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September 5th, 2014

Benjamin Kerensa on Firefox OS & Internet Freedom

According to the Mozilla Developer Network, Firefox OS is an open source mobile operating system based on Linux, open web standards and Mozilla’s Gecko technology.

But there’s more to it that that: Firefox OS is about reinventing what mobile platforms can be, about pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the Web on mobile and about enabling entirely new segments of users to come online with their smartphone at various levels of participation, from users to developers.

Mozilla's Benjamin Kerensa

Benjamin Kerensa, Mozilla’s Early Feedback Community Release Manager.

Earlier this week, I took some time to talk with Benjamin Kerensa, the Early Feedback Community Release Manager for Mozilla, to discuss Firefox OS and the community around it.

Q: Let’s talk about your experience in FOSS and what led you to contribute to Mozilla and Firefox OS. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today?

A: About five years ago, I started getting involved in Ubuntu by promoting the desktop operating system in the Pacific Northwest and growing one of the largest regional Ubuntu communities in North America. As a result of that success, folks like Jono Bacon, Daniel Holbach and Jorge Castro introduced me to new contribution pathways, and through their encouragement I dived in more.

I became an Ubuntu Contributing Developer, Ubuntu Membership Board Member, Ubuntu Leadership Lead, Juju Author and for a period of time helped bring back to life Ubuntu’s Documentation Team. It was really inspiring to work with such a great community of contributors.

A couple of years ago I decided it was time to take my casual contributions to Mozilla — starting with WebFWD — to the next level, and I started getting involved in evangelism at Mozilla and traveling to give talks about Firefox, Thunderbird and the Open Web.

These days I am still contributing as a core contributor and while I do a lot of things in a lot of different places, my three most well-known contribution areas are being a contributor to Developer Relations, Mozilla Reps and the Firefox Release Management Team.

Q: Before we start on Firefox OS, let me point to a recent article on Wired.com by Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of Mozilla, where she appeals for people to take ownership of the Internet. She says, “Saving the Internet requires a greater sense of shared ownership and fewer bystanders accepting whatever today’s Internet has to offer.” Does that provide a foundation, or a springboard, for what Mozilla and Firefox OS plan to accomplish on a community level?

ZTE Open Firefox OS

The ZTE Open displaying the home screen of Firefox OS v1.0.0B02

A: Absolutely. I think how Mitchell speaks of the Internet being ours and not just belonging to commercial entities is a really important reason why Mozilla exists. Mozilla’s manifesto and principles aim for us to push the Open Web forward so that no one person or group of people controls the Internet. With Firefox OS, I think we are pushing the Open Web forward by delivering a platform that is open source and where the Open Web technologies like HTML and Javascript are first-class citizens. In addition to this, I think we’re reaching people in countries who have not had the same level of accessibility due to price sensitivities.

Q: As far as interest in the hardware is concerned, I should say that I’ve been using Firefox OS on a ZTE Open for a couple of months now. I’m happy with it. My understanding –- and correct me if I’m wrong –- is that there is only one phone available in the U.S., with another on the way. Is the interest in Firefox OS-based phones high, and what can we expect to see in the way of more hardware?

A: Right now we technically do not have any phones launched in North America. However, we do have developer devices such as the Keon, Peak and newer Flame that ship worldwide and can be used anywhere. The ZTE Open was launched in a few countries, but I believe the OEM also decided to sell them and ship them internationally. Specifically, we have launched in over nineteen countries so far with India being the most recent.

The interest in Firefox OS is breathtaking, and at nearly every event I go to, people literally tell me “Shut up and take my money!” No, but seriously, people ask us where they can buy phones to start building apps and are eager to see Firefox OS launch with a carrier where ever we go.

As for new hardware, I don’t know what the plans are next because we have just done so many launches recently, both the Intex and Spice devices and the new Flame, but I’m sure with the momentum we have going there will be continued interest in Firefox OS.

Q: Let’s talk a little about apps available for Firefox OS. Here’s a two-parter: How is the library of available applications to date and what does the future hold for more? And let’s say I’m a developer and want to make apps for Firefox OS –- how would I go about getting engaged with the Firefox OS community to do that?

Firefox OS logoA: We have the Firefox Marketplace for apps on Firefox OS – you can also install apps on Firefox for Android — and the amount of apps is really impressive and continues to grow. Not only that, we continue to get high-quality apps and games. And I’m not just talking about Cut the Rope, Facebook or Twitter, but we’re also getting lots of cool indie apps and games like Color Puzzle and Jumping Marcelo.

Q: One of the more interesting aspects of having a Firefox OS phone is how privacy-conscious developers seem to be compared to other phone systems. Personally, I find that a huge plus. How does Firefox OS stack up in security and privacy against Android, iOS or any other mobile operating system?

A: My personal opinion is that Firefox OS has a stronger privacy and security model than Android and iOS. I think Mozilla continues to be a champion of user privacy and security in everything it does and Firefox OS is no exception to that. In the Mozilla community, we are always stepping back and thinking about how we can better protect our users’ privacy and make sure the products we produce are as secure as possible.

Q: So, we talked about developers getting involved with Firefox OS earlier, but let’s say I’m not a developer (and I’m not, at least not yet). Are there other ways that I, or anyone else who is a non-developer, can participate with Firefox OS, and if so, how do we go about doing that?

A: Absolutely. I encourage people who are interested in contributing to go to whatcanidoformozilla.org and it will match you up with a good opportunity based on your skills, even if you are not a developer.

Q: Is there anything we missed that you’d like to add?

A: For more information on Firefox OS, visit the Firefox OS website, and for my blog, visit benjaminkerensa.com. Those interested in the Flame can buy one at Everbuying.com.

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Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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