Mozilla sets kill date for Firefox OS on phones

Mozilla Life Screen and Firefox OS home screen
Credit: Mozilla

Will stop development in May; booting Firefox browser apps from its store in March

In a follow-up to a December announcement that it would halt development of Firefox OS, Mozilla yesterday spelled out when it plans to shut down the mobile operating system.

Firefox OS for smartphones will be retired once Mozilla wraps up version 2.6, George Roter, who leads Mozilla's Participation Lab, said in a long message posted to the company's website.

Firefox OS 2.6 is currently slated for a May 30 release.

Nearly two months ago, Mozilla confirmed that it was calling it quits on Firefox OS in its current incarnation, ending more than four years of work building a browser-based, smartphone operating system.

Instead, Mozilla said then -- and again today -- that it would use the resources freed up by the shuttering of Firefox OS on smartphones to pivot toward an operating system for connected devices, the category dubbed "Internet of things," or IoT.

"The main reason [these decisions] are being made is to ensure we are focusing our energies and resources on bringing the power of the Web to IoT," said Roter.

Roter was more direct in explaining the reasoning for turning off Firefox OS's spigot than were Mozilla executives in December.

"The circumstances of multiple established operating systems and app ecosystems meant that we were playing catch-up, and the conditions were not there for Mozilla to win on commercial smartphones," Roter acknowledged. "We have decided that in order to succeed in the new area of connected devices we must focus our energy completely on prototyping the future and exploring how we can make the biggest impact in IoT."

Ari Jaaksi, the executive who runs Mozilla's Connected Devices group, was just as candid. "We could not create a compelling and differentiating end-user value proposition and we failed to build the full ecosystem," he wrote on a company blog, referring to Firefox OS for smartphones.

Along with the demise of Firefox OS, on March 29 Mozilla will stop accepting submissions to its app store for Web apps that run in Firefox on Android as well as the desktop- and tablet-centric versions of the browser. Apps for those platforms now in the store will be removed on that same day; in other words, Mozilla will kill the small app ecosystem it had struggled to create.

After March 29, only apps for Firefox OS on smartphones will be available on the store. Mozilla is also dead-ending the store's payment support, meaning that developers will have to scramble to find another payment provider or make their paid apps free.

With those changes, there's little likelihood that developers who have crafted Firefox OS apps will bother to make more, or update what they have created.

The turn to IoT has not been entirely clarified, as Roter admitted. In particular, Roter said that Mozilla is still working on opening that line of development to volunteers, who have been a critical part of the creation of Firefox and other projects the organization has sponsored.

"We're hoping to open up this formal innovation process to non-staff participation in the first half of the year," Roter said. "The tricky part of this is how to navigate volunteer involvement in the inevitable reality of projects that don't pass gates in the development cycle being wound-down quickly."

Many of the 80-plus comments appended to Roter's message were from volunteers who had worked on Firefox OS, or from Firefox OS smartphone owners. Not surprisingly, they were almost unanimously unhappy, especially at the death of a project that they had contributed to, believed in, and saw as turning a corner.

The shift in strategy and the way it was communicated also caught flak.

"I read above the following: 'We're entering this exciting, fragmented [IoT] space to ensure users have choice through interoperable, open solutions, and for us to act as their advocates for data privacy and security,'" said Daniel Glazman in one comment.

"Could we please stop that corporate bullshit that has no dignity? You're Mozilla, for God's sake, and I wish you could stop speaking like a Coca-Cola executive announcing they're closing a soda plant," Glazman continued. "Mozilla's moving to IoT because Firefox OS for phones seems too slow and buggy, keeping focus on it costs too much, and can't trigger both a revenue stream and market share gains for Gecko, period."

Firefox app store Firefox

Mozilla will pull all non-Firefox OS apps from Marketplace, its online Web app store, on March 29.

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