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Firefox OS finds a new way to app

As Mozilla continues to develop Firefox OS, the company reveals at CES 2013 changes to the OS that can turn Web sites into apps.

LAS VEGAS--As Firefox OS develops partially in the public eye, Mozilla shows off two interesting changes to how the operating system handles apps at the CES 2013.

The first change could have wide-reaching consequences for anybody who's built a Web site and wants to get in on the mobile app revolution. Part of the investment, Mozilla has come up with a way for people to turn their Web sites into mobile apps using manifest files. It could revolutionize app marketplaces, said Christian Heilmann, Mozilla's lead developer on Firefox OS.

"App markets right now are like the old Yahoo directory, which Google came along and disrupted. This could be like that," he said as he swiped to the search screen on a demo phone running the operating system. There were categories of apps there, and Heilmann said that Firefox OS will be able to organize sites into the appropriate categories in part using the manifest files.

The second change comes in how Mozilla is planning to handle app permissions. Sid Stamm, Mozilla's lead privacy engineer, said that they've developed a security and privacy permission system for apps that takes into consideration hardware components like Bluetooth, and content components like contacts.

"If we can make the questions about these permissions more relevant to the user at the time, that will make them make more informed decisions. We can't do it all as [the app] being used, so in Firefox OS we take a hybrid approach," he said.

As he explained it to me, most permissions will appear in a list when the app is installed, as they are with Android. Other permissions, such as those that you may not be aware of an app needing access to, like a solitaire app wanting access to your contact list, could open a permissions window for approval the first time you use them.

Mozilla's lofty goal of an open-source mobile operating system certainly appears Quixotic at times, but it's also clear that the company is looking at a different way to do some aspects of mobile than what we've seen so far.