Saturday, February 8, 2014

My first FOSDEM with Mozilla

Past weekend I had the great honor and opportunity of being a volunteer for this year's FOSDEM at the Mozilla booth. Needless to say it was a great experience.

The most interesting thing at the Mozilla booth were the Firefox OS phones. People had also seen them one year ago, back when the OS was still buggy and unreliable. A handful of people mentioned they had crashed the phone themselves and that the keyboard was unreliable. I'm happy to say, things have improved a lot since then. At the booth, we had 6-7 Geeksphone Keon phones, and on Sunday we added a Peak to the lot. They had version 1.3 of the OS loaded, even though that one is still in Beta. The public reaction was great!

I can probably say that I talked to several hundred people last weekend. Most of them were very interested in what Firefox OS had to offer, and a few questions were constantly repeated:

What's so special about it?
Well, every app on it is build with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. What this means, is that the code written for Firefox OS is the most portable code you can possibly write. It will work on Linux, Windows or Mac, on Android, iOS or Windows Phone. Not only that, but since web technologies are almost always backwards compatible, your app should keep running correctly for a very long time.

When will I be able to buy it?
Actually, Firefox OS phones are already available for purchase. It has been released in several countries, and if you happen to be in a different country you can buy one online from eBay for about $90 ( Geeksphone is currently out of stock ).

What are the specs of the phone?
The phones we had at the booth were mostly Keons. They come with a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, and 512Mb or RAM. The Peak packs a dual core 1.2 Ghz processor and a bigger screen size.
Specs for the other phones can be found at the following links: ZTE OpenLG Fireweb, Alcatel One Touch Fire.

Can I flash Firefox OS to my own phone?
It depends on the phone you have. For example the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Nexus S, along with other devices, can be flashed with a build of Firefox OS according to these instructions. You could also try porting Firefox OS to a device you own. The community also has some details of the process on XDA.

Why would I choose a Firefox OS phone, and not Android?
Price. It's developed in the open. It's updated more often. You aren't locked in into a walled garden when you buy an app. Apps are developed with web technologies. It is made by a non-profit.

How do I start developing an app?
You just need some basic JavaScript skills. You can start developing using the Firefox OS simulator. (Go to Developer Tools, App Manager and see instructions on how to download it). Also, check out AppMaker - a very simple graphical tool to get you started.

Of course not all questions were great. Someone asked: Why do you have to use JavaScript since it's not Open Source? Uh... actually JavaScript is an open standard. The language was invented by Brendan Eich, Mozilla's CTO.  Firefox has an open source implementation of Javascript. Why do the phones have only one button? Uh... because they do? This is a design choice, one that is also shared by the iPhone, and several other phones. Flash it to an Android phone if you think otherwise.

All in all, this was an awesome FOSDEM. I barely had time to go by the other booths, and only got the chance to catch two of the talks in the Mozilla room, and the closing talk of FOSDEM.
I'd like to thank my fellow mozillians helping out at the booth, especially +Benoit Leseul and +Brian King for coordinating our efforts towards a great FOSDEM.