Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Firefox OS Can Do Better


While Spider-Man's words of wisdom is true that "with great powers come great responsibility," it's also undeniable that "with great challenges come great opportunity." Having to create a new platform from scratch, Mozilla FirefoxOS is definitely facing competition from incumbents iOS and Android, with Windows Phone slowly squeezing its way through. The opportunity presented to Mozilla FirefoxOS is that they started with a clean slate, much like BeOS had the chance back in the mid-1990s.

If history is to teach you anything, the blunder BeOS made was that they kept playing on the hardware field dominated by the then incumbents, Microsoft and the Apple before the return of Steve Jobs. BeOS shifted too late to the internet appliance market, and slowly dissolved in obscurity when sold to Palm. FirefoxOS in contrast has successfully defined a hardware reference implementation, though it's not positioned to compete with iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Come to think of it, FirefoxOS is not even aiming at Blackberry's fractional market share. What does FirefoxOS bring to the table then? What does FirefoxOS stand for? Is FirefoxOS a mere hobbyist mobile platform? Most importantly: what can FirefoxOS do better?

If you ask some Mozilla FirefoxOS enthusiasts and supporters what they want out of the project, the answer is vaguely to have Mozilla technology relevant in the mobile computing scene, basically aimed at the DIYs and hobbyists. From the perspective of those from iOS, Android and Windows Phone, FirefoxOS is aimed at the feature phone (think Symbian or older) users or those who want to transition to a smartphone on tight budget a.k.a. feature phone price.

While FirefoxOS can differentiate in price, it can only keep them up for so long. Here are some suggestions for FirefoxOS to do better:
  • Standardize on device screen resolution per mobile category
  • Build on top of OpenBSD rather than Linux
  • Standardize on open source-friendly hardware specification
  • Design and develop the open specification and implementation for central device management framework

Standardize on device screen resolution per mobile category

When we say mobile category, we meant phone, phablet (hybrid phone and tablet) and tablet category, and by standardized screen resolution, we suggest that FirefoxOS avoid the Android developer nightmare of developing apps while having to concern themselves with the various screen resolution of each brand and each model per brand of implementation. Apple's decision to standardize screen resolution of iOS per edition of iPod, iPhone and iPad is a very elegant, simple and sensibly smart for the hardware manufacturer, especially if there will be multiple hardware reference implementation from various vendors, and very beneficial for application developers.

Build on top of OpenBSD rather than Linux

Some readers may say that we're merely OpenBSD support providers proposing based on business agenda. Arguably, using OpenBSD gives FirefoxOS unfair advantages: (1) competitive platform security and stability, and (2) differentiation from Android, Tizen and other Linux-based mobile platforms. Did we mention that OpenBSD is also far far smaller than Linux, making it possible to cost-effectively create a smartphone that is secure, less resource intensive and low-cost, not to mention DIY-friendly? For more detail on the OpenBSD vs. Linux, you can read my older article on tablet computer.

Standardize on open source-friendly hardware specification

Using OpenBSD as the base of the FirefoxOS platform, it's implicit that Mozilla has to use open source-friendly hardware. That is if they indeed are also targeting DIYs and hobbyists. This is one other aspect that FirefoxOS has an opportunity to revolutionize: to define and implement an open source-friendly phone hardware.

Design and develop the open specification and implementation for central device management framework

Bring-Your-own-Device or BYOD is the hype recently, and Blackberry as a mobile platform has one core strength that hasn't yet found a contender nor a replacement: the Blackberry Enterprise Server or BES. It enables centralized management of applications and information accessed by a managed Blackberry device, and recently, even iOS and Android. In summary, BES enables: (1) remote wipe, (2) remote lock and password change, (3) push down software configurations, (4) wireless handheld firmware upgrades, (5) PIM Sync (calendar, address book, tasks & memo pad), and (6) full email sync (sent/received,filed, deleted, follow-ups). Unfortunately for Blackberry, their relevance slowly dying away against the popularity of iOS and Android but without any BES alternative in sight. For FirefoxOS, this presents an opportunity to design, define and implement a competitive central device management framework. If built-in rather than ad-hoc BYOD management framework, this feature will ensure, beyond differentiation, practical value for business and education market segment, where demand for centralized device management is slowly dawning. Lastly, having this as a defined open specification would be the last nail on the coffin of Blackberry.

The position FirefoxOS took is compelling: catching those who will transition from their loved feature phones, but more than being low cost, FirefoxOS as a platform has to  provide very relevant features and capabilities that are beyond the popular demand for apps and games from popular providers. The industry needs an alternative platform that's above and beyond the current and popular viewpoint that for a platform to succeed, it has to partake in the orgy of popular apps and games on the mobile devices.

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