Open Thinkering


Tag: FirefoxOS

FirefoxOS v2.0 is possibly the easiest-to-use smartphone operating system I’ve experienced

My father’s always been a fairly early adopter of technology. He happily uses a device that wirelessly connects his golf club to his iPhone, for example. My mother? Not so much. Until this weekend she was still sporting an old Nokia feature phone. She kind of wanted a smartphone, but didn’t want the complexity, nor the expense.

FirefoxOS v2.0

Meanwhile, I’ve been using a Geeksphone Peak smartphone recently. It’s not the latest FirefoxOS device (that would be the Flame), but it’s a significant step up from last year’s Geeksphone Keon. I’ve been using the pre-release channel of v2.0 of FirefoxOS, which is a departure from previous versions. Whereas they were similar in look and feel to Android, FirefoxOS v2.0 is different.

Every weekend, we go over to my parents’ house for Sunday lunch. Yesterday, we got talking about technology and I showed my parents my FirefoxOS device. One thing led to another, and (because all of my stuff was backed up) I wiped the phone, transferred my mother’s contacts, and swapped SIM cards. My wife gave her some tips, and then we drove off into the sunset with her Nokia phone.

I don’t think I would have felt comfortable leaving her without her old phone to revert back to if I was giving her an Android device or iPhone. There’s something so simple yet so powerful about Firefox v2.0; I’m happy to use it myself and hand it over to other, more technophobic people. Yes, I understand that I’m a Mozilla employee fully invested in the mission, but those who know me understand I also don’t say positive things about specific technologies without good reason.

According to the roadmap, today’s the day that FirefoxOS v2.0 becomes feature complete. There’s some really nice features in there too, like WebRTC (imagine Skype/FaceTime, but just using web technologies), edge gestures (something I really missed from my old Nokia N9) and Sync. If you haven’t had a chance to try one out, I’d take a look at FirefoxOS device over the coming months. The operating system is currently being tested on tablets and TVs and means, of course, smart devices without the usual vendor lock-in.

Note: the screenshots are from this post as I forgot to take some before wiping the phone and lending it to my mother!

The web is the platform (or, the perils of esoteric setups)

At Mozilla we say that “the web is the platform”. It’s almost like a mantra. By that we mean that, as the world’s largest public resource, the web is big enough, fast enough, and open enough for everyone to use on a full-time basis.

To prove this, we made FirefoxOS, a mobile operating system comprised entirely of web-native technologies. But FirefoxOS devices aren’t the only ones that lean heavily on the web for their functionality. Google Chromebooks have a stripped-down version of Linux that boots directly into Google’s Chrome web browser.

The meme over the last few years seems to have been that Chromebooks (and by extension, I guess, FirefoxOS devices) are for other people – you know, the type that “just do a little bit of web browsing here and there.” They’re not for us power users.

Here, for example, is Andrew Cunningham from Ars Technica talking about covering CES 2014 on a Chromebook:

Even if you can do everything you need to be able to do on a Chromebook, switching from any operating system to any other operating system is going to cause some friction. I use OS X to get most of my work done because it’s got a bunch of built-in features and applications that I like. I use Full Screen Mode to keep my laptop’s display organized and uncluttered. I like Limechat because it’s got a bunch of preferences and settings that lets me change the way it looks and works. I like Messages because it lets me connect to our XMPP server and Google Talk and iMessage, all within one client.

That’s what bothers me the most about Chrome OS. It’s not that you can’t do a lot with a Chromebook. It’s not even about getting used to different tools. It’s just that the operating system works so differently from established desktop operating systems that you’ll have to alter many of your normal workflows. No one’s saying it’s impossible to do, but for people used to something else it can be a laborious process.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with native apps. I really like Scrivener, Notational Velocity, and others. But unless you’ve got unusual requirements I reckon that in 2014 you should have a workflow that can use the web as the platform. In other words, being away from your own machine and ‘perfect setup’ shouldn’t dent your productivity too much.

One blocker to all this, of course, is other people. For example, it’s very difficult to move away from using Skype (which doesn’t have a web client) because it’s the de facto standard for business VoIP communication. That is only likely to change when there’s a critical mass of people familiar enough with different technologies to be able to switch to them quickly and easily. Hopefully WebRTC will expedite this process!

So, in conclusion, if you’ve got a workflow that depends upon a particular native app, perhaps it’s time to look for an alternative?* Then, at the minimum you’ve got that alternative up your sleeve in a pinch, and at best you may find you want to switch to it full time.**

 Image CC BY Robert S. Donovan

*For example, I’ve recently moved from Evernote to Simplenote and from Adium to IRCcloud.

**If you want to simultaneously focus on privacy/security, look at the newly-revamped PRISM Break site.