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Mozilla offers developers phones to write Firefox OS apps

The open-source browser maker is trying to coax programmers into writing software for the Firefox Marketplace by offering them free phones.

The Geeksphone Keon, a developer-oriented Firefox OS phone
The Geeksphone Keon, a developer-oriented Firefox OS phone. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla has a deal for programmers: We'll supply the phones if you supply the apps.

In an effort to ensure there will be good Firefox OS apps in the Firefox Marketplace, Mozilla is offering developer phones to programmers who have compelling ideas for software. In a blog post Thursday, Mozilla employee Havi Hoffman tried to drum up interest:

If you can show you've got a great app idea and the skill to build it, we'd love to see your apps in the Marketplace when the Firefox OS launch begins later this summer. And to sweeten the deal, we'll send a Firefox OS Developer Preview device for you to work with now.

When Firefox OS phones become available to consumers in select locales this summer, you'll have an opportunity that only comes around once -- a first-mover advantage in Firefox Marketplace. End users in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and other launch locations will be on the lookout for playful and practical apps to install: games, tools, and utilities, as well as locally relevant news, sports, travel, entertainment, review apps, and social sharing experiences.

Firefox OS runs browser-based apps, which means in practice that it loads Web sites optimized for mobile devices. That gives Mozilla's operating system a running start, since sites such as Flickr or Facebook already work at least to some extent.

But apparently Mozilla wants to make sure there are apps that work well -- a challenge given the limited hardware abilities of first-generation Firefox OS phones intended for cost-sensitive developing markets. And many Web programmers aren't up to speed on mobile browser abilities such as detecting touch-screen input or phone orientation.

Mozilla showed off the first Firefox OS phones for developers at Mobile World Congress in February, and partner Geeksphone has begun shipping them. Other Firefox OS phone manufacturers include Alcatel, ZTE, LG, and Sony, though it's not clear whose will be ready when the phones go on sale in the coming weeks.

Mozilla also published a form to apply for the Firefox OS phone program.