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Firefox OS 'too late' to shake up mobile

February 25, 2013 04:19 PM ET

Milanesi speculated that Firefox OS phones might do best in markets where customers primarily make and take calls, and have much less interest in using them as Internet-connected devices. Even so, she struggled to identify what Firefox OS offered that Google's Android, which already runs on a broad price-and-performance spectrum of handsets, does not, other than it isn't' Android.

"Mozilla clearly getting traction both on the operator and [smartphone] vendor side building on the need by both to become less reliant on Android," Milanesi tweeted.

Gold was markedly colder to Firefox OS than Milanesi, but identified the same reason why Mozilla's been able to attract carriers and handset makers.

"Consumers may not really care what the operating system is, but carriers do. They want choice, because then they can go back to negotiate with Samsung, with Apple," said Gold. "[Firefox OS] would give them leverage. That's why they want a third OS."

At MWC today, carrier officials said almost exactly that as they complained that mobile OS vendors -- meaning Google and Apple -- made fortunes on their backs, and that Firefox OS may inject enough competition to shake up the current business models.

"We need a more balanced relationship with the OS owners," Vodafone Group chief executive Vittorio Colao said at the conference. "With more competition, the relationship will be more balanced, and eventually, the winners will be the ones who have the best products, the lowest prices, and the highest willingness to invest, with us, in the channels."

That last didn't go unnoticed by Gold. "The carriers would love to get back to where they were five, six, seven years ago, when each had their own app environment, and the only apps for their [handsets] were those from their own stores," Gold explained.

Mozilla makes it clear it views Firefox OS as a kind of mobile "Reset" button: On its Firefox OS website, Mozilla touts "Greater participation in the value chain" and "Ownership and control over relationships with customers" as two of the four benefits to carriers and other partners.

"But how many times have we gone through this?" asked Gold, ticking off rival mobile OSes that have come and gone. "You can be a niche player, there will be plenty of niche players, there will be a little adoption here or there, but these guys have no chance at anything significant."

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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