Yesterday The Guardian ran a piece on Firefox’s 10th birthday, in which Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal seized upon an opportunity to promote the foundation’s fledgling mobile OS.
Now I happen to know a thing or two about Firefox OS—I managed to snag a first-gen ZTE Open from eBay and even ponied up for a developer-friendly Flame earlier this year. And after using both devices I can totally understand why Mozilla would forego expounding upon the benefits of their own OS (of which there are few), and instead go on a tirade against the competition.
Though I can’t say much to answer complaints against iOS, I can demonstrate there are more than a few holes in the arguments made against Android.
The following are direct quotes from The Guardian, with my rebuttals immediately afterwards:
Gal suggests that both Android and iOS continue to share a common trait: their reliance on proprietary software with “almost a complete lack of transparency”.
A couple of things about this…
Mr. Gal seems to have conveniently forgotten about AOSP, the Android Open Source Project. It’s true that the Google apps on Android devices are proprietary, but Android itself is OSS. In fact, you can use an AOSP ROM with the open source app market F-Droid and enjoy a user experience that’s about a billion times better than any current device running Firefox OS.
On the subject of reliance, did you know that Firefox OS development uses the Android Debug Bridge? See this Mozilla Developer Network page for proof.
And while we’re at it, Firefox—like Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Tizen, Jolla, and just about any other smartphone operating system out there—also relies on proprietary software, or to be more accurate, firmware. From this Firefox OS developer page:
By the end of the bootstrapping process, the modem image is usually loaded and running on the modem processor. How this happens is highly device-specific and may be proprietary.
“Right now the user has a choice between one phone where you can’t tell what goes on inside it and another phone where you can’t tell what goes on inside it,” Gal said.
I can’t speak to iOS with any authority here, unfortunately—one of these days I’m really going have to get me an iDevice to jailbreak. As for Android, I’ll agree that an out-of-the-box experience can be frustrating, and I strongly believe that the true power of the platform is only revealed when you root your device. Once you do that you can at least manage your app permissions with an Xposed Module or custom ROM.
As for what Google is up to, that’s another matter altogether…
“What an Android phone essentially is, it’s like Google’s agent in your pocket… they don’t intend to put you first, they put Google first because Google needs to increase their value,” he said.
Well, he’s got us there.
To get the very best of what Google offers Android users—cloud storage, the Play Store, etc.—you’ll have to hand over your data to Mountain View. You do get something in return, at least; Google offered users data portability long before Facebook or Twitter. And in between personal backups Google has historically been more generous than most with free online storage.
But let’s face it, an Android user’s only viable option to escape the all-seeing, all-knowing Google is to take Google out of the equation altogether—that is, flash a custom ROM without the GApps and use some other app store instead. At least we have that option, right?
Mozilla is hoping that Firefox OS will highlight the strengths and openness of the web.
So after bashing Android and iOS we end on this rather nebulous statement. I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of exactly what Firefox OS brings to the table for mobile users. It has a built-in permissions manager—as does a rooted Android device. The latest developer preview of version 2.0 adds support for NFC, so now with a touch of a button I can share apps and media with my other friends who use Firefox OS—all none of them.
At the moment, Mozilla’s only unique selling point is a “do not track” feature built into the OS. But it’s really only a request coded into an HTTP header, a request that sites are free to ignore—and often do. Here’s the kicker: it’s turned off by default.
I’m being especially hard on Firefox OS because I had such high hopes for it. It’s hard to it as anything but a failure when the entire operating system doesn’t even have feature parity with the desktop web browser. Andreas Gal’s statements might make for some great press, but from where I’m sitting Mozilla has a long way to go before it can even hope to compete with the likes of Google and Apple.