Mozilla ends commercial Firefox OS development

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 27, 2016

Mozilla announced today that it has stopped the commercial development of the organization's Firefox OS operating system at the end of July 2016.

The organization revealed in December 2015 that it made the decision to stop Firefox OS smartphone development and to concentrate on developing Firefox OS for connected devices instead.

Today's announcement puts the brakes on that as well.  The announcement recaps what transpired after Mozilla made the announcement back in December:

  • Firefox OS development for smartphones was stopped, and the organization made the decision to look at opportunities to use Firefox OS "in the world of connected devices".
  • Firefox OS was moved to the Tier 3 platform at Mozilla. This meant that Firefox OS would be supported solely by other contributors and not Mozilla Platform Engineering resources. This is the same tier that Mozilla Thunderbird was moved to when Mozilla made the decision to de-prioritize it.
  • Development on Firefox OS 2.6 continued for the time being largely because of Mozilla's plans to explore other venues, and to provide commercial partners with a stable release.
  • A Firefox OS Transition Project was launched to bring the B2G code to a stable end state to pass it on to the community as an open source project.

The Connected Devices team looked at Firefox OS, and came to the conclusion that its use was limited when the effort to maintain the project was taken into consideration. Also, Firefox OS TV was better suited to be run by a commercial partner and not by a Mozilla led team.

This meas that Firefox OS 2.6 was the last release of Firefox OS by Mozilla.

In the spring and summer of 2016 the Connected Devices team dug deeper into opportunities for Firefox OS. They concluded that Firefox OS TV was a project to be run by our commercial partner and not a project to be led by Mozilla. Further, Firefox OS was determined to not be sufficiently useful for ongoing Connected Devices work to justify the effort to maintain it. This meant that development of the Firefox OS stack was no longer a part of Connected Devices, or Mozilla at all. Firefox OS 2.6 would be the last release from Mozilla.

Mozilla is working on removing B2G-related code from mozilla-central. This has an impact on the Firefox OS community project as the community needs to maintain a fork of Gecko and use its own branch for development.

It remains to be seen if a community led project can maintain Firefox OS and develop it further.

Now You: Good decision or bad? What's your take on the end of Firefox OS as a Mozilla driven project?

Mozilla ends commercial Firefox OS development
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Mozilla ends commercial Firefox OS development
Mozilla announced today that it has stopped the commercial development of the organization's Firefox OS operating system at the end of July 2016.
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  1. Doug said on September 29, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    This is a good example of why I continue to enjoy Martin’s articles, and the thoughtful and informative feedback from the many talented IT professionals. No name calling (yet!) and very interesting comments thus far.

  2. Daniel Winter said on September 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Mozilla seems a very disorganized organization. Develop Firefox OS, then stop. Put WebRTC in Firefox and tout it as a great feature. Then remove. Put pocket in Firefox, then remove. Stop ‘active’ Thunderbird development, then sort of continue.

    1. Dave said on September 29, 2016 at 12:08 am

      Oh they removed WebRTC? Good :)

  3. b said on September 28, 2016 at 9:29 am

    meanwhile I wait for an alternative to android and iphone. Fairphone: unfortunately still with android. ubuntu: a small number for sale ( never understood why? ). Blackberry: security issues. I don’t have the energy to find out how to set up fdroid. there’s got to be somebody somewhere working on a separate ecosystem focused on privacy. does anybody know of a similar blog like Martin’s dealing with smartphone issues?
    I can still keep up with my cheap, oldschool nokia ( on purpose no internet connection ) but not for ever.

  4. Dan said on September 28, 2016 at 9:13 am

    At least they’re wasting less of the millions of dollars they earn each year. They’ve offloaded Thunderbird and streamlined and removed features in Fx to make economical the development and maintenance of their flagship product. Yet they continue to burn through their 300 million annual earnings on vanity projects, all misguided attempts to pivot. They’re almost as bad as Yahoo’s management.

  5. pd said on September 28, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for this. Updates the messy, bullshit-entangled vague statements they made last year with some reality.

    Firefox OS was another example of Mozilla being both blissfully (and to some extent, admiringly) over-ambitious and also continuously fearful and paranoid about the direction of Firefox itself.

    Mozilla needs leadership that doesn’t see the ‘cash cow’ and fundamental core of the organization as anything other than a browser. Mozilla is a browser company. It happens to be a ‘social enterprise’ browser company but it’s still a browser company. The only threats to that have not been from changes in the industry that require Mozilla to move away from the browser. Chrome came about because Mozilla was doing a bad job at improving their browser whilst Microsoft was still dormant in this space. There was one way to respond to that: start innovating with Firefox again, to ensure it remained competitive. Instead, Mozilla saw smartphone apps as a bigger threat than Chrome so they wasted huge resources trying to not improve Firefox on smartphones and provide an open-web harness for apps that was acceptable to Google Play, but instead tried to create their own hardware platform and software ecosystem to compete with an oligopoly situation (Android, iOS) that was aleady well and truly established beyond threat. They even tried to invent a market (3rd world people) to justify their attempt to compete with this oligopoly … completely forgetting that economies of scale and established market players would inevitably cater for that market eventually, if real demand actually manifested from that sector. So we saw Android phones become very cheap before fOS even got off the ground.

    Of course all this is incredibly easy to see in hindsight but I do think I noted much of these probabilities at the time. Probably the biggest opportunity Mozilla has missed is getting Firefox on TVs. They could have worked with the Kodi project and got Firefox running on the Raspberry Pi but they completely ignored this sector whilst Google/Android TV floundered and game consoles filled this space as much as anyone.

    You’re a browser company Mozilla. Not an open web evangelist organization. That war is now thankfully won. Touch tablet (I mean, smartphones are just small tablets with phone modems) devices didn’t kill off desktops and laptops. They compliment them. Instead of trying to redirect the smartphone platform to fundamentally change from native to web code and letting the browser flail in the meantime, Mozilla must now see that there will always be a web component to the IT landscape. That web component will need a browser. That’s where Mozilla lives: the browser space.

    There will always be browsers. Firefox is a browser. Make Firefox great again and port it to any new platforms that may arise in the future.

    1. Pants said on September 28, 2016 at 8:31 am

      “oligopoly situation (Android, iOS)” … so a duopoly then? :)

      I can’t really comment on the rest – I have only focused on their browser and email client. That said, ideas do need to be tested – experiments such as Hello, or branching out into areas outside their core products, could have taken off (whether it fails because it was poorly conceived or poorly marketed/executed is a different story – like you said, fOS could possibly changed its goals and moved into the TV space). I’d rather they tried new things, than did nothing. And while I’m sure fOS sucked up quite a few resources, I don’t believe this hindered any development on Firefox.

  6. MdN said on September 28, 2016 at 5:36 am

    Too bad, although choice is always good I didn’t see this OS as something… Reasonable? I mean, it was supposed to run well on low-end hardware and be mostly web-based. This might work in India where, from what I’ve heard, phones are expensive and data is reasonably cheap (people don’t get phones on contract, they pay full price) but with so many cheap Androids and the Google ecosystem already up and running it would be tough. And in Europe data is expensive, if one can afford data they can also afford a more powerful phone.

    1. Heimen Stoffels said on September 28, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Data isn’t expensive in all parts of Europe. For example, I’m paying 29 euros a month for 24 GB 4G data. Sure, it’s not the cheapest contract but for that many gigabytes it’s actually really cheap. There’s also data for 5 euros a month (which is what my dad has). Not sure what’s expensive about that?
      Or are you talking about Europe, i.e. using your contract in other countries? That’s expensive indeed, although the new EU regulations in Q2 2017 will be eliminating those expensive costs.

  7. Nebulus said on September 27, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    That is a good decision. Firefox OS was a waste of resources and a pointless project.

  8. Dave said on September 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Firefox OS could have been a success if Mozilla had played to their strengths by optimising and marketing it for Raspberry Pi, and calling it GeckOS. Why would this make a difference? Read on:

    1. Firefox is not cool, and the brand doesn’t attract many new users. A new product relying on its own name goes a long way to instill confidence. Firefox OS was relying on a dying brand and that’s a terrible idea. GeckOS would have appeared stronger on its own.

    2. Mozilla does not tend to attract smart business partners. They attract freedom-loving users who tend build their own community. Now where might they find lots and lots of those people? On smartphones in developing countries, or on a shiny new open platform that is crying out for its own simple OS?

    Instead, Firefox OS was pushed as an ‘alternative’ for Raspberry Pi. When did that strategy ever work for anyone? Mozilla is run by idiots who need firing.

  9. Anonymous said on September 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    It was stillborn anyway.

  10. dolske said on September 27, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Last ~5 years Mozilla is ran by morons and they ruin everything that was once created before (status bar, different Firefox APIs, XBL, and XUL soon) and waste resources on crap that they either cancel later (Tilt, Hello, Pocket, FirefoxOS, Boot2Gecko) or that has no use (Australis).

    1. Sais said on September 28, 2016 at 9:28 am

      I know many people who wouldn’t use Firefox if it looked like pre-Asutralis. Personally I wouldn’t use either. Aesthetics matter a lot today and to many people; and Firefox has this advantage over Chrome.

    2. Fx0 said on September 28, 2016 at 8:34 am

      It’s not crap only because you don’t need it. Tilt was a great tool for web developers. Maybe a bit too hidden. You don’t like Australis, okay, that’s your opinion, but there are enough users who like Australis and don’t like the old design. It’s the default design and there can be only one default design. It’s still no problem to change *every* aspect of the design of Firefox. Oh, and Firefox OS and Boot 2 Gecko are the same.

  11. Madis said on September 27, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    They could use their resources to help Ubuntu Touch instead, that has more potential IMO.

    1. Dave said on September 27, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      No, that’s just as dumb. Mozilla should stop distracting their developers with dumb side projects. Trying to compete with Android and Whatsapp at this stage is a waste of resources for a firm like Mozilla.

  12. Norbert Lars said on September 27, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    firefox = browser, so i have no idea why they went to other areas – they are not google or Microsoft to do it

    firefox was equal to customization – they decided to switch – i decided to go way and probably others decided the same way

    farewell firefox you will not gonna be missed

    1. Fx0 said on September 27, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      First, Firefox is still the most customizable browser on the market. Then, Mozilla is not Firefox or only the vendor of Firefox. If you really think that, then you should learn more about Mozilla. Mozilla makes, for example, great things in the VR space (A-Frame, A-Painter) or in the journalism area (you should read about OpenNews or the Coral project and their products). Also WebMaker / Mozilla Learning is a big part of Mozilla. It’s really important for Mozilla to do more than a browser because the internet landscape changes. Nobody knows how we use the internet in five or ten years (do we still use web browsers in ten years?).

  13. Earl said on September 27, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Makes me wonder… how long before the brakes are applied to Firefox itself (and Mozilla, of course).

    1. Parker Lewis said on September 28, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      A piece of information is missing.

      If I remember correctly, Firefox OS is now a Chinese product called H5OS. the project owner and team didn’t really change, except now they’ve gone in the for-profit private sector and built a company called Acadine Technologies which is backed by the giant Tsinghua Unigroup, who gave them 100 million dollars for this project. The Chinese State apparently controls Tsinghua Unigroup, which could mean success for H5OS.

      The crew grew thanks to Mozilla, like many others, and now they have opportunities to do something big separately. That’s called seeding and it’s within the objectives of Mozilla as it bears fruits when the seeds succeed. Networking, funds, influence, opportunities, etc.

      I’ve always seen Firefox OS as an experiment, a ground on which Mozilla developers could hone their skills and experience. (Their growth in expertise over the last 7 years has been impressive.) I don’t think anyone believed it would become a big thing, the goals were most likely different, but creating expertise couldn’t be the main one. Seeding technology and setting standards was an obvious goal, but was that enough to justify the cost ? Maybe, but I’ve always doubted it. Seeding talents and with them, ideology and ethics, is one other goal I realised recently. It’s not the first time Mozilla encourages something like that.

      We are lacking information to determine what were Mozilla’s real predicted gains from the Firefox OS project, so we cannot guess if what happened in the end was enough a return on investment.

      What’s almost certain is that Firefox OS leaving Mozilla’s nest is not a sign that Mozilla is somehow on the verge of dying. This event is IMO business as usual.

      1. D. said on September 28, 2016 at 5:18 pm

        @ Parker Lewis.Seeding talents and with them, ideology and ethics, is one other goal I realized recently.

        I have always wondered what Google teaches their employ’s about privacy and ethic’s when they have a question. Microsoft seems to be getting there more and more to (lousy with privacy). I’m not saying this with sarcasm at all, I’m asking this as a question knowing their privacy issues and etc. I know they have privacy statements but that is only as good as the business standing behind it. I have just always wondered what goes on behind those doors that is being said and is everyone in agreement the way things are run. Is it just a job?

        Some of these people may be going out into the real world later and opening up their own business with the privacy and ethics they learned from Google. That might not be a good thing.

    2. Kin said on September 28, 2016 at 12:27 am

      As long as millions comes in from the search engine deals, those benefiting from those millions(Moz management) will keep firefox alive, you can be sure of that.

    3. Mike W. said on September 27, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      I don’t know about that, while Firefox has definitely lost market share, they still own a very sizeable user base. They still have the Yahoo! money coming in, I think even if/when the Verizon deal goes through and if Opera, I mean freaking Opera, can be valued north of half-a-billion dollars you have to think Mozilla/Firefox is still in a pretty healthy state financially.

      1. D. said on September 28, 2016 at 1:39 am

        @ Mike W. You know how the internet goes, things can come and go. You have to let people know you are there and why they should use you. You can’t let them think you’re an old and outdated browser. I think Firefox may be fine if we give them a chance. They certainly are not out of the game yet. Know where near. I don’t think you believe that either by the way you talk. They are trying out things and that is good. That is better than setting there taking the punches and hoping for better day’s.

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