Services & Software

Mozilla's browser OS gets partners and a name: Firefox OS

The browser-based smartphone operating system, formerly called Boot to Gecko, has won over two hardware makers and six carriers.

Firefox OS, previously known as Boot to Gecko (B2G), is designed to give Mozilla a foothold in the smartphone market.

Mozilla's browser-based smartphone operating system has grown up a notch, winning over partners such as Sprint and ZTE and picking up the marketing-friendly name of Firefox OS.

In addition, Mozilla has announced several partners, a necessity for making a bunch of software into something people actually use: only a very small number of people have the skills and interest to install a mobile-phone OS.

Carrier Telefonica and chipmaker Qualcomm already were partners that emerged when Mozilla announced B2G at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. They'd said to expect phones by the end of 2012 then, but now the schedule calls for Firefox OS models to arrive first in Brazil in 2013.

Now new carriers are on board: Deutsche Telekom, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, and Telenor. There also are two announced handset makers: ZTE and TCL Communication Technology, which will make phones under the Alcatel One Touch brand.

The open-source operating system uses Linux under the covers, but it runs applications on a version of Firefox. That's straightforward for using many Web sites and Web apps, but Mozilla also is adapting it so Web apps can take advantage of smartphone features such as gyroscopes and cameras.

Previously the project was called Boot to Gecko (B2G), a name based on the Gecko browser engine within Firefox. Mozilla hopes Firefox OS will spread smartphones to a lower-cost segment, carving a niche where the dominant mobile OSes -- Google's Android and Apple's iOS -- haven't yet found a niche.

Firefox is virtually unknown in the mobile realm, though a refurbished Firefox for Android might give it a foothold. With major barriers to third-party browsers on iOS, Windows Phone, and Windows RT, it's particularly hard for Mozilla to use its browser clout to extend its mission of ensuring an open Web to the mobile realm.

"Mozilla's OS for mobile devices will help deliver on our mission to offer advanced Web technologies that eliminate roadblocks for users and developers. It will also help Mozilla to democratize smartphone experiences to the billions of internet users expected to come online for the first time through mobile in the coming years," said Mozilla Chief Executive Gary Kovacs in a statement. "The large number of operators and manufacturers now supporting this effort will bring additional resources and welcome diversity to our global offerings."