Tuesday, December 8, 2015

So long, Firefox phones

Fresh from Mozilla's internal revelation they'd like to jettison Thunderbird as a drag on Firefox development (sure to rankle our Tenfourbird builder in the land of the Rising Sun), Mozilla has now announced the end of the Firefox OS smartphone.

I can't say I'm surprised. I liked FxOS as a user, but its application support was dismal (so I could not ditch my Nexus 5, nor could I truly dogfood any Firefox device), and FxOS seemed to only be offered as an option on truly awful hardware. In my case, it was the so-bad-it's-terrible Geeksphone Revulsion Revolution, branded as their developer unit after the whimpering fail of the Peak. True to form, when I actually finally got one, it turned out to be an unmitigated steaming heap and essentially ensured I would never buy a Geeksphone device ever again. Yes, it was that bad. And this was supposed to be their developer device, to get people actually excited about the platform!

That said, I'm sad to see this development (even if I'm not at all shocked), because even though FxOS will live on in some form as an open source project I predict it'll eventually go the benignly neglected way of things like Firefox for webOS (which, having recently acquired an HP Veer for snickers and fighting with endian problems in novacomd, would be really handy about now). That's bad for us in Power Mac land because the improvements to boost Firefox performance on constrained mobile devices also help with our now decade-plus computers. Time will tell if Mozilla decides to kill the entire project as well, not just shipping Firefox phones.

TenFourFoxBox so far has been a huge success. I should publicly mention Mike Hommey's comment in the last blog entry: yes, the true successor to WebRunner is the webapp runtime that Firefox presently comes with, but the webapp runtime doesn't work on 10.4 and needs quite a bit of hacking to do so, and since we weren't using it anyway I could just implement an even lighter chrome and make it even faster. There will be some adjustments to allow people with differently-named executables to work (as well as an override version in case you want to use a specific version of the browser to run your foxboxes), and we need to implement a component for certain sites that try to enumerate navigator.* properties (Chase was the main offender), but otherwise it's been very well received. 1.0 will appear after 38.5.0 and will receive its own website at that time.

Speaking of, I haven't had a lot of time to do much else with 38.5 or the occasional test complaints about the MP3 decoder due to time constraints and finishing my Master's degree, but the MP3 decoder will be enabled and we'll gather some data points to figure out which encoders minimp3 doesn't like (after all, the fact it can play most MP3 files is better than none). There will also be a patch for bug 1181977 to fix the empty Application menu in foxboxes (remember to quit any running foxboxes before you upgrade the browser), and a custodial cleanup after issue 308. Watch for it this weekend for release next week.


  1. I wonder if anybody among the top management will ever take the responsibility for those failures end self destruction.

    Microsoft main business was/is PCs and corporate customers but in some meeting they decided everybody must go "mobile" and "touchscreen" so they enforced the mobile phone interface on PCs and it was a failure which brought down the PC market.

    Redhat had PCs and business customers as Microsoft and they payed Gnome people to do exactly the same mistake, throwing away a good product to enforce a mobile phone interface on PCs and it was a failure.

    Mozilla was developing software for PCs and at some point they decided that they had to follow the "hype" about the "mobile revolution" and invest resources bringing the "Web Technologies" on mobile phones with FirefoxOS, which was an obvious failure since day 0, now we are told "We are proud... and will continue to experiment". Yeah who cares of a product with 10 million users like Thunderbird, much better to "experiment" with products nobody wants.

    Since they are focused on "experiments" why don't they save resources by dropping Firefox, stopping to reinvent the wheel and doing the same as Opera with a mod/skin of Google Chrome?

    1. I think you need to cut Mozilla some slack. The world isn't static, and the web (and internet) has increasingly become disassociated from traditional desktop browsers. That required a response, and it wasn't (and still isn't) clear to anyone what the best response was.

      Mozilla's actions and strategies over the years have caused me to scratch my head at times (many, many times), but its goal has always been surprisingly crystal clear: to protect the rights of web users, by fighting for openness, standardisation, privacy, security and user power. If you'll excuse my language, that's fu(<ing hard to do when the people you are trying to protect are falling over themselves to throw all of that away for every new shiny toy.

      Mozilla isn't playing the same game as every other application developer --- its application is (exclusively) a platform. Mozilla wants to use this software platform to protect web user rights, rather than using (say) the law or advocacy. This makes sense, since this approach is substantially more effective than any other. (Mozilla has been far more effective at protecting user rights than the EFF, for example.) But it is *only* more effective if that software platform is *broadly available*. Now, three years ago, every other significant browser maker had an OS for some computing segment, and Mozilla had none. That put Mozilla in a *very* vulnerable position, putting it at risk of being completely squeezed out of every platform by dictatorial force (Apple) or the curse of default settings (Microsoft, Google), and unable to cope with rapid change. Firefox OS was (and I would argue still is) essential in avoiding death for the entire Mozilla cause. And we already see signs of how important it can be --- Mozilla is re-orienting Firefox OS to the internet of things (IoT). The fact that it can deal with IoT at all is precisely because it has an OS, all ready to go. If IoT turns out to cause another revolution, Mozilla will be ready this time. It won't be caught out like it was with the mobile web.

      Where Mozilla fails time and again is in communication. It's not hard to see why --- good communication is critically dependent on timing and packaging, but being a mostly open organisation, Mozilla is not normally in control of either of those things. (Though for some reason, it tries to pretend it is.) So people usually find out about something well before Mozilla makes any official announcement about it, and at the same time Mozilla loses all control over how the message comes out. What's particularly annoying is that even in cases where Mozilla *is* in a position to shape the message (like in this case), they seem to have no idea how to do it. So we have Chinese-whispers news about Firefox OS's complete death, sparked by comments at an official meet, but there was nothing prepared in advance for it on any official Mozilla channel that would have allowed *Mozilla* to shape the message, rather than the Randoms of the Internet.

    2. I think your last point is the most timely. Both the T-bird and FxOS messages could have been substantially better shaped than they were. Maybe that's too much to ask from an organization with ostensibly open governance, but it would certainly cut down on people running off with the message in unintended directions.

  2. I like Firefox OS. I am using Alcatel Pixi and I enjoy it. It is one of the most privacy-oriented open source OS-es. What a pity Mozilla abandoned it.

    1. I like the feel of it, and the Revulsion was definitely better with FxOS than with AOSP (though this may say more about how bad Google has made AOSP than how good FxOS was). But nothing I need to use runs on it -- I actually require ePocrates, for example, which was never in the offing then and almost certainly won't be now -- and I really want a premium choice for my phone, which wasn't what FxOS was really consciously focused on, and that's not going to attract developers and other people you want to dogfood the platform.

      FxOS isn't abandoned per se, mind you, but I think most people will interpret this as such and I'm afraid it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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