next Billion consumers. In 2014, Telefónica will offer Firefox OS devices in a total of 16 countries, leveraging the openness of the Web and HTML5 as an alternative to the closed ecosystems providing an alternative choice to consumers in countries where smartphone penetration is still low – especially in Latin America and Africa .

Telenor and its operating businesses have also seen great consumer satisfaction and a continued appetite in the market for quality, low-cost products based on Firefox OS. Mozilla are working closely with partners like Deutsche Telekom and KDDI to customize Firefox OS with new features that will make it more attractive to the discerning smartphone shoppers in their markets. Operator support for Firefox OS to expand, as Telkomsel and Indosat have joined the list of 21 key operators across the globe that support the open Web device initiative. That list also includes partners announced in 2013: America Movil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefonica, Telenor, Telstra, TMN and VimpelCom.

So lets take a deeper look into Firefox. The Firefox OS is basically built on HTML5 Web standards and hence, these apps are designed to run on any system at all, with the most minimal amount of reworking and redesigning done on the part of the app developer. This flexibility would encourage mobile carriers to offers services specifically tailored to user needs and preferences. Firefox OS is designed to provide a “complete” community-based alternative system for mobile devices, using open standards and approaches such as HTML5 applications, JavaScript, a robust privilege model, open web APIs to communicate directly with cell phone hardware, and application marketplace. The initial development work involved three major software layers in the Firefox OS :

1.Gonk consists of a Linux kernel and user-space hardware abstraction layer (HAL). The kernel and several user-space libraries are common open-source projects: Linux, libusb, BlueZ, etc. Some other parts of the HAL are shared with the Android project: GPS, camera, among others. Gonk is basically an extremely simple Linux distribution and is therefore from Gecko’s perspective, simply a porting target of Gecko; there is a port of Gecko to Gonk, just like there is a port of Gecko to OS X, and a port of Gecko to Android.

2.Gecko is the application runtime of Firefox OS. Gecko implements open standards for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Gecko includes a networking stack, graphics stack, layout engine, virtual machine (for JavaScript), and porting layers.

3.Gaia is the user interface of Firefox OS and controls everything drawn to screen. Gaia includes by default implementations of a lock screen, home screen, telephone dialer and contacts application, text-messaging application, camera application and a gallery support, plus the classic phone apps: mail, calendar, calculator and marketplace. Gaia is written entirely in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It interfaces with the operating system through Open Web APIs, which are implemented by Gecko. Because it uses only standard web APIs, it can work on other OSes and other web-browsers.

This platform lets developers leverage the full benefit of its features such as accelerometer and camera and turn them into interesting apps for the end-user. The APIs available to developers could help them create useful apps, which other browsers too can integrate and make use of. The fact that Firefox OS is developed completely in the open has been a huge boon to the project. OEMs, chipset vendors, network operators and individuals have written substantial parts of the operating system. These contributions extend from the addition of key Firefox OS features from leading mobile industry players, down to localized apps being added to our Marketplace by individual Web developers.

This new mobile platform sharply focuses on providing the end-user with the maximum possible security while online on mobile. All apps in the marketplace go through a tough verification process, where they are tested for malware and other potentially dangerous inclusions. Each app can access only a certain amount of APIs. Additionally, apps that offer location services, for example, must first receive user permission to do so. Hence, user privacy and security is the topmost priority of this OS. In order to promote the ecosystem, the Open Web Device Compliance Review Board (CRB) was formed by Mozilla and major global partners in late 2013. The CRB’s aim is to define and evolve the process of encouraging API compatibility and competitive performance for open Web devices.

Deutsche Telekom is utilizing this customization to develop new Firefox OS features for the Future of Mobile Privacy project, a joint effort with Mozilla to bring data privacy closer to customers. The organizations’ privacy offices have been collaborating over the past year to conceptualize and develop new privacy features that are currently being tested for consideration in future Firefox OS releases.

Mozilla includes dynamic app search, which offers advanced search capabilities, while also seamlessly integrating with the most popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and so on. This is especially beneficial for mobile marketers and B2B companies, who can additionally make use of the location feature to reach more customers via the mobile social sphere. The Firefox Marketplace also offers developers the advantage of flexibility and ease to work with.

Mozilla is in itself a not-for-profit establishment. However, it aims to enable its partners and app developers to make more money while associating themselves with its Firefox OS. This company presents vast opportunities to amateur developers who cannot afford the high costs of iOS and Android app development. While it stipulates a 70/30 split on app sales, developers can earn more money via monetization, creating their own billing system, even designing their own exclusive marketplace.

Mozilla has long targeted the low end of the smartphone market with its Firefox OS hardware, rather than get torn to bits trying to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung on the high end. What makes the new ultra-low price point possible ? According to Mozilla, it’s a new system on a chip (SoC) developed by hardware partner Spreadtrum, a Chinese fabless semiconductor company that specializes in building reference designs and turnkey device designs for OEMs.Previous Firefox OS handsets were based on Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs, as are some new devices being shown off at this year’s MWC.

Indeed, capturing share in emerging markets has been one of the key themes of this year’s MWC. Microsoft announced that it has has similarly been working with Qualcomm to develop an SoC that could be used to build ultra-cheap Windows Phone devices.One of the advantages of Mozilla’s mobile OS is that it can run on very low-end hardware – to say nothing of the low cost of the OS to OEMs, considering that it’s developed as an open-source project with a fully open ecosystem.

Think about this : a $25 smartphone for emerging countries. Can you even fathom the positive impact on the Digital Divide ? What about the impact on the Mobile networks ? Those MNO’s that are dozing at the wheel are heading for a serious crash if they don’t upgrade their networks , bolster the BSS / OSS core and devise profitable data monetisation strategies to handle a data tsunami of titanic proportions.

Firefox OS is also expanding to additional form factors, as partners and contributors work to optimize the software for TVs, tablets and other devices. In January, Panasonic announced a partnership with Mozilla to release next-generation smart TVs powered by Firefox OS.

We all know that Linux ( the heart of Firefox ) is really stable and robust platform : which means a smooth responsive smartphone interface maybe even better than Apple IoS. Firefox changed web browsing forever by putting users first and offering a new level of choice and innovation online. Now they are doing it all over again with Firefox OS, while bringing the same superior browsing experience to your smartphone

In the final analysis Open Source is in the vogue now. Many people prefer open source software because they have more control over that kind of software. They can examine the code to make sure it’s not doing anything they don’t want it to do, and they can change parts of it they don’t like. Users who aren’t programmers also benefit from open source software, because they can use this software for any purpose they wish—not merely the way someone else thinks they should.

Open source platforms appeal to the NEW AGE rebel in us. Hey…why pay exhorbitant royalties to closed proprietary systems owned by “greedy” software corporations ? We love ” not for profit ” ” community based ” initiatives that empower the small people ( developers ) don’t we ?? As far as i am concerned i just adore the funky foxy cool Firefox logo 🙂

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )


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